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 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.

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