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.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Conflict and terrain

Land Wars Part 2: Build
Curated by Emma Bugden
Te Tuhi, Pakuranga
3 April - 28 June 2008

As trends go, there are an awful lot of exhibitions focussing on global politics being presented at this time – from the recent Auckland Triennial’s Turbulence, AAG’s current Earth Matters to the up-and-coming Sydney Biennale with its theme of Revolution. And the art world seems to accurately reflect the ‘real’ world. Our papers and television are full of third world issues. The moral issues embodied in our colonial history and the ecological consequences of our privileged western lifestyle are now being examined as never before. And land is a crucial part of those debates.

Land Wars: Part 2 Build incorporates a curious mix of media, with Michael Shepherd’s three botanically focussed paintings looking strangely static and old fashioned amongst all the photography and occasional exuberant drawing. Moving image dominates.

Some of the work is preoccupied with conveying pungent information - but is not that exciting as art. It is too direct, with no tropes, no inventive use of materials, no layering. In this matter-of-fact and one dimensional category, I’d put Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri’s videos about the plight of Palestinians living in Ramleh and Lod, where the Israeli’s have demolished Arab housing and driven out the inhabitants. Excellent documentaries, but dull art.

An example of work with wit and layering is the filmed Hausbau project by Folke Köbberling and Martin Kaltwasser, where the two artist/architects and their families erected the basic structure of a very small house using recycled materials. They did this overnight, outside the Turkish district of Berlin, giving it protection by an ancient Ottoman law so it couldn’t be torn down. They furnished it the next day and lived there for a week, welcoming curious visitors who came out from the neighbouring housing development blocks to look.

Another highlight, also showing an inventive use of recycling but on a much bigger scale, is a 35 minute film by aaa, a collective of architects and residents in La Chapelle, a northern suburb of Paris. They shared resources while squatting, and so were prepared in case they had to leave at short notice. Even the vege gardens were on pallets so they could be quickly shifted to a new site. The film focuses on ECO-box, a special designed communal kitchen.

Kim Paton’s simple shed made from recycled materials is a lovely sculptural component to the show, and its interiors are used to provide a noticeboard for the documentation of the development of Manukau’s Flat Bush town centre. Paton shows how the agenda of the Auckland Regional Council has shifted from wishing to provide cheap housing to that of providing housing for those with above average incomes. This is a feisty, surprisingly sensual work, but its documentation needs careful attention to follow the debates about various property developers associated with the township.

The eleven polemical drawings by Marjetica Potrc, with bright fluoro colours and slick ink lettering, are pretty intriguing. Her Rural Practices Future Strategies (series 1-11) advocates that fragmented rural communities link together so they become self sustainable. Opposing cities as a basis for citizenship and replacing them with ‘Florestania’, Potrc’s colourful diagrams are peppered with epigrams like ‘a citizen is the smallest state’, ‘being connected is what matters”, and ‘democracy is particles’.

Though some of the exhibits are a bit predictable (like Andrew Ross’s photographs of disappearing urban landscapes) this is a lively and stimulating exhibition. If you spend some quality time closely watching the videos and examining the static works, you will be well rewarded.

(Images by Michael Shepherd, Folke Köbberling / Martin Kaltwasser, and Kim Paton.)

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