Nau mai, haere mai, welcome to eyeCONTACT, a forum built to encourage art reviews and critical discussion about the visual culture of Aotearoa New Zealand. I'm John Hurrell its editor, a New Zealand writer, artist and curator. While Creative New Zealand and other supporters are generously paying me and other contributors to review exhibitions over the following year, all expressed opinions are entirely our own.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The hidden

Layla Rudneva – Mackay: Tell yourself you’re OK
Starkwhite, Auckland
21 April - 17 May 2008

Hiding one’s ‘real’ personality or identity behind a constructed persona is not that rare an occurrence in art, literary or entertainment circles, but making self portraits while constantly hiding your face and body (and perhaps those of a helpful friend) is.

Initially the behaviour seen in these photographs can perhaps be interpreted as a form of comedic body sculpture like that of Erwin Wurm, or functioning as a human display stand for certain fabrics that are for sale. Maybe they are something else - the consequences of self-loathing or shame. The show’s title supports that view.

It is hard to imagine why any artist (any person) in today’s liberal climate, could ever feel seriously ashamed - whatever the cause - to the degree that they see themselves as a leper. Support groups of kindred souls and counsellors are always easy to find, and usually self–directed dread comes from imaginary causes anyway.

So to hide behind towels or blankets for photographs, if it is to go beyond a shallow gimmick, needs to be looked at in an art historical context. Is it related for example to John Baldessari’s late eighties news photographs where all faces were hidden by coloured discs. Or is the mystery of the unseen artist’s face and body something like Duchamp’s With hidden noise (1916), where a rattling unknown object is hidden inside a ball of string that has plates bolted on both sides. In these photos Rudneva-Mackay does rattle on.

Are we likely to care if she is ok or not? Is there a strong motivation for us to become curious about an artist's disability or hang-up? What about the photos’ landscape backdrop and the prints’ colour quality? Will liking those drive us into seeking out further authorial information or will they suffice?

Well I’m getting a little carried away here, aren’t I? Layla Rudneva–Mackay is not exactly poncing around Auckland locked into an iron mask. It is not a performance she is doing, only making some photographs – and she is happy we concentrate on those. On what the camera sees or doesn’t see.

Yet the title of her series asks for speculation, something she could have avoided with a less psychological caption. She is inviting our interest in her well being. She wants her art to be about something outside these images. She thinks she has a problem and she wants us to be concerned about that.

Perhaps some of us will be.

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