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 28, 2008

Skin of Braddock's back

Chris Braddock: The artist will be present
St. Paul St. Gallery 2
24 July - 22 August 2008

This large installation in the left-hand St. Paul St gallery features three videoed films in interconnected darkened spaces. At first glance they seem to examine the skin on the back of Chris Braddock - an artist who is a lecturer at AUT - all filmed at different angles, with different quantities and qualities of epiderm.

Actually two images only are of Braddock’s back. The third is of a sheet of thin plasticky paper that is fibrous, translucent and pale pink. It takes you a while to figure out what it is not, that it is not a human body part. It curls at the edges and has stretched and warped under pressure from heavy objects. These have left unhumanlike creases and indentations.

The filmed back shots are of the artist sitting naked - but leaning forward - while kneading, slapping and pummelling what is probably some wet clay. One camera is positioned directly behind (level with his shoulder blades) and one is above, looking down his neck. The latter shows images that alter rapidly when Braddock leans far forward. When the angle of his body changes the fleshy and sinewy image suddenly stretches and flattens out, no longer at an oblique orientation.

There are also speakers loudly playing the crisp, snappy, staccato sounds of Braddock’s ‘performance’ in the more public foyer.

As the witty title suggests (referring to the wording on invitations), a certain amount of preening narcissism is necesary for such artist body-focussed projects. The project succeeds because, and not in spite, of that. Braddock’s wiry anaemic freckled back presented this way has its own muscular eroticism. Its taut bony outcrops and translucent moving skin are surprisingly engaging - especially when coupled with a sense of the clandestine. His moderately sized images are presented in three dark alley-like spaces that seem conspicuously remote and private.

In this installation the four elements (behind-back moving image; above-back moving image; above-paper moving image; spanking sound effects) work well spatially. Their meaning is extremely mysterious, and bizarrely funny – perhaps about some sort of violent solitary masturbation that desires the collusion of a furtively voyeuristic audience (mainly male but not necessarily). It is immensely absorbing visually and aurally. The best work Braddock has made for many many years. A wonderful installation.

(The images are from Above, Back and Caress. Courtesy of the artist.)

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