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.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Collective minds

The Swarm: a peek into the hive-mind of group dynamics
Curated by Andrew Clifford
Gus Fisher
11 July -16 August 2008

Here is a juicy question:

When you assess a show, how much of it is from analysing the overarching curatorial premise (if that is stated), and the relationship of the ingredients to that – and how much is dependent on the quality of the individual items, regardless of curatorial intent?

After all, a viewer can ignore the intention of a curator if they wish, or the artist, or both – and the curator can ignore the artist (and maybe viewer) too. The axiom ‘Trust the art, not the artist’ is pretty sound commonsense if you believe art should have its own internal logic and independent semiotic life, most of it accessible visually. Perhaps the creator is the last person to ask about an artwork. There are likely to be unconscious components clear to outsiders that the artist is blissfully unaware of, and things that the artist thinks are glaringly obvious, which somehow, have mysteriously evaporated.

Okay, back to curatorial premises, as with this show. Some of the work supports Andrew Clifford’s interest in ‘a group infrastructure that wields more power than the some of the parts’ and some of it doesn’t. He references films like The Birds and The Swarm where wild creatures decide to organise themselves against humans.

When he succeeds in presenting a case for his premise, Clifford’s choices are brilliant. The music is very clever as a source of persuasion. From Scratch’s recording of Gung Ho, and Clifford’s discussion of Phil Dadson’s interest in hocketting (overlapping melodic phrases or rhythms from different sources) is fascinating - as is Douglas Bagnall’s Music Industry Simulator, which breaks down into formulae the melody structures of pop tunes to make them reconstitutable into ‘originals’ like building blocks. Also very witty in this context is Ani O’Neill’s collection of communally made, woollen knitted circles that could also be colourful bacterial colonies.

Not so ambiguous, but perfectly apt nonetheless, are Gregory Bennett’s sci-fi videos and images of thousands of little naked men, scampering in an unleashed tide through buildings. Louise Fong’s 1995 painting Cluster, with its satellite paintings encircling a central ‘mother’ canvas, is also an extremely clever element picked by Clifford.

With the other works, I felt they were dominated by too many different ‘atomic particles’ rather than ‘linkable’ elements that had a commonality. The art that depicted insects, that of Richard Killeen and Elizabeth Thomson, seemed to present too varied a range of species to suggest the existence of a communal mind. And Matt Molloy’s rickety bookcase of Christine Hellyarlike plaster and latex casts of egg-covered surfaces again seemed too unfocussed in content to fit the theme.

Now, as I suggested earlier, you could say ‘bollocks’ to the curator and just enjoy the show for its separate individual items, forgetting the theme. We all know that even one work, if it really excites us, is worth a visit to an otherwise tedious exhibition.

Rest assured there is nothing tedious here. There’s plenty to enjoy. Plenty of engaging parts for only a partially resolved whole. That doesn’t really matter, for it’s really an excuse to put some stimulating art out for an audience that might enjoy it. And they will. Nothing wrong with that.

(Above images from Richard Killeen, Ani O'Neill and Gregory Bennett.)

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