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.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Pressing the paper into the light

Lisa Benson: Hold
Vavasour Godkin, Auckland
1 May - 24 May 2008

Lisa Benson is well known for making fantastic photographs – sometimes without a camera, though she often makes them with cameras too. She has a penchant for making intriguing images with manipulated light sensitive paper, configurations she tends to call ‘drawings’. To add to the confusion she also happens to put linear pencil marks on paper that represent things. Like snowflakes. There are a couple of those in this show as well.

The cameraless photographs though, dominate - most of those being made in India. The show is called ‘Hold’ because Benson made them by pressing the photographic paper hard up against either vertically slotted glass windows, or else latticed stone screens, set within the walls of the Taj Mahal in Agra.

The ‘window’ ones show a pale horizontal bar where the paper was pushed tightly against the middle pane preventing light from reaching the chemicals. Where it has penetrated the glass, graffiti-scratched tourist names have become dark-lined signatures and doodles in a ghostly sea of watery mid-tones.

For the delicate star and hexagon patterned stone screens, a three-dimensional honey-comb effect appears on the final, digitally coloured paper, coming from light hitting the thick sides of the carved forms – and not passing through at a right-angle. This makes the shapes project outwards in reverse as a strange form of protruding geometrical wall relief seemingly thrust into the sunlight.

Such Taj Mahal works are good but not divinely great – a quality of which Benson is extremely capable. The best cameraless work she has made using digital enlargements of light falling on photographic paper – such as the ‘Sallow’ works of 2005 that looked like underwater ruins - has been large enough to allow the viewer to be drawn into the space. These recent smaller, colourful works though look initially like texture rubbings, until you notice the very odd light accompanied by unusual spatial effects. Somehow they are constricted by their intimate scale and lack of ambition. They are intriguing, but lack grunt. Perhaps Benson will develop them further.

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