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

Spong sculptures

Sriwhana Spong: Backdrop
Newcall, Auckland
July 22 – August 9, 2008

I’ve always thought the New Zealand art world has been somewhat gullible in its rapid embrace of Sriwhana Spong’s videos, works particularly eclectic in their use of techniques by Lynch and Hitchcock, dropped into a Balinese context and plonked into poorly thought out installations of badly made props (as in her Turbulence ARTSPACE show).

However this artist learns fast, and her Newcall show has no moving image at all but some nicely made wall works and minimal sculptures. There is also a collaborative musical work (based on birds on telephone lines providing a musical score, an old Fluxus idea). Now she seems more in control of what she is doing. Her placement of elements seems more exact.

Most of the exhibition features lacquer in various forms, and is in fact a sort of meditation on it and shellac as substances. Both varnish products were once derived from lac, a resin found in certain beetles, but today the more durable lacquer is a nitrocellulose polymer that is dissolvable in certain solvents, and shellac the insect product once commonly used to make 78 records. Vinyl was invented in 1935, but shellac was used for records till the fifties, with some factories continuing in non-western countries till the seventies.

Some of Spong’s works are wooden panels, stained with dissolved shellac (from records), and sometimes combined with small make-up paintings. Others are rolled up balls (from melted pieces of records) placed in a chalk circle on the floor, but most impressive are two shiny black puddle shapes on the wall. Into these lac fetish objects have been set elements found in her earlier installations and videos: cigarettes, pins, string, cinnamon sticks, silver foil, burnt matches, necklace chains, bobby clips, pencil leads.

Two other works use rows of small tubular glass beads threaded on to nylon in a way similar to her use of strings of cigarettes in previous exhibitions. In one work four highly reflective lines make up a square cross-sectioned vertical column. In another, ‘Symphonic Variations’ (like the image on the invite) a curtainlike arrangement of overlapping parabolas and black beaded lines is suspended from the ceiling to make a ‘musical’ drawing in space.

Nice to see Spong’s various spatial explorations in this show. I enjoyed its understatement. Lots of air.

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