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.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

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

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