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 27, 2008

Bow down to the Word

Dan Arps: Fractal Tears
Michael Lett
23 May – 5 July 2008

Gambia Castle artist Dan Arps is well known nationally as an exhibiter and a teacher. He is also co-editor of the very informative and energetic online magazine Natural Selection.
What he presents at Michael Lett’s gallery is not really a cohesive installation like Gestapo Pussy Ranch which he showed in The Physics Room last year. Instead it is more an assorted collection of assembled sculptures and collages that revel in a kind of nihilistic surrealism, with an extra fixation on the materiality of language.

Arps works inside that wilfully shambolic zone where untouched found rubbish and carefully manufactured detritus come close to being interchangeable. Many untampered-with, sculptural ready-mades are included. Usually he is not interested in devising an articulate meaning, only the placing of certain items or substances together – as if he had typed out the catalogue of works (all called ‘untitled’) and listed their contributing materials and objects long before he began work on the actual exhibits. There is a strange fetishization of common names where linguistic content dominates over the experiential. While the show does delight in the ‘actual’ and in ‘presence’, we also see language putting material substance in a headlock and bringing it to its knees. Words (particularly nouns) rule.

Arps' passion seems to be for incongruous sculptural items that have been crudely thrown together or maliciously damaged in some way, paper collage, and experimenting with printing methods. Arps is a very different collagist from say Seymour, Madden, Driver or Jenkinson. He has a loathing for prissiness, is far wilder in his compositional formats and has a real taste for mayhem. He likes to use posters or art reproductions (in this show, he is particularly fond of those of the Christchurch painter Wilhelmus Ruifrok) and has a penchant for smeared finger painting, paint and blu-tak providing squishy material for random marks that look deranged and which can also be slyly photocopied.

Although some of the flat collages look like traditional Ernst-style surrealism, but inverted, others using inverted or sideways Ruifrok posters (who is influenced by Dali) are not so coherent, being more abstract and about texture combinations. Much of the work, especially the sculptures, is really a sort of optical list, not visually aesthetic and not involving semantic manipulation as in a rebus. The activity of grouping seems to intrigue him, putting clusters of items in close proximity and then joining them in a fashion that is almost reluctant –or if decisive, unthinking.

The recycling of surrealist imagery into a show that is also at times surrealist gives credence to the show’s title. It is preoccupied with process, not finally completed objects. Arps focuses on describable qualities and how they can be organised and contrasted through language, more than pleasing visceral sensation.

1 comment:

Sue D'neme said...

I saw the show and it didn't seem overly laden with text.

I think you are reading too much into the list of works.