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.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

A couple of Larus dominicanus and one Larus bulleri

A couple of Larus dominicanus and one Larus bulleri
Kate Newby and Nick Austin: Hold Still
Te Rimu Tahi / Western Park, Ponsonby
Sat 30 August 2008 (9 am - 9 pm)
A One Day Sculpture Event

It’s a lovely treat to be tricked into exploring the ferny bushy gullies of Western Park, while checking out the art – despite it being a bitterly cold (but at least dry) day.

Austin and Newby’s installation is a lot of fun, even if you are not interested in little bush walks. From the circular viewing platform (see top photo) they’ve set up a couple of bird watching telescopes on tripods. From a distance you can observe three tirelessly standing Black Backed and Black Beaked Gulls, cheekily perched on two nearby picnic tables. Furthermore you can saunter down the paths and get a closer peek. They seem to like people coming up and peering at them. They don’t flinch a bit. Maybe ornithology is a big thing in Ponsonby.

There is a meaning I’d like to propose for all this: the viewing platform is called Arohanui: still an abundance of love.

Abundance of love? Here is what it says on a small plaque:
Mauri tu, mauri ora, mauri noho, mauri mate.
Those who choose to stand will live; those who choose to do nothing will perish.

The text seems to be an attack on pacifism. Maybe it was put there in the seventies during the Vietnam War. If you think the gulls are stuffed (actually they're are not, they are fabricated), well think about it. They chose ‘to stand’, and look where it got them. In this world it's the quick and the dead. Standing still is definitely unwise.

Friday, August 29, 2008

A markerpiece

Chris Marker, Owls at Noon Prelude: The Hollow Men
Gus Fisher
29 August – 4 October 2008

This has got to be the highlight of the Gus Fisher year. A wonderful exhibition from the Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane of two key works by the legendary French film-maker Chris Marker.

One, La Jetée (1962) is much discussed, and highly influential – a thirty-minute long series of b/w stills about thwarted love after an imagined Third World War.

The other, Owls at Noon Prelude: the Hollow Men (2005) is very recent, so new to most, and quite extraordinary. It shows for somebody born in 1921, Marker still has all motors running - at full throttle. It is extremely clever, visually and poetically compelling and immensely moving – just as La Jetée is. But without a personal narrative.

One can speculate why Marker has made a film about WW1 almost a hundred years after. Perhaps sparked off by Iraq? Yet to the French, those battle sites are still much visited and the events greatly talked about, even now. (I know because I lived in a village on the site of the Battle of the Marne for a couple of years, and the old people there all had stories to tell. We even found fired mortars in our garden and live bullets in our barn, so historic events remain immensely vivid for very long periods.)

This film blends the language of Eliot, Sassoon and others with Marker’s own pithy commentaries and treated found images – a huge bank of them that he has skilfully orchestrated to present on a line of eight screens. The gridded line alternates: ABABABAB.

Not only are the paired sets of images haunting, but the way the written word is treated on the screens is immensely interesting. You see quotations from Eliot which then have phrases removed and presented in isolation, sometimes close-up, sometimes grainy and disintegrating, or only a few letters at a time – drawing out new or refreshing old meanings. Then Marker makes his own observations, mixed in.

This sort of layered show needs lots of return visits. There is a great catalogue available with essays by the wonderful Adrian Martin and Raymond Bellour. And a series of stimulating lectures which, if they are half as good as the short one Laurence Simmons gave at the opening, will be spell-binding.

Two out of seven

Anya Henis
Jungle television
Newcall Gallery
20 August - 6 September

There are seven ‘realist’ paintings by Henis at Newcall. Some work, some don’t. There’s one work that avoids a spectral range, Texas, that is brilliant - of brown arches in a sort of cathedral. It is sculpturally modelled and very focussed in terms of palette. Just wonderful. Most of the show though, is all over the place.

Of the rest, some indicate that she has painted what she sees and not what she knows, and are like collages in their textured treatment of walls without shadows - accompanied by floating, super intense bright skies. The perspective is not accompanied by modelling shadows so the planar shapes don’t sit properly on the picture plane.

Love Hotel though, is a success, an image of a tiled corner in a Japanese hotel lobby with plants and palms. Symmetrical with plainly coloured ovals set against detailed fine brushwork, it succeeds because of its balance.

The two works I have praised here are well worth seeing and quite special. The other five, forget.

This exhibition is accompanied by a text by Harold Grieves that tells you all about the erudition of the writer and bugger all about the art. Flatulent yet dense with literary references, it is preoccupied with narrative with no grasp of how the images are constructed. Like a lot of art writing these days that young graduates seem to love (because it flatters) it is useless.

Adults beware

Nicky Hoberman
Gow Langsford
26 August - 12 September 2008

When I first glanced through the GL window at this show I thought Hoberman’s very large paintings were related to the photographs of children watching telly that Wolfram Hahn presented at Starkwhite recently. Similar intensity I thought.

Yes and no. Similar blotchy skins and inscrutable gaze, but Hoberman’s brats are basically about malevolence. There is a demonic undercurrent to this work, torturing cats by chucking them in the air so they writhe and arch. Sinister but kind of silly too. The works are not psychologically heavy or even that clever. Slightly naff in fact. The artist tries hard but these kids aren’t really scary. Michael Smither’s children on the other hand, are. Their teeth seriously alarm.

The relationship these kiddiewinks have with the animals is a curious question. Are the creatures tribal talismans, as in family members metamorphosized. Are they cute so they can have horrid things done to them in some anticipated narrative we are yet to be told? Perhaps they are there to make the children themselves look more feral?

Hoberman works best with single children as sitters. The bigger paintings get cluttered causing the psychic intensity gets dissipated. The single subjects glower effectively. You don’t want to get too close. They might have knives hidden nearby.

So what is the artist trying to do? I suspect she really hates all such rug rats and is trying to encourage her audience to use birth control. She is probably a mother who at some point realised she had made a big mistake, and wants to warn others. These paintings are profoundly community-minded.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Aural Feast

Speed of Sound: Motion and Journeys
A festival of sound installations curated by Andrew Clifford
Gus Fisher
21 August - 24 August 2008

Aural art has long been embraced by the visual arts community and regularly heard in galleries, so it’s a great idea to have this sonic fest involving Auckland Uni’s School of Music and Elam Art School.

I couldn’t get to everything, and maybe Friday’s events were the pick of the crop, but here’s what I did check out:

In the small room on the right was Stephen Matthews’ a three part video installation which I quite liked, especially sections where the falling water of Waikoropupu Springs was an intense blur that looked like fabric. The sound, using the tāonga puoro (Māori flute) played by Richard Nunns, I found completely overwhelmed by the imagery. The flute as an instrument is too sweet for my tastes. Basically I dislike it. I’d prefer hearing the water by itself.

Kaleb Bennett’s Santiago tour in the big left-hand room I couldn’t get into. Maybe I hit a dull spot when I happened to walk in, but I’d rather see a Kiarostami movie (shot in a car) than hear a cabbie rattle on about a city’s tourist delights. I wasn’t prepared to invest a lot of time in it, but if I missed something good, then readers, tell me so.

The festival’s highlight was James McCarthy’s Recent History. On the main ‘dome-room’ wall, above the staircase that goes downstairs, McCarthy had positioned a large relief drawing made of tightened piano wire, depicting Rangitoto Island. He used this image as an instrument, first of all plucking and scraping the middle section with long poles that had metal tips, then the lefthand side with bluesy ‘bottlenecks’ or lipstick holders, and then later the right using a violin bow.
He proceeded to give a very accomplished recital using a couple of small fans on each side that strummed the wires, incorporating also some subtle Eno and Fripp type sound loops that repeated delicate little phrases.

Immediately after McCarthy’s Saturday morning performance, DJN played a work called PIANOKIK by repeatedly booting a white soccer ball at the back of the specially exposed wires of a stand-up piano. The artist got more variety from this technique than you might expect, emitting different degrees of resonating, rumbling, harmonic sound. It would be interesting to see what a professional football player (a fit person who can consistently kick with accuracy) could do with this instrument.

On Sunday afternoon in a large downstairs hall, Sam Hamilton performed SONAR REALIDAD INTERIOR: Mapping the Transient, using a large collection of field recordings he has made in the Amazon rainforest. He also incorporated modulating sonic structures - so it was really Attenborough meets Stockhausen, with the occasional Hendrix feedback coming out from under a mossy log. The experience was very sculptural as Hamilton moved sections of twittering and honking frog or bird noises, muffled Spanish voices, or roaring trains, around the six to eight speakers, exploring different intensities and mixes.

Exasperatingly short though the event was, mostly crammed around one weekend, this rich assortment of sonic delights was much enjoyed I’m sure by all who braved the miserable weather to explore it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Registering Billy

Billy Apple
Sue Crockford
19 August - 13 September 2008

The Artist is now officially a brand, with a little circle enclosing a wee ‘R’ alongside his name. What that means legally I’m not sure, but the polyester cast fruit here on display in a solitary vitrine certainly looks tasty.

It’s a bluish ‘candy’ red, like a toffee apple but not so brown. The word ‘Billy’ is negatively embossed into its surface, which looks like a reddish varnish – thick and translucent with a silver undercoat shining though. Gorgeous! Asymmetrical, it is curvaceous too. A unique form peculiar to the special edible variety Apple intends to market.

The funny part is the precision of the price and the way it is displayed. On the handout it is $71,518.50 with the cents put in a font point that is half the height of the rest. It is as if the .50 is an embarrassment, which of course, it is. It looks ridiculous. There should be a whole row of zeros after the seventy-one. The artist should have (ahem) registered that it would look so ugly. He should have allowed for GST and lessened his own cut when he calculated the price.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Peter Dornauf, our Hamilton correspondent, sends us this review of TWNCAA

Trust Waikato National Contemporary Art Award 2008
Curated and judged by Natasha Conland
Waikato Museum of Art and History Te Whare Taonga o Waikato
23 August - 30 November 2008

Art competitions seem a little outdated these days. Is one art piece, in such a context, really fifteen thousand dollars better than all the rest? Of course not. But that’s the circus one buys into, the premise on which the whole silly thing is constructed; show biz; oooh, ah, a winner, gold medal, glitz, gaga, brouhaha.

Then there’s the judging. I always want to see the works that have been rejected. Maybe we should resurrect the Salon de Refuse.

Anyhow, the Waikato Art Award threw up its ubiquitous “controversial” winner. We’ve had soap holders, DB crates and now a piece of plaster board indented with squared lines. It’s become almost de rigour for such a selection, becoming a little tiresome and predictable.

But that wasn’t the funniest thing going on here. The real crack-up was reading the artists’ statements, watching them strain and puff their way to some kind of bullfrog profundity. The prize for the most inflated piece of verbal gymnastics must go to Marcus Williams and Susan Jowsey for the explanation accompanying their video work, The Limbic. Here’s a sample:

The uniquely mammalian occurrence of individual endocrine regulation through the interdependence of the group.

Worth 9.75 on the horizontal bars.

Most of the time the works collapsed under the weight of such pomposity.

Speaking of the comic, it was amusing to follow the bureaucratic footwork of a nervous director attempting to appease City Councillors and “patrons” perceived negative reactions to the show with pre-emptive quotations from their own latest strategic document. It apparently “challenges us to be ‘bold and imaginative". Whether such a ploy, obviously felt necessary, is enough to dampen the “sense of unease” as Kate Vusoniwailala anxiously and politically puts it, remains to be seen. It’s obvious which patrons the director feels she needs to pitch her message to, given the shift to the doctrine of populism in recent years at this institution.

Having said all that, there were some standout works of the thirty three selected.

Miranda Parkes, Hourglass. Her work always delights. There is that wonderful contradiction between voluptuous, sculptural form and strict geometry of bright paint. A visual feast.

Clay Heads, by Richard Maloy was a stunner. Echoes of Munch’s Scream together with the mud men of Max Ernst and some African tribe. Primal and cleverly executed.

Censored, by Bruce Connew showed us how political art can be done well. Young Sun Han’s Untitled (collaged appropriated image) was simply arresting and Paused Painting by Helen Calder skilfully reminded us of the viscous qualities of paint itself.

(The above image shows the winning work by Patrick Lundberg.)

Hard-headed watercolour

2008 Henrietta and Lola Anne Tunbridge Scholarship exhibition
George Fraser
21 August -30 August 2008

This is an unusual idea, to have a $10,000 prize for watercolourists. And as it turns out, it’s a pretty nuggetty show. Not really about manual dexterity in rendering as some might expect - more about attitude and concept. In fact it’s an avant–garde show. It takes an extreme position, and is the better for that.

Ron Brownson, the judge, Senior Curator at AAG, made a good choice in choosing the winner. A toss up between Charles Ninow or Mark Foster, I’d say. Ninow’s six sheets of hideously glossy light card featured small groups of tiny red and yellow squares (a reference to mosaic tessellations) - some of them pin dots – swamped in a field of white. Utterly bizarre but also very funny. Nice title too: Stability on Thursdays (Working Towards Stability on Mondays) #1-6.

Two of the entries (Seul Ki Kim and Wendy Hannah) are too sentimental for this context and looked out of place, but the rest – Andrew De Freitas, Nicola Farquhar, Ninow, Mark Foster, and Ash Kilmartin – helped construct a tight little exhibition that celebrates rigor and steely resolve.

Some artists' statements might have been a handy option, but not a necessity. The written word is overvalued now in art academia and tends to smother the experiential, but most viewers are likely to be curious about the motivation behind these works.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Robot Daubers on Film

Simon Ingram - Drawing for an autopoetical painting: Monochrome in C (2005) with Monochrome in K (2008)
A Centre for Art, Level 3, Rm 5 Achilles House
21 August - 6 September 2008

Here we have videos of two Simon Ingram paintings being made by his programmed Lego robot devices. One is part of a piece of sculpture now, shown on the installed box monitor on the floor. The show's title is floor sculpture's name - note, not the name of the actual painting that was made.

The other work, Painting Assemblage No.6 is from last year’s Adam Art Gallery group show Four Times Painting. You can see a similar version on YouTube with a sumptuous soundtrack from the Dead C. In the ACFA version that's on a monitor fixed to the wall, the movement of the machine’s descending paint-loaded platform is slow and hauntingly beautiful. Sometimes the horizontal bars have a blurred ghosting effect, as if the movement trips, stops, reverses and then readvances to progress. It looks like a cleaning box on the side of a huge building and has a futuristic Sci/Fi feel. Nice cinema.

The earlier work is more a piece of sculpture, with the monitor placed on the floor and a shiny black monochrome placed opposite the screen, tilting away at the top to lean against a wall. If you stand over the monitor and look down onto the canvas you can see the moving video. The details are hard to decipher and the suggestion is that the shiny canvas is the actual support that the programmed robot is working on. If so the work is reflexive, cleverly documenting its own manufacture.

I really like the graininess of the later work. The movement is sensual and hypnotic, and the dark brown of the filmed linen locks well into the ACFA environs and decor. One small gripe: a handout on the two paintings (and the notion of ‘autopoietical’) would have been useful.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Chromatic Slivers

Tilman: Lost and Found; Concrete Findings
rm 103
14 August - 30 August 2008

Belgian artist and curator, Tilman, is pretty well unknown in this country, but he now has a show of his own work in rm 103 and is about to present an exhibition of thirty international abstractionists in The Physics Room in Christchurch called My Eyes Keep me in Trouble. Both projects look very exciting.

His four portable paintings in Auckland look like the above image but use stronger pastel (lolly) colours, with two circular holes cut near the two top corners. They look like the rectangular palettes that oil painters use. He also has a large yellowy-green wall painting painted directly on the opposite wall.

Tilman's movable paintings are mouth-wateringly gorgeous. Sexy in the way the front plane of colour interacts with slivers of other coloured panels sandwiched behind it. Little skinny bits of thin rectangular sections peek out at you from the sides. You can barely see them from the front. They are reminiscent in their delicate linear (but chromatically punchy) nuances of some of the works of Imi Knoebel, but lighter (in weight) and smaller.

This is a fabulous show. The best work I personally have ever seen in rm 103. It’s a class act in one small room. Hats off to rm 103 for presenting it. It’s stunning.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Gorgeous scarf

Kit Lawrence
Trackstanding to Ecstasy
Gambia Castle
15 August – 6 September 2008

Kit Lawrence is a rock musician and a painter, but this show is wider: more about cellphone photos of cellphones showing photographs, and other assorted items. And writing. He has written a short play which one can take home and read. An excerpt went out with the email invite.

The expressionist paintings, two chalky, oil on canvas, portraits in the style of Bacon, Dix or Schmidt-Rottluff, look out of place in this context. Lawrence has spread his work out into the Gambia office, but without the paintings those office items in the main space instead could have made the show a lot tighter and crisper. The wall painting on the other hand, of a frowning grey squarehead, because it is large, graphic, and in the style of the photographed smiley circle masks used by Paul Johns in Christchurch, looks great - dominating the room. The ones on the Physics Room website look good too. It would be interesting to see a group of those here.

My favourite work is the beautiful metallic, silvery-grey scarf, knotted and mysteriously abandoned on the dark floor. The fact that it is a small loop, not a scarf that would accidentally slip off somebody’s neck, makes it more enigmatic and coded.

The play MO FO ME appeals because it is so unusual. I admire the idea, drive and skill to do it. However the language is awkwardly dense and stiff, though it does combine angst with calculated humour. We witness a three way conversation between the painter (an Elizabethan Kokoschka), his beloved cat and a cynical observer lurking in the shadows. The painter (‘a knave’) speaks in rambling and pompous soliloquies, as if he were a surrealist who has read a lot of Shakespeare.

The exhibition in general shows Lawrence to be quite unusual in his preoccupations, but not particularly focussed in his structuring of exhibitions. Not the most exciting of Gambia Castle presentations.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Mark Adams and Fiona Pardington
Two Rooms
14 August -13 September

We have here a cleverly organised pairing of these two photographers looking at Aotearoa as it might have been (mainly) in pre-Pakeha times. Of special interest to them in this show is the use of pounamu (greenstone) and the trails Ngai Tahu used to get to the valuable deposits on the West Coast, quarry it and export it. Pardington looks at the former and Adams the latter.

Adams is usually known in Auckland for his coloured images of Samoan couples with tattooed body ornament, posing in the privacy of their sitting-rooms, works that have often been shown in the Auckland Art Gallery. Personally I find those photographs too sociological and community oriented. A bit dully obvious. I much prefer his panoramic landscape images here, with their dark brooding tones, largish scale, overwhelming mystery with a romantic sense of times past. Most are in two (occasionally three) sections, butted together.

I first saw his landscape work in the Close Up show at Gus Fisher. That was a revelation, so it is great to see more of it here. Adams is particularly good at presenting sweeps of darkly spectacular hillforms behind broad expanses of shimmering water or mudflats. His images are far better than the real thing, as all art should be. A spellbinding fiction. The loss of colour (or obvious colour) greatly improves them.

The heitiki that Fiona Pardington finds in museums and documents particularly intrigue, especially when they happen to be unfinished as carvings. They look like living creatures in the process of moving or growth. There are two sizes here and the smaller framed works succeed far more than the much bigger unframed ones which lose the depth and range of tone, but which have a delicate hint of colour.

The knockout photographs in Pardington’s half of the show are her shots of taxidermy birds, especially tui. She places their dark forms beautifully in a strikingly enbracing negative space which has an intense glare that overwhelms. The bird is not the first thing you see. Some of the heitiki are now becoming repetitive but these recent ornithological images have a formal subtlety that bring you back for another look.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Regular readers of eyeCONTACT might be curious about

the art practice of its editor, particularly his large gridded map and small alphabet soup works. Here are the details of his current Auckland exhibition in City Art Rooms in Lorne St. Whether brickbats or bouquets, yawns or snorts: all comments & reviews welcome.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Clinton Watkins
Two Rooms
14 August – 13 September 2008

Clinton Watkins is one of those artists whose interest in one methodology has fine-tuned him for another. He is a very fine video-maker with the sensibility of a painter.

Of the two videos here, one is a ten minute shot of the sea: watching the changes on the horizon brought about by rolling fog (like circular brushmarks smeared so the structural contours are blurred); the other is a much shorter loop of a container ship crossing the screen. Its moving image is divided horizontally, so it looks like an Elsworth Kelly, early Brice Marden or Don Driver’s seventies Relief Series of projecting panels.

Not only is this last work like a minimalist painting, but it is also like the unfolding of a poem, the way the blocklike letters on the bow gradually reveal their sequence within the vessel’s name. The gliding horizontal drift is mesmerizing - like a puck moving in slo/mo across an air hockey table - as is the soothing electronic music Watkins makes to accompany his images.

The simple ideas that he uses are very effective meditations on the nature of passing time and the appeal of watching motion. Watkins has made a number of ‘ship videos’, each one with its own mood, the result of the boat shape, colour, boat name, and weather conditions. It’s wonderful work, full of action that is incredibly calming and nuanced. A visual and aural treat.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Peter Dornauf has contributed

two articles, and we have a.nomie on More Heaphy and Xin Cheng on Andrew Barber. Many thanks.

Poignant portrait

Yvonne Todd: Dawn of Gland
Ivan Anthony
14 August – 6 September 2008

Yvonne Todd seems to construct the titles of her images and exhibitions with great care. This one, Dawn of Gland, has an inbuilt oscillation, a wavering between a romantic prehistory (Dawn of Land) and the grossly pornographic (Dawn of Glans).

Okay, so you think I’m being irresponsible, calculatedly provocative? Well think about this. The key work in the show is a self portrait of the artist made up as Christine Onassis, the unhappy multi-millionaire who died young. It is a very unusual photograph in that it is in the tradition of painting and at odds with the rest of the exhibition which uses photographic coding.

It has a precursor made three years ago and not in this exhibition, that seems to connect to American pop art, especially the work made by the late Tom Wesselman. More importantly, this photograph, not a portrait of any type, seems to be about men who like to masturbate between women’s breasts. It manipulates an array of signs to beckon to them – not out of critique but out of a sense of control and gleeful teasing. The Coca Cola bottle is deliberately aligned close to the plump cleavage. The artist is laughing at them a little, but really more with them. The phenomenon of male hetero desire clearly fascinates. Again like this show’s title we have an oscillation, and a reference to the pornographic imagination. It’s wickedly sly.

There is one work here specifically about fetishism, though it could be interpreted as being about fashion. It is a boot–stocking hybrid, the strangest of footwear that has a high heel, a lacy back and a lace-up pink cord. This object of worship doesn’t seem to have a real leg inserted into it. Real people aren’t needed. It has a piece of carefully shaped cardboard.

The other two works have different moods. One shows a carefully made-up woman in seventies apparel coolly appraising herself in the mirror, her reflection just under life size. The dynamic between model and reflection (we see no glass) brings a wonderful tension to a somewhat serene image.

Todd’s other work, is about careful placement of limbs (much like André Kertész) but amusingly set against meticulously devised eye reflections. Despite the model’s seventies makeup and wig, she seems to be wearing a bizarre music hall item from the flapper era. Though her face is impassive her eyes are red as if she has been crying.

The Onassis portrait is not as icy as Todd’s usual photographs. Despite its being a thoroughly prepared construction it has emotional immediacy, for the sitter radiates a tremulous vulnerability – via a ‘European’ as opposed to ‘Antipodean’ face. (Native English speakers tend to only use facial muscles from below their noses. They don’t ‘activate’ their whole faces when conversing.) It has a brittleness, a quaver in its expression that of the four photographs makes it the easiest to remember.