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, June 28, 2008

Connecting Then with Now

Tūruki,Tūruki! Paneke, Paneke! When Māori Art became Contemporary
Auckland Art Gallery
24 May - 24 August 2008

This show, curated by Ngahiraka Mason, celebrates the 50th anniversary of an exhibition assembled by Matiu Te Hau in 1958 for the University of Auckland. It featured five Northland school teachers: Katarina Mataira, Ralph Hotere, Muru Walters, Arnold Manaaki Wilson, and Selwyn Wilson. Obviously the original exhibition was an event that clearly deserves commemoration, yet somehow this display has ended up a fizzer. It doesn't sparkle. The project has been too ambitious, with too much space devoted to it, and fallen over. Worse still, the background context has completely overshadowed the art, ending up with a dominantly sociological and historical presentation.

There is nothing wrong with contextual information. The trouble is all the newspaper facsimiles and various publications of the time swamp the art. There is too much fifties history, and not enough gallery material. And there is insufficient about the overall careers of the five individuals. The reasons for that are obvious. Ralph Hotere overwhelmingly dominates as a significant national figure but the curator has attempted a balanced account so all five are treated equally. However at least two of these artists were not exhibiting long. They pursued other careers. So the bio accounts are averaged out and Hotere is downplayed.(His images aren't even included on the show's media kit - which is why I haven't included an image for him above.)

Another issue is its incessant looking back. That has been disastrous, for it doesn’t give the visitor a clear idea of the adventurous and dynamic developments within Māori practice in recent years. It could have tied in the past in a more overt fashion to the present, asking (perhaps) contemporary Māori artists who work in different media to comment on the events of 1958 - so that the pioneers' contributions are examined through the lens of the ‘contemporary’. It could have elucidated their part in the overall development of contemporary Māori art itself, examining, say, what later artists were inspired by the five here. Without a contemporary framing, set in its own time and not 2008, the work simply looks dreary.

Maybe I’ve got it wrong? Perhaps some of you think this show is really exciting? That you were transported back to that earlier period, and as a cultural synthesis the displayed work still seemed to be really radical. If so, it would be great to hear a counter-argument.

{Works from top to bottom are by Arnold Wilson, Muru Walters, Selwyn Wilson, and Katarina Mataira.)

Friday, June 27, 2008

Small works appeal

Nice small works
John Reynolds: Ballet Mécanique
Sue Crockford
24 June -15 July 2008

John Reynolds presents three sorts of painting in this show: A large gridded arrangement on the main wall (45 coloured paper sheets covered with wobbly diagonal paint-stick lines) that alludes to the recording of George Antheil’s soundtrack for Leger’s and Dudley’s 1924 film; double-sided card works presented on freestanding stanchions like signs in a hotel restaurant, and two sets of small canvases (10 x 10 cm each).

The best thing you can say about the big wall work is that it is portable. You can easily stash the 45 pages away. As a grid painting it lacks dynamism or visual tension. It is dull, oversized and forgettable – nothing like Antheil’s exciting modernist music that was cut as grooves into shellac cylinders, and which Reynolds here seems to be referring to with his lines.

The stanchion works don’t hold your interest either, except that they are two sided so the two captions comment on each other quite effectively when referring to the art in the room. What are interesting are the two sets of small texted canvases, stacked on a trestle: one with a grey background, on which are handwritten their prices; the other bright pink, with short gossipy headlines taken from New Idea magazine.

The lurid trumpeting captions are very funny. The hot pink adds to the humour and gives them credence as palpable objects. The work is a tip of the hat to the devious minds of magazine sub-editors.

The ‘Cheap Money’ works are related in that they too are tributes, this time to Billy Apple, particularly his ingenious ‘Sold’ series of the early eighties. They are highly aesthetic receipts for the transactions of their own sale. Reynolds is much cheaper than Apple, a lot later and more abundant, but like with him, the painting declares the price of its original purchase.

By acquiring these bargains though, you broadcast your fondness for a second degree idea appropriation, a watered down ‘Apple’ that is zanier than the original but not bogged down with details like vendor and buyer’s names, place of sale, and time. The title implies a little dig the purchasers have to wear. ‘Cheap Money’ hints that the buyer is parsimonious, and that buying a canvas by Reynolds is buying money underpriced. Despite the subtle humiliation, it is still a bargain. And plenty will jump at the chance.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Polish Conceptualism: mental gyrations

Pole Gry/ Field of Play: Works from the Polish Avant-garde 1965-75
Gambia Castle
June 20 -12 July 2008

When was the last time you saw an exhibition of Polish art? If you did, I bet it wasn’t in Aotearoa New Zealand? Gambia Castle, and its curator Daniel Malone (presently living in Poland), are doing the New Zealand art community a real service in presenting this very unusual and surprising show. It’s a sampler of conceptual art and concrete poetry, easily transportable work from nine artists, many of which are sufficiently regarded by their peers that they have had retrospective surveys in their homeland.

Also, several of these artists, particularly Kraniński, Kozlowski, Robakowski and Dróżdż, feature in recent revisionist books on conceptualism by authors like Terry Smith (Global Conceptualism), Tony Godfrey and Peter Osborne (two Phaidon accounts of Conceptual Art). However Malone in this show makes the work less earnest than is implied in those publications. Here – even though much is over 40 years old - it has a freshness, a vitality that is inseparable from an absurdist but fizzy humour.

Look above at Stanislaw Dróżdż’s Hourglass, a piece of concrete poetry that deals with time. The spatial perspective contradicts our usual experience of time where the present is closest and past and future are distant. In this image the upper triangle is made of a repeated word saying ‘it will be’ and the inverted triangle of words below saying ‘it was.’ They are in proximity to the reader. The most remote word is in the centre saying ‘it is’ and is barely readable. Perverse.

The drawing proposals by Jerzy Rosolowicz are very funny too. One describes a pyramidic shell that inside has a hollow column. A tray at the top drips a calcium solution onto a plinth a metre below. After a thousand years, a limestone stalagmite is formed, filling the space. The outer shell and column is then removed, leaving the chalk sculpture and plinth.

His other proposal is even more extreme, a mixture of James Turrell, Olafur Eliasson and Len Lye. A huge hollow ball, several stories high, has a door so many people can get in and move around inside it. It can be rolled onto a lift and positioned inside the mouth of a massive inverted cone. In this sci-fi scenario, those inside will then be able to experience mystical atmospheric effects from artificial weather conditions.

Two sequences of photographs by Edward Kraniński and Eustachy Kossakowski are pretty entertaining too. One shows a man trying to discover the end of a long entangled length of rubber tubing, and attempting to retain the end he has found by placing it in his mouth or in his pocket, but still losing it when it slips out.

The other sequence shows three people trying to release a series of square shapes suspended on a horizontal line. They look like small kites held below a wire the way a curtain is suspended from a curtain rail. As with the hose images, the sequence seems to be not strictly fixed. There is not a conclusive narrative.(see photo above)

Jaroslaw Kozlowski presents a drier and less whimsical work that seems related to Mel Bochner’s famous pebble and chalk drawings. Six planks are arranged so that they form a sequence from the first flat, facedown on the floor to the last vertically leaning against the wall. The planks are bracketed between two vinyl texts: on the left, ’more horizontal than vertical'; on the right, ‘more vertical than horizontal.’

The texts and image seem to refer to a famous poem:

we fell
and got up
we fall
(Tadeusz Rozewicz, Falling, 1963)

In this context it is humour about failure, a paean to ineptitude.

Jerzy Ludwinski’s
suite of texts and diagrams that are hung like a washing line across the gallery width, are speculations about the future of art, and seem like a hypothesis about some laws of atomic physics. These are funny but not intended to be. They amuse because the predictions haven’t occurred. They are also breathtakingly ambitious as sweeping commentaries on art as a social phenomenon.

The only video work is a transferred black and white film by Jósef Robakowski that shows speeded up film of buyers at a market where the screen gets more and more dark and crowded. Perhaps like Ludwinski, a prediction about art itself, but as an immensely desired commodity where the market is insatiable.

There is a takeaway work included too; ‘Net’ a portable sheet prepared by Jaroslaw Kozlowski and Andrezej Kostolowski was originally sent in 1972 to artists all over the world. It was an attempt to circumnavigate official gallery procedures, and was a great success as a networking tool, leading to police visits and charges of being ‘anti-communist’, but not curtailing exhibiting.

This is an admirable project from Gambia Castle. An unusual take on conceptualism, an angle that rarely gets exposed here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Poetry of Motion

Alex Monteith: Need For Speed
St. Paul St, AUT
19 June - 7 July 2008

Alex Monteith’s video projects first gained exposure in Auckland in Ariane Crag-Smith’s group show, Mapping Manoeuvres, held in ARTSPACE early this year. Monteith showed a motorbike lapping a racing track in Taupo, with one camera facing forward, the other behind, and both screens tucked in a corner on two walls. More recently she contributed a text work, listing the nouns found in Italo Calvino’s novel Invisible Cities, to the fourth issue of MIT’s magazine Z/X.

Her current show at AUT features more bike videos. As you might expect it is very noisy - with crystal clear sound. In fact the audio component affects you more than the tilted, streaking movement on the screens. You can feel snapping bass vibrations in the gallery, but overall all the sense of kinaesthesia is not strong. You don’t suffer vertigo or experience palpitations. But listening to the firecracker-like roaring motors at full throttle is surprisingly pleasurable.

There are six projects displayed here, and the first thing one tends to do is figure out where the cameras are positioned – on which on-screen machines that are visible. With the duo-cams the cameras face opposite directions on the same bike, so you have two clashing tilted landscapes side by side with different angles. With cameras on separate bikes, the tilted vistas (when turning corners) are in unison, with parallel horizons.

The two works that really excite me are the ones most different from Monteith’s earlier ARTSPACE project, in that they present a new sort of wit: Ascents and Descents in Real-Time uses a large rectangular screen showing a sandy bank filmed from high up. Go-karts and motorbikes traverse the length and breadth of it, leaving crisscrossing tyre marks and flurried blurred skids. Here Monteith seems to be taking the mickey out of ‘expressive’ mark making procedures used by Twombly, Beuys, Trockel, Pick and others. She seems to be snorting at ‘sensitively’ drawn pencil or brush lines, treating the sandy expanse as a palimpsest.

The other work, Passing Manoeuvre with 2 Motorcycles and 584 Vehicles for Two-Channel Video Installation is unusual because of a hidden, third, camera-carrying bike (I think) and the soft blurry focus of the imagery. The lens used has a very limited depth of field, so that sometimes the cars and landscape seem almost to be back projections added later. The odd lack of acuity gives this project a different mood, less about spectacle and viewer sensation, and more about interiority on the part of the bike riders.

Does Monteith really have a ‘need for speed’ or next time will she ‘go for slow’? Her video works have a great immediacy and physicality, as do her text ones. One watches further developments in her practice with keen interest.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Eating out

Rohan Wealleans: Mains
Ivan Anthony
18 June -12 July 2008

Rohan Wealleans is having a pretty successful year. He is currently finishing his Titirangi residency and is about to open ‘A Moveable Feast’ at Lopdell House. He then goes to New York City for a Wallace fellowship in a studio. In the meantime he has this show at Ivan Anthony’s.

There are four sorts of work here, apart from a film screening in one room that seems to be exploring the myth and ritual of James Frazer’s ‘The Golden Bough’, and made on a Dunedin beach.

There are the large canvas ‘Tantric’ paintings, featuring naked (faceless) goddess figures, sitting like Buddhas while receiving oral sex, that are made using a palette reminiscent of Philip Trusttum. There are ‘blowfish’ sculptures that appear to be fitted with shark jaws and seem to be a reference to vagina dentata and male fears of castration. There are also deck chairs on wire legs that support ‘sittable’ paintings, and most successful of all, there are comic covers with sprouting planets or warty carbuncles that seem to be exploding through the paper.

With Wealleans the more sculptural and abstract the better – in my view. I’m not keen on his figurative images or his loose canvas paintings, because his bad drawing, use of Hanlyesque silhouettes and contrived tribal narratives upset me. In contrast I much prefer his earlier but more ambiguous layers of peeled back paint placed over doors or drawers, and his later hanging testicular forms.

He is a clever manipulator of cut out ‘gems’ of thick stratified paint though, expert at making negative-diamond pock marks and gluing down the removed pieces so they look like they’ve just burst through the painted skin like an outbreak of bejewelled measles. Wealleans has invented an unusual visual sculptural language with the substance of paint where his skill with a blade plays a vital role in his distinctive ‘brand.’

The works he exhibited as part of last year’s Telecom Prospect showed what a sophisticated artist he can be. This show of ‘Mains’ is a bit formulaic, as if he has used a template for the composition of the paintings, but as a rule Wealleans never sits still. He probably over does the laddish infatuation with pudenda but such images help offset the Puritanism that was once a major component of this country’s art. It will be interesting to see how time in the Big Apple impacts on his images and methodology.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Layla Tweedie-Cullen and Neil Miller comment on

Airy with substance and Pedestrian

Off shore Tivoli

Focus: Iraq + Palestine
Tivoli, Oneroa, Waiheke Island
11 May - 30 June 2008

The Tivoli is a tiny little gallery/bookshop/theatrette in Oneroa run by Liz Eastmond, an author of several books on New Zealand artists who used to lecture in art history at Auckland University. In the eighties she, along with Susan Davis and Priscilla Pitts, was an editor of Antic magazine.

Her Waiheke space is multi-functional and so, not an ideal venue for viewing art; though art - for Eastmond – is one passion among many. Some walls of the space have shelves for new and second-hand books that are for sale and usually about literature or politics. Some artworks are furtively installed amongst these, such as items by et al., along with books by Richard Killeen, Lesley Kaiser and John Barnett and others, or pamphlets on Billy Apple. In the centre of the room is a foldable, hinged screen that can provide extra walls for hanging or create an inner room for screening a laptop or monitor off from the light.

Focus:Palestine + Iraq exhibition is co-ordinated with a series of lectures from visiting speakers, and assorted film screenings. The works are displayed in a cramped space but well separated, and are about as varied as you can imagine, ranging from stream of consciousness doodles to newspaper cartoons, oil paintings and documentary photographs.

The doodles, by Harmeet Sooden, are seen on a screen within the photographed pages of a virtual book you can turn using a mouse. They were made in a notebook while he and three other members of a Christian Peacemakers Team Iraq delegation (including one who was murdered) were kept prisoner in chains for 118 days. Sooden’s drawings themselves are of little interest. Rather it is a drawing by one of the guards, and the removed pages and portions of those remaining blacked out by the SIS that engage your imagination – the stuff around Sooden’s marks.

Of the two works by well known painter Alexis Hunter, the 1974 photograph from the Object series, about female objectification of men, is only there because in photographing a male torso, she happened to put New York’s Twin Towers in the background. Her other work, an oil painting on a grid of small canvases, is more apt. It shows the image of a phoenix rising from the ashes of a burning city, and was painted in London shortly after the 2005 train and bus bombings. It suggests a demonic, vengeful eagle about to seek retribution.

The other side of the coin, it might be argued, can be seen in Bruno Stevens’ photographs of the human toll in Baghdad after the American bombing in March 2003. His images of critically injured children are deeply disturbing and shots of a burning Baghdad perversely beautiful.

The stars of this show, for me, are the satirical cartoonists, especially Dave Brown, who links the content of eighteenth century geniuses like Gillray, Cruikshank and Rolandson with the visual style of great sixties comicbook artists like Beano’s Leo Baxendale. This style of drawing, like that of the more known Scarfe and Steadman, is infinitely nastier than watered down television puppet humour like ‘Spitting Images’.

Malcolm Evans is a great satirical artist too, but not as cruel in his rendered physiognomies as Brown – closer to Ron Cobb the American seventies cartoonist or New Zealand’s Tom Scott. Yet astonishingly in 2003 Evans was sacked by The NZ Herald for his placing of a Star of David inside the word ‘apartheid’ that he wrote as graffiti on a rendered wall. These days, as any visitor to AAG’s recent ‘Turbulence’ Triennial or Te Tuhi’s current Land Wars exhibition can testify, parallels comparing Israeli policy and Nazi brutality are commonplace. Five years down the line, the Palestinian viewpoint is getting a lot more airplay in galleries and popular media, and so Evans’ removal seems quite baffling.(For those interested, this subject is examined in Issues 109-110 of Art New Zealand, with Leonard Bell supporting the Herald and attacking Evans, and Evans’ reply).

If you pick the right day with clement weather for the ferry trip, this is an engaging exhibition to travel to Waiheke for. You don’t have to be leftwing (or anti US or Israel) to enjoy it. Eastmond sees her venue as a community forum and all articulate thinkers are welcome.

(Images from - top to bottom - Harmeet Sooden Notebook 2006, Alexis Hunter Object series 1974, Bruno Stevens (three from Baghdad 2003),Dave Brown Iraq 2006

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Art laboratory

Alexandra Savtchenko: Thought Forms
Tahi Moore: Into the blue M. Hulot’s Holiday
A Centre For Art, Room 5, Third Floor, Achilles House
18 June - 5 July 2008

This show of Savtchenko’s carries on themes explored by the work she has in ARTSPACE right now and what she recently exhibited at Newcall Gallery.

The Newcall Gallery work teased the memory of the viewer, their knowledge of art history and what the exhibited copied painting might be, and the ARTSPACE work is in two parts, widely separated across town but both seen in the venue –though not simultaneously.

In the Centre For Art space Savtchenko exploits your memory of the invitation, which has two photos of hands moulding red clay into balls. The actual exhibit is a bucket of water and two sealed plastic bags of bulk clay. Written on one of the bags is ‘Red Sculpture’. This is either an invitation for the visitor to make the work for themselves, or else about mental picturing. The latter in the Savtchenko’s context, is more likely. Like the incomplete Newcall building sign, she is asking you to imagine. She is examining the potential of the material, looking at latent transmutations of clay as substance.

Tucked into one corner of the space (it’s a tiny room) is a small screen showing a recent film by Tahi Moore. It is two films superimposed together, the movies being Into the Blue (2005), a John Stockwell thriller, and the Jacques Tati comedy classic, Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953). Moore has combined two separate genres made 55 years apart in two different countries.

When you watch (there is no sound) the narratives start to blend as you get confused about the people and elements in the parallel plots. Though one film is in black and white and the other in colour, when superimposed the Hollywood colour looks bleached, merging with the pallid greys of the older French film. The intermingling creates a new hybrid storyline as you start to manufacture new connections.

Because standing in front of Moore’s film for the whole screening is an ordeal for most, you can see some of it, go downstairs to the first floor and check out the Room 103 exhibitions, and then wander back to see some more if you wish. You can dip into the screening at any point anytime. The two films start together.

Auckland is very lucky to have such new experimental artist-run spaces like this Centre and Newcall Gallery, where projects can be tested. Exciting times.


Keith Clancy: part of group show Surface Edge
The Lane Gallery
17 June – 5 July 2008

Five small paintings by Keith Clancy are part of a group exhibition involving a dozen other artists at the Lane Gallery. The venue is not the sort of venue I take seriously. Too small, usually too much work closely hung, often part of a framing business and a lot of undersized and mediocre work. The type of gallery commonly found in Parnell. However there are different overlapping ‘art worlds’, and this one plays a role in art education generally as a stepping stone. I know that sounds patronizing but I think it is obvious.

Clancy’s paintings feature the kind of optical qualities found on certain modern cars where the colours change hue according to the angle you view them. Often it is some sort of magenta (or ochrey gold) that changes to a bluey green.

I suspect that the ‘gee whiz’ factor for these works would quickly wear thin if you owned one. The colour you get from standing directly in front of the canvas is different from what you see on either side. The effect is created from using layers of thin paint in conjunction with a clear varnish, and related to lenticular photography (eg Megan Jenkinson) or murals using painted vertical strips like John Drawbridge’s at the Beehive. The hue looks slightly metallic with a hint of a grey wash. Its iridescence gives it a seductive appeal.

With traditional colours the rule is that retinal properties cause hot hues to advance and cool ones to recede. Unlike say fluorescent colour, these don’t advance, only recede.

Outside of art historical baggage to do with ‘the end of painting’ etc, with monochromes the spatial relationship with the wall is important, as is the visceral sensation of the hue and the surface sheen (or lack of). Some might argue you get two for the price of one. I must admit that since a teenager I have lusted over a certain sparkly blue you used to find on motorcycle helmets and bike petrol tanks. Overall I don’t find motorcycles remotely interesting, but this particular colour and kind of paint, with sparkling particles suspended in clear varnish, really gets to me emotionally – as do related glowing road signs at night. I’d be happy to own a canvas displaying this particular substance and quality.

If Clancy’s paintings were a lot bigger, maybe vertically bifurcated with conventional paint used in one of the halves, they might be more intriguing. Perhaps they need extension of surface and complexity of composition? I’m thinking out loud here (and starting to burble). He’d have to test the options.


Paul Dibble: Paradise
Gow Langsford
3 June – 27 June 2008

There is something heavy-handed and cornily literal about Paul Dibble’s bronzes. Despite all that work to do the modelling and casting, the results invariably look gross. Clunky, mixed with a dreary civic narrative.

In this show even the walking figures with their strangely contoured, cutaway bottoms (and compressed flatness devoid of textured nuance) can’t compete with the traylike landscapes balanced on giant fish heads, for awkwardly uneven compositions.

Lots of artworks have explored the ambulatory theme: Richard Killeen’s little postal labels; Warren Viscoe’s wooden, folksy constructions; Nigel Brown’s narrative paintings; Euan McLeod’s oil landscapes are some - yet surprisingly few artists have in my view made images of striding figures that are successful. That handful would include Alberto Giacometti, Greer Twiss, and Anthony Gormley.

The reasons are to do with those artists' preoccupation with form. Giacometti created 3-D richly textured, highly inventive distorted figures that alluded to death within life, Gormley uses computers to create Panting-like clusters of bars in densely organised suggestions of body parts, and Twiss, in the late sixties, used paint over small bronze torsos with truncated limbs to suggest the edges of photographs - giving the body areas you did see, a sense of underlying muscle.

With Dibble though, the walking figures look silhouette based and unconsciously wonky. They are unintentionally ugly. Your eye doesn’t participate in the action of his strollers with empathy. You are not captivated by the surface or edge because its treatment is a cliché, and as such, undernourishing.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sometimes the ART WORLD is one big Group Grope

Like this Charles Ray sculpture where randy clones keep trying to get into each other's nether regions.

So long live independent art review sites where writers who identify themselves attempt to put distance between their evaluations of shows and their friendship with artists, collectors, curators and dealers. Make the Gods exalt such free minds who don't succumb to private (personal) or public (community) pressures.

Let's attempt to start a list of links to such sites that can be added to, subtracted from, and threaded to comments and further open discussion.

The Lumiere Reader
review repository
Up The Arts

Here are some overseas goodies:

Artworld Salon
The Art Life
Art Rabbit

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Building a Future

Architecture for the Nation: New artists show 2008
Curated by Brian Butler and Kate Brettkelly-Chalmers
14 June – 19 July 2008

This show debunks the traditional notion of architecture to make it something principally collective like national identity. It posits the idea that “architecture has little to do with the construction of a shelter or dwelling. It is an arrangement of social thoughts.” An interesting concept to confuse its qualities with that of nationhood. Next time it is stormy, cold and wet, and you are caught in an icy downpour, just stand underneath ‘an arrangement of social thoughts’ and you will stop feeling miserable.

Despite the nuttiness of the wording of the introduction, the six artists are worth looking at.

Richard Frater’s has two sets of sculpture. One is a couple of twisted, wonky hoses forms that look like massively distorted hula hoops. They are lines suspended in space that are deliberately devoid of refinement. Their ugliness makes them funny – like say the works of Francis Upritchard – so that grotesque charm in fact reinvents beauty. Their lack of gracefulness is their point.

Out in the ARTSPACE office Frater has rearranged the ‘drop-in’ reading room to present a texturally rich carpet work with an ear motif. His way of commenting on contemporary art’s ‘arrangement of social thoughts.’ Strange looping tapeworm forms made of knitting wool are scattered over the floor, making the work beautifully rhythmic like a painting or piece of music but creating something that also suggests William Burroughs’ notion of language being a virus.

Rangituhia Hollis has a line-up of four DVD projections, butted together in a row to explore iwi identity. They represent his pepeha, a matrix of interlinking communal references such as relatives playing piggyback in the local swimming pool, his first student flat, animations of ancestral axes flying around a room and dancing in clusters, and virtual eels being jettisoned out of the window of the Waipiro Trading Company to cruise over the rooftops. Hollis has a flair for editing and image movement. There is a nice restless energy that underpins the excitement of his videos. He has an excellent text by Anna-Marie White accompanying his entry in the online catalogue.

Alexandra Savtchenko uses the neon signage on top of the Newcall building (on the Khyber pass Rd, Symonds St intersection) where the gallery she exhibits in is set up. She has removed the two ‘C’ letters from the top of the tower and transported them to ARTSPACE so you get ‘cc’ (‘carbon copy’ or ‘closed circuit’) there and ‘new all’ when you look at the building out of the ARTSPACE office window. A lovely poetic link to the social and utopian vision of the show.

Ash Kilmartin’s concise pencil drawings on long sheets of paper are single-point perspective, tilted orthogonal diagrams of walls with deep apertures - but with peculiar vertical parallel lines. You have to stand close to see them. They are like the anamorphic charcoal drawings of Mike Parr or the nineties paintings of James Ross in that they are deliberately optically unresolvable. They border on incoherence. This riveting, intelligently supersubtle work is based on two modernist buildings she has photographed, examined and documented. There is a superb mini-essay by Sam Rountree-Williams about it in the catalogue.

The two works by Simon Lawrence use seemingly disparate components with which the viewer needs to make connections. One is a map of the world, showing countries and dominant land formations, that is leaning against the wall. Nearby on the floor are some china animals (a squirrel and a kangaroo), a ‘Chinaman’ puppet head, and two photographs of a rabbit and elephant. The work seems an ironic dig at anti-Asian racism.

Lawrence’s main piece of sculpture is a variation of a work he showed last year in Christchurch Art Gallery in the Another Destination show. It has a flash-gun that fires regularly on a timer, and thin taped-together plastic tubes that extend up from a reversed vacuum cleaner to the ARTSPACE ceiling. They have paper streamers that move when the machine is turned on. There is also a video of a long spiralling shot from a moving helicopter, circling above a big city at night. The movement of the air near the ARTSPACE ceiling relates to the moving aerial camera pan on the video, and the flash to the twinkling city lights.

This work also has a social interpretation, the flash implicating the gallery visitor, the video the wider community, and the air in the tubes, breath from conversations bearing thoughts. It is cunningly ambiguous.

Tuafale Tanoa’i (Linda T)’s contribution is an ongoing programme of interviews made on the site in a back gallery that is used as a studio. She chats with various Māori and Pacific island artists and media personalities, such as Fiona Clark, Edith Amituanai and Paora Maxwell, and plays the conversations on a bank of monitors that have user-friendly headphones and accompanying armchairs. Tanoa’i is good at picking charismatic thoughtful individuals who hold the viewer’s attention, and who have a vision for this country’s future.

Architecture here (and so the gallery itself) is clearly a metaphor, a structure for the construction of a harmonious society, like a whare or church that shelters its communities from destructive elements, and this work is a key component in understanding the exhibition’s title. The exhibition overall is cohesive but with stimulating variety. The six artists have provided a particularly interesting group of works to spend time with. Don't miss it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Airy with substance

Z/X #4
Published by Manukau Institute of Technology
Edited by Paul Cullen (now at AUT) and Grant Thompson (MIT)
96 pp, b/w and colour illustrations, $15

The fourth issue of Z/X is a breezy, tidy little publication with a clean modernist elegance and lots of quality material crammed into its 96 pages. It is similar in look to the early issues of the eighties Australian journal Art & Text. Layla Tweedie-Cullen, its designer, has given it a pre-Raygun feel and its content is a mix of academic essays and visual or textual artworks – like a post-typewriter version of Xerox publications like Splash or And.

It is a very good read. All of it. The seven essays are not wearisomely long, the language, though academic, generally avoids being turgid, and the page layout and font options are light and airy, not densely heavy. All geared up to create pleasure for the eye and mind.

The most omnipresent figure is Robert Smithson, through the influence of his drawing A Heap of language. This work exudes a presence through the contributors - even more than Spiral Jetty which is specifically discussed in Ralph Paine’s Heap of Dirt essay alongside the innovative concepts of Deleuze and Guatarri. In this publication, Smithson as influence is much more apparent than the other salient theme, Guy Debord and the Situationists, who are examined by Jan Bryant and occasionally, Bruce Barber, in their informative contributions.

Even though Smithson’s notion of the materiality of language (and his praise of Alexander Graham Bell in his writing) indicates his view was about sound patterns more than linguistic structure, the way his famous drawing of written words is organised is extrapolated with the text works of Alex Monteith and Grant Thompson. Monteith’s list of assorted nouns from the individualised pages of Calvino’s Invisible Cities, in increasing font point size, is a sprawling mesmerising work, one you dip into for a splash, not a prolonged swim. Obversely Grant Thompson’s much smaller list of dependent and independent clauses containing ‘green’, taken from Melville’s ‘The Piazza Tales’, provides the opportunity for a vigorous 33 yard sprint.

These textual artworks are an effective synthesis between the essays and certain included visual artworks such as Frances Hansen’s collection of found lists and notes from the streets of Avondale, Kate Newby’s photographs examining the notion of placement as action (positioned with some beautifully worded texts by Tahi Moore) or episodic snaps of suburban trees and films on television by Monique Redmond and Ron Left – works that have an accelerating cumulative quality when inserted into the journal.

Contributions like Hansen’s photographed lists and notes relate in a very precise way to Vaughan Gunson’s central essay, an absorbing account of changing attitudes to theory and other varieties of art writing. In part of it he discusses Lara Strongman’s commissioning of eight writers to create texts to parallel eight artworks in City Gallery's 1997 show Signs of the Times, and how this wilfully subjective writing refused to acknowledge art history or theory. He describes the shift from early Art & Text or October to Sign of the Times as reflecting the freedom that art itself has and part of a growing scepticism towards theory brought about – he believes – by the then separation of theory from mass political movements. The funny thing is that in discussing those writers who ‘have chosen to escape the idealist bottleneck altogether,’ Gunson states he wishes to avoid making “strict value judgement(s)”, yet he refers to some as ‘stimulating, often provocative’ and others as veering “towards being politically reactionary” without clarifying the distinction.

Besides theory, Smithson, and Debord and the Situationists, there is also much discussion of the term ‘situation’. Rod Barnett contributes an essay that uses Alain Badiou’s use of the term to examine film noir masterpieces like D.O.A., Double Indemnity, Detour and Kiss Me Deadly. (It is a good companion piece to Stephen Zepke’s article in Natural Selection 5 on Badiou’s ethics and ‘alien arrival’ films.)

Barnett does not successfully make it clear what a 'situation' is. According to him Badiou defines it as having “an exceptionally open sense, and to capture that openness, I say it’s a multiplicity.” But ‘multiplicity’ itself is vague. It seems to be just any particular that can be repeated. And how exact a copy defines 'multiplicity'? Near the end of this publication is an amusing two page diagram by Nicola Farquhar showing all the interconnections between fifty famous westerns and forty-three famous cowboy actors. Each shoot-out on Main St is a 'situation' perhaps?

Part of a rich and entertaining offering from Peter D. Osborne, the photography theoretician, focuses on Sartre’s use of ‘situation’, presenting it as a self-conscious act of self-creation through bringing aesthetic objects into the world. This helps transform an indifferent world “by means of the imaginary so that the world appears to have its foundation in us.”(Osborne p.3) ‘Situation’ is also used in another sense by Andrew Clifford in a synopsis on Z/X’s inside back cover of his essay for the journal’s CD of five sonic works. The word as he uses it showcases the recording maker’s presence as instigator instead of hiding it, embraces subjectivity, and nicely links into Gunson’s discussion about writing. A good connection. Unfortunately, due to a miscommunication with the burner, the CD is audible on Macs only - but replacements playable on stereos and PCs are on their way.

That technical hiccup, and the absence of any contextualising editorial and contributors list, is my only criticism of an otherwise perfectly conceived publication. Roll on #5.

Monday, June 16, 2008

And Time stood still

On Show: 2008
Bath St Gallery
12 June - 5 July 2008

As photography shows go, this is a very odd exhibition organised by the journal Photoforum, because although there is some wonderful work included – especially by Darren Glass and Joyce Campbell – it gives a staid and limited notion of what photographic practice can be.

A lot of the work here could have come straight out of The Active Eye, a New Zealand photography survey exhibition that toured this country in 1975. A huge amount of change within the medium has occurred since then, but apart from the colour you wouldn’t think so from this show. There is no digitally modified photography (eg. Jae Hoon Lee, Gavin Hipkins, Megan Jenkinson), no extravagant props (eg Boyd Webb, Christine Webster), no conceptual adventurousness (eg.Layla Rudneva–Mackay).

Instead it usually dwells on landscape and the prosaic urban, subject-matter now that is pretty tiresome. Basically documentary in focus, it fixates on the passing of time and loss of buildings, individuals and communities. Nothing wrong with that in small doses, but it is restricted.

Yet once you understand that New Zealand photography is a hell of a lot wider in scope than this small cross-section, then checking out these 14 artists is fun. Glass and Campbell, as I’ve indicated, make extraordinary photographs and their work here is better than what is included in Close-Up at the Gus Fisher (tastier images for Glass, more intimate scale for Campbell). David Cook’s night-time colour shots have a subtle hallucinatory quality caused by the chromatic wavelength of the lighting, and Robyn Hoonhout’s glowing lightboxes depicting unclothed elderly women are beautiful and courageous (from the models’ viewpoint).

There are other wonderful images. Bruce Connew’s prismatic photographs are intriguing with their vaguely pointillist hazy colour, and Gary Blackman’s droll ‘Tiger Chair at Piano Farm,Taieri’ conjures up pictures of circuses and sleeping domestic felines.

There is some excellent work here, but overall not as exciting as it should and could be.

Images (ascending from bottom) from Darren Glass, Gary Blackman, David Cook, Bruce Connew,Robyn Hoonhout, Joyce Campbell

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Two Te Tuhi performances

Louise Menzies: Talking while Swimming
Riverside Ave Reserve
Harrell Fletcher: Come together - Manukau City 2008
Te Tuhi Centre of the Arts, Pakuranga
14 June 2008

These two performances were organised by Emma Bugden as part of Te Tuhi’s continuing Land Wars exhibition, and co-ordinated with a free Saturday bus trip out to Te Tuhi from ARTSPACE. I was curious to see what was going on, so I came along for the ride.

I don’t know the outer suburbs of Auckland at all, and had never been to Riverside Reserve or the Tamaki Estuary. Panmure was a foreign country as well, but the spacious beauty of the park and estuary was quite a thrill.

The suddenly inclement weather though, wasn’t. Before she started her routine, Louise Menzies wisely shepherded the 15 or so artlovers off the open parkland to under a tree on the shoreline, to gingerly step over the ubiquitous discarded condoms and keep out of the biting offshore wind.

Her carefully prepared talk was a mixture of anecdotes about parks, an analysis of Antonioni’s sixties film ‘Blow Up’ (a movie in which a park was a crucial element), the Parisian novel on which the film was based, the history of parks in general, and a commentary on the features of the Riverside reserve and its context. From the work’s title (Talking while Swimming), she might have originally planned to deliver her oratory while submerged – wearing a wetsuit perhaps. It’s a shame that she didn’t because the work needed theatricality. This despite it being extremely informative and at times funny. Menzies is not a charismatic speaker and the project was a bit like a school lesson. Not art that was particularly memorable, unless it was ‘Listening while Shivering.’

American artist Harrell Fletcher couldn’t make it as planned to attend his Te Tuhi performance, but his absence might have improved it. I like the idea of artists placing physical and psychological distance between themselves and their work, incorporating a ‘disembodied’ practice.

Fletcher’s project was a request to have an introduction by a group of Manukau residents to the region. Six people linked to Te Tuhi approached six local residents (whom they subsequently introduced to the audience) to speak for ten minutes on some subject they were passionate about, some topic that also reflected the region. The resulting six subjects were conservation of the Tamaki wetlands (Ros Nicholson), coaching a school soccer team (Harry Jekel), Pacific Island visual and community arts (Ema Tavola), the relationship between religion and science as elucidated by Swedenborg (Susan Heeps), and the complexities of beekeeping and honey harvesting (Terry McColl).

Both Menzies and Fletcher’s works tangentially raised questions about quality. The work was indisputably art (the roots of Relational Aesthetics go back via Fluxus to dada) but was it interesting? Could one care about it as Art, as distinct from caring about its subject matter? Can one separate the two? I certainly think so.

Information alone is not sufficient to engage an art public. The method of conveyance, the ‘conduit,’ the works’ materiality, is all important, its structure and efficacy. In these performances the speakers were the keys to any success the work might have, as were the frameworks for the works’ recognition and enjoyment as Art.

The distinction between Art and Life was not obliterated, or even attempted to be. The two are normally assessed differently with separate expectations, but in these works Art got in the way of Life. More so in Menzies’ case than Fletcher’s because Te Tuhi is, after all, a community centre. In Menzies’ project she had a specific art audience who would not have attended if she were not an artist. The work was more about delivery of style and persona, than information, though what she said was certainly interesting – but it was clearly bracketed as Art.

In Te Tuhi, the situation seemed to be the opposite, with an artist planning procedures which lacking his bodily participation, soon seemed invisible. Yet most of Fletcher’s speakers would have been indifferent to his absence, or to being elements of his artwork. They performed because friends connected to Te Tuhi had asked them to, and they could use their passion to convert others to their interests. A commonplace life situation where art was forgotten.

Images above are from Louise Menzies' poster for 'Talking while Swimming' (top) and Harrell Fletcher's 'Come Together' performance in Los Angeles last year (below).

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Advancing photography backwards

Darren Glass: Lapilli
Anna Miles Gallery
11 June - 8 July 2008

In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in old camera technologies, not as a backlash against digital methodology but more an interest in new sorts of image construction. (Exploring photography as a type of drawing perhaps?) Darren Glass has made over 75 pinhole cameras (including an airborne Frisbee variety) in an effort to discover startling forms of photographic marks. His cameras also double as sculptures. There is a nostalgic component to these landscapes - they look related to say Burton Brothers images - but the mindset is nevertheless contemporary in its blending of abstraction with figuration, and its interest in process.

The photographs here were made during a six week residency in December 2006, in the heart of the North Island at Tongariro National Park. Three cameras sit on the central table in Anna Miles’ gallery and three sorts of image are on the walls, each with their own optical peculiarities.

With his Multiple Aperture Pinhole Camera for 10” x 100” film, Glass concentrated on waterfalls in the Park - plus the occasional Ohakune Carrot. Washers behind the pinholes kept the exposures in a circular format. Using a Multiple Aperture Panoramic Pinhole Camera for 70 mm film he also recorded valleys and scree slopes overlooked from the Tongariro Crossing, incorporating eastern and western views in the same image by alternating the camera’s orientation correct way up or inverted. From these two projects he made strips of contact prints.

In his third project, using a rock for a tripod and a Telephoto Slit Camera from a cardboard tube, Glass created a set of quite different separated images, of Mt. Ngauruhoe at sunrise and sunset. These images are surprisingly different at the beginning and ending of daylight. They strangely distort so that at evening the mountain looks quite flat and bathed in washes of blue, while in early morning it is much much steeper and a dark silhouette.

This is a remarkable exhibition due to the artist’s passion for inventive research and experiment. His love of camera design and subsequent image creation make it a highlight of the Auckland Festival of Photography.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Open Plan Bordello

The brothel without walls: Kevin Capon, Conor Clarke, Paul Hartigan, Geoffrey Heath
City Art Rooms
27 May - 21 June 2008

Despite the show’s title, taken from Jean Genet, nothing too exhausting is happening in these photographs. Hardly an orgy is depicted or implied – for voyeurs, fantasists or otherwise. But there are two sorts of photographer presented, open to analysis in other ways; two that use digital technology to construct images, and two that don’t.

Paul Hartigan is the most well known artist here. He uses old documentary Polaroids he created in the eighties of street signage in New Zealand cities. He has scanned and enlarged these and altered some details. When he has printed the results onto canvas they become a sort of hybrid artwork, a combination of print, painting and photograph. They become a fascinating surrogate for the original weather-beaten and sun bleached signs he recorded. Once ubiquitous (but now gone) outdoor advertising is replaced by refined and aestheticised gallery art which, as historical artefacts, mourn the signs’ passing.

Conor Clarke’s ‘full frontals’ feature the ornate entrances of Victorian villas, examining the decorative configurations of veranda fences and porch screens. Her images don’t seem that excessive unless you cotton on to their strange hybridity. They look authentic at first, even though their original colours have been replaced by suburban picket-fence white, but then their peculiar arabesques start to distract and you realise that these are wildly curvaceous extrapolations. Because of their frontality they could almost be decorative paintings like those of Valerie Jaudon. They are subtle images that tease you into believing and doubting things you shouldn’t.

Kevin Capon has been exhibiting photographs for well over thirty years, exploring all sorts of subject matter. Here he mixes conventional photographs with appropriated family photographs from his childhood. Some of the recent images examine light pouring into store front-window displays. Both have an uncanny quality, a subtle and disturbing strangeness that seems inexplicable.

There are two suites of work from Geoffrey Heath: smaller, more subtle portraits of friends taken (I think) in their homes, and larger broader shots of objects in domestic or outdoor settings. Of the latter, the headless self portrait of the artist reclining on a couch in his underwear is the most startling. It showcases the vertiginous whirling lines of the furniture’s fabric pattern as it whirls around the sexual blue triangle at the image’s centre. Another large image of a clown standing near a pine forest has an ominous John Wayne Gacy creepiness.

Yet it is with the smaller, intimate ‘Spare Room’ portraits that Heath really excels. Their very considered backgrounds combine with the body language of each sitter to enable a clarity of form and nuanced edge. The sitters are relaxed but precisely positioned, dressed and made up. The resulting suite of five images is more cohesive and convincing than the other larger works.

This is an excellent group show at City Art Rooms, with valuable detailed information on the take-away catalogue sheet about the title’s concept and each artist. It is an excellent contribution to the photography festival currently on in Auckland.