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.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Photographic explorations

im/ perfection: young Elam photographers
George Fraser Gallery, Auckland
29 May – 14 June 2008

Though the Gallery site claims this is a show of innovative photography that is not strictly the case. Much of the work by this group of a dozen senior Elam students is drearily conventional – occasionally even approaching touristy calendars. However the peaks are worth traipsing across Albert Park for.

Those highlights include Bella Lett’s black and white image of a peeling gum tree branch to which is tied a horizontal section of fishing line pulled tight. On it are attached dangling fishing hooks. The photo has an incongruous surrealist feel, with impeccable grey tones. The scene is contrived, yet the image’s proportions and peculiar placement of marine objects in the leafy air make it memorable.

Lana Matich contributes a coloured montage depicting a dilapidated old railway carriage. The overlapping rectangles, in a style that David Hockney popularised with his clusters of Polaroids in the early eighties, provide a cubist treatment of twisting planes that competes with the flatness of the modernist, collagist picture-plane.

Laurelle May’s gorgeously coloured and sharp night-time photographs have a delicate stillness reminiscent of the work of Hamilton photographer David Cook. Her precise understanding of light draws you close, especially in her image of a bedroom. Moonlight though a window behind the photographer reveals washes of subtle colour on the bed and surrounding furniture.

In her own treatment of her bedroom Anna Gardner's work is quite different, more a sculptural/conceptual project than a mere documentary image. When moving to a new flat she cut out a rectangle from the wall of her old room and spliced it into the wall of her new bedroom, and then rehung photographs, mirror and other personal bits and pieces exactly as before. That section of cut-out gib is leaning against the Gus Fisher wall below a typed explanation and photograph of an early cut, an intriguing meditation on the nature of presence.

Like Gardner, Alexander Hoyles combines photography with sculpture.Hoyles’ four alternating views of a young man’s head (maybe himself) are mirrored by the four sides of a glass pyramid held in a skeletal wooden tower. Possibly not a gimmick, it suggests something serious about the fleeting nature of visual sensations and the evanescent, mercurial nature of the self-observed self.

Robyn Hoonhout’s lightboxed transparency of an eldery woman in her underwear squatting on the floor is strangely disturbing while also beautiful. Admirable in its refutation of conventional ageist glamour it exploits a golden glowing light on the model’s skin. Because the advertising format is subverted by Hoonhout's content which contradicts the norms for such presentation, this is a daring image that needs to be shown in a more public location.

Kirsty MacDonald’s images are also particularly adventurous, being out of focus, indecipherable and much nuanced in colour – for at first glance they seem to be black and white. They are uncompromisingly enigmatic; wonderfully contemplative objects ruminating about the technology of the camera. Looking at what is detectable in hue and what is not, they challenge the viewer to speculate about their origins, as well as beguile and seduce. Like Hoonhout and Gardner especially, by-products of an exploratory process.

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