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.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Beaches are boring (Thank you Jorg)

Earth Matters: Work from the Contemporary Collections of Auckland Art Gallery
Curated by Natasha Conland
Auckland Art Gallery
1 May to 28 September 2008

The matters referred to here encompass the planetary/global, not soil and dirt – though some of the contributors, like the Boyle Family, straddle both meanings. Conland has picked out just over dozen artists to explore various ecological or global economic themes. No paintings or drawings, mainly photography, some live streaming, a carousel of slides and a few screenprints and multiples. Among those included out of the AAG Collections are Mladen Bizumic, Michael Stevenson, Eve Armstrong, From Scratch, Oyvind Fahlstrom, Ian McDonald, and Stuart Page.

It is a well assembled body of acquisitions and loans that locks together well. There’s plenty of provocative and stimulating contrasts, the best example being et al’s sinister live streaming of stimulated aerial surveillance of Palestinian villages (with a voiceover calling for their ‘deletion’), round the corner from Amy Howden-Chapman’s slides of exuberant swirling dancers playing the roles of rubbish floating on the surface of the Pacific. Ominous darkness juxtaposed with bleached and dazzling light; dark malevolence versus bushy-tailed innocence; black humour as a foil for idealistic touchy-feely.

The photographs of Justine Kurland, Mladen Bizumic, Adam Chodzko and Ann Shelton highlight a sense of hideous and violent forces lurking within our bush and rivers. And historically the last vestiges of global colonialism are commented on in the movable, magnetic squares of Oyvind Fahlstrom’s cartooned maps (with their blood-drenched narratives), or silk-screened images of the disastrous Springbok tour, taken by Stuart Page and Michael Shannon.

Ian McDonald’s photographs of decaying, beached whales on Muriwai beach made a substantial impact when they first appeared in an early issue of Art New Zealand, but here in one room a large selection of them has an even bigger wallop. The same also for Michael Stevenson’s faked newspaper stand posters, which though dealing with New Zealand’s fiscal crisis, are part of Stevenson’s mischievous recreation of the news media’s Jorg Immendorf ‘scandal’, a so-called exposé of the visiting German painter’s decadent life style.

Conland’s show effortlessly mixes the regional with the global, the local with the international - for individual parts are just as crucial as the totality of the whole. Surprisingly, the exhibition does not seem as tragic as one might expect. There is a lot of humour (though much of it is grim), beauty (even in waste) and optimism. It is more didactic than last year’s sizzling Love Chief that she put together for downstairs space in the historic building. Even more varied.


Stuart Page said...

actually the images weren't "taken by Stuart Page and Michael Shannon" in the usual photographic sense, they were press photos "taken" in the sense of stolen, found or bought and then transformed into colour screenprints.

John Hurrell said...

Thanks Stuart,for pointing that out. It had never occurred to me, and in hindsight, it now seems obvious. I think in Earth Matters, they will from time to time change the images displayed in the vitrine.