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 4, 2008

Square eyes, round minds?

Wolfram Hahn: Disenchanted
30 June - 26 July 2008

This collection of photographs is unusual because it makes us think about two things. Firstly, the notion of ‘childhood’ and how children are perceived by older people. Secondly, the hypnotic power that television has over the minds of children.

When do children’s facial expressions become ‘childlike’ and when do they seem ‘adult’? What are our preconceptions of what the essence of these states might be? In this country we tend to have our children wear clothes that are created specifically for ‘kids’ to have fun in, but in Europe children are more often presented in public by their parents as mini-adults. They are dressed as miniature versions of Mummy and Daddy, as scaled down adults in formal attire – not kitted out for recreation. Kiwis, I think, tend to treat children as individuals who are not replicating their parents and often worry that they aren’t enjoying their innocence, believing that ‘adulthood’ should be deferred, that the responsibilities of later life should be delayed as long as possible.

To our eyes, the German children watching television in Hahn’s exhibition look older than their years. They have an intense concentrated gaze, being unbelievably serious while absorbed in the stories being unfolded before them. They wear casual garments, their hair is often untidy and not groomed. Their eyes are focused on a screen below the camera, and a bluish grey reflected light on the walls behind them brings out the warm colour of their faces and clothing. They are utterly immersed in the medium, without distance – forgetting themselves as observers.

Is all this a bad thing? I (personally) hate television - but I don’t think this exhibition necessarily endorses my prejudices. I hate it because I feel the programming insults me, so I spend my evenings with better recreational activities. However, maybe children learn a lot of good things from this medium. This show seems to be intended as a critique of television but I don’t think that is evident from the images. If you read bedtime stories to these children they may well have the same look.

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