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.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

More aural than visual

Tony Oursler: Spectar
Jensen Gallery
1 July - 26 July 2008

Like his friend and fellow musician Mike Kelley, Tony Oursler was taught by John Baldessari. There is an element of Baldessari’s ‘Learn to Dream’ billboard in this trio of works just opened at Jensen, for Oursler is very interested in the imagination.With that comes mental states and the paranormal – the sort of subject matter Olivia Plender researched in AAG’s Mystic Truths with her interest in Victorian mediums like the Fox sisters.

The first of the three works is Void/Void, a black aluminium blob that looks like spilt ink, with a distorted mouth quietly muttering a monologue out of a wobbly aperture in the middle. It looks related to one of the Painting + Paper: Ooze series from last year.

Spectar is the star of the show, but not seen at its best because there is too much light in the gallery space. The plaster-over-polystyrene form on which several evil looking eyes and one vertical mouth are projected, looks like a Barbara Hepworth or Joan Miro sculpture. It has a terrific verbal soundtrack containing lots of references to séances and table tapping, with at least two voices talking at once, and a really varied orchestration of vocal tone, from smooth growling to being startled or interrupted. The voiceover could even work by itself.

On his website there is a conversation between Oursler and Parkett editor Louise Neri where he talks about paring down some of his older works. Incandescence used to be a talking lamppost (I saw it in Munster in 1997) but in this new version instead of a tall city street lamp flickering on and off and synchronised with the spoken text, we see a domestic bulb. The absurdity is lost with the diminished scale and loss of public space. Like Bruce Nauman, Jenny Holzer, or Mike Kelley, Oursler is an accomplished writer, but this text needs more theatrical visual material with it, and its aural qualities quickly become flat.

Although there only three works you could spend a lot of time with this show, concentrating on the spoken word. Opportunities to experience Oursler exhibitions in Aotearoa are rare, so don’t miss it.

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