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.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Leave that sticky pad alone

Layla Rudneva–Mackay: 6 French Street, New Plymouth 2003
Te Tuhi billboard project, Pakuranga
23 February - 29 June 2008

Rudneva-Mackay recently had a show of her ‘portrait’ photographs at Starkwhite, works where the subjects had their faces hidden while posing in landscapes. They were quite different from this current Te Tuhi billboard show which features images from a few years earlier, taken when she was boarding in New Plymouth for a few months.

Also portraits of a kind, they depict no bodies or faces. Only sticky notepad pages bearing written messages, stuck on kitchen or bathroom walls. Scribbled as instructions for the future tenant of a temporarily leased house, they tell us a lot about a worried house owner. She or he is clearly anxious about the hygiene of future inhabitants and how they will use household equipment.

When blown up, taken out of the kitchen or bathroom and exposed to the gaze of street traffic and pedestrians, these stress-laden missives are wonderfully incongruous, if not surreal. They are steeped in a humour that mocks obsessiveness and excessive preoccupation with procedure and detail.

They are symptoms of a certain psychological type, often referred to as ‘control freaks.’ People who always want to supervise others and not let them be independent. This variety though never stops worrying about germs, danger, or possible accident, insists on always articulating detailed ways of avoiding calamity, and is never satisfied that sufficient precautions have ever been taken. Rudneva-Mackay’s landlord/lady obviously lost sleep worrying about tenants not figuring out how to use the shower tap, or sterilize dishcloths (three methods are explained) or cut the correct food on the provided boards or plastic sheets.

It seems the artist regularly muttered and fumed while living in French Street, and this is her revenge. However more than any catharsis she privately might get out of this project, it is a clever and entertaining idea to use public hoardings in such a mind-focussed fashion, featuring particularly casual and discardable material like sticky notes. It creates an adventurous and very unusual approach to photography and public art.

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