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.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Newby installation

Kate Newby: Thinking with your body
Gambia Castle
18 July - 9 August 2008

It’s an interesting speculative problem to try to locate Kate Newby’s art practice (which has a large language component) as a form of literature. If it is legitimate to consider Lawrence Weiner a poet of sorts (to read his texts off the catalogue page or to see them as 'poetry’ on the streets) - and certainly in poetry anthologies like Douglas Messerli’s American collection “From the Other Side of the Century” there are several poets communicating with texts supplemented by added photographs or diagrams – then maybe when Newby paints a mural on a brick wall that just says ‘Plants songs food clothes’ she is presenting a poem. The same when she writes on a vase that is about to be fired, “Go and put on an album of Gillian Welch and try to remember a time before all this crap filled your mind.”

The fact that she uses words on banners, murals and ceramics this way is what makes her practice interesting, rather than her being a consummate wordsmith. It’s not academic language at all, not sophisticated or erudite - just very plain. Downright ordinary. Close to banal even – especially with her lists of nouns.

However the really odd thing in this show (outside the question of poetry) is that seemingly despite her best efforts to resist it, Newby is turning into a painter – not the portable canvas stretcher variety but a maker of surprisingly sensual props in installations.

The thin muslin hanging across the Gambia Castle gallery is in front of a newly painted, narrow section of yellow floor, walls and window panes. Trying hard to be on the periphery of the Gambia space, it looks as if the traditional position of a yellow sun suspended within a blue sky has been reversed. The blue hanging is enclosed by, and framed by, yellow. In the horizontal blue/grey strip at its top are delicately stained textures that look like bicycle tyre or shoe sole prints, softly smeared and mottled. Beautifully understated these wisps of colour float on the gauze that ripples and sways in the breeze, catching the light that streams in the window.

The other interesting artwork is the one made by leaving the staircase door to the street-front ‘Crockford window’ open. Of course from out on the K’ Rd footpath it beckons to pedestrians to come upstairs and check out Newby’s show, but its main feature is also to confuse you when you are leaving the building. If you are a little absent-minded (er like me) instead of turning right to the outside entrance at the bottom of the stairs, you find yourself attracted by the daylight and stepping out towards the window glass. It is a bit like a flytrap for day-dreaming reviewers and novice Gambia visitors, a ruse that shows you just how dangerous 'thinking with your body' can be. A warning to concentrate when you leave the rarefied world of art and creative imaginations and walk into the ‘real world’ of rowdy passers by and speeding smelly traffic.

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