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.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Pudding Bowl Cuts

Simon Denny: Recent Haircuts
Gambia Castle, Auckland
22 May – 14 June 2008

Having a severe haircut is always a fascinating experience, largely because of the abrupt changes to one’s appearance and the surprise that might generate, the novel temperature changes and tactile sensations one experiences on the highest portion of one’s body, and the discarded by-product - cut hair which always looks disgusting (no matter how clean you are) and which in many cultures is associated with contagious magic and so (to prevent your enemies getting hold of it) is automatically burned or buried.

Simon Denny’s show though is about other things, all connected in some way to the nature of haircutting and its implements. It has four components - photocopied haircut photographs, a freestanding box sculpture, a deep projecting box hung on the wall holding a photograph, and canvas paintings. These link together nicely to make a surprisingly tight exhibition.

By the door on the wall is the deep, glassed over box, with thin sides of painted board. The photograph inside is attached by tape only at its bottom two corners, so it leans forward away from the wall towards the viewer, permanently. This mimics its image of a freshly barbered man, smoking a cigar, seen from the top of his head down, and photographed from a high position.

On one long wall is a line of photocopies from a haircutting manual, encased in a large laminated sheet of plastic, along with several latex gloves. The images, mixed from several haircut types, may obliquely refer to art styles and fashions. The latex gloves imply more than a barber’s concern for hygiene issues or aids. A hint of distance, ‘hands off’ detachment, self-conscious artist aloofness is suggested too.

On the floor is an unusual, freestanding, cardboard box sculpture. It alludes to a haircut’s fringe (or maybe a mullet tail) with small tabs hanging down over the top edge and contained by a protective sheet of clean newsprint.

On the other large wall are a couple of paintings and three more haircut shots. One painting is enclosed in a third box. The canvases, containing marks where paint is spread with a comb or vibrating clipper, are ‘framed’ with carefully folded photocopies that like the wooden frames around the three adjacent haircut photos, decoratively repeat the parallel lines of a comb or clipper head.

This is a very shrewd, but also very funny, exhibition. Funny mainly because of the box on the wall, but also because the paintings, being about process, are compositionally lop-sided, as is his placement of bits of masking tape holding the laminated sheet to the main wall.

Denny’s dominant themes, of haircut documentation and also the sculptural form of boxes, are beautifully organised and integrated. Recent Haircuts is his most accessible Auckland exhibition so far because his wit is obvious and not laden with the obscure footnotes of design history found in his earlier shows. It has an engaging clarity.

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