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.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Christchurch Biennial of art for public spaces

SCAPE 2008: Wandering lines towards a new culture of space
Curated by Fulya Erdemci and Danae Mossman
Art & Industry’s Christchurch Biennial
19 September - 2 November 2008

This is the fifth SCAPE Biennial and, from all accounts, the best so far in terms of profile, interactivity and scope. There have been ocasional problems in getting some projects completed on time (Tatzu Oozu, Atelier van Lieshout) and with the wording of one work (Carmela Gross’s) being destroyed by bureaucrats, but all in all, it is a particularly visible, well conceived event.

The two curators, Fulya Erdemci, the director of several Istanbul Biennials, and ex-Physics Room director Danae Mossman, use the work of 25 artists to explore the theme of public space that as ‘negative space’ is not in the hands of the city’s private developers, but communal. Using the theoretical writings of Vito Acconci and Michel de Certeau as a guide, they have organised a series of artistic interventions that undermine the orthodox grid determined by the city fathers so that new patterns in thinking, invented trajectories embracing new logics, are created.

Although the artworks are scattered throughout the city centre, suburbs and satellite townships, most are in (or had reference material in) the GBD and ‘Cultural Precinct’ where the city gallery, cathedral, museum, library and arts centre are located.

The most visible work is local artist James Oram’s small solo yacht, held high in the sky by a massive construction crane situated in a grassy square two blocks down from the city gallery. Looking positively surreal, as well drawing attention to the vulnerability of the city to floods from its two rivers, this work helps promote the Biennial more effectively than SCAPE’s ubiquitous red banners and posters that are more about pleasing sponsors and donors than informing about the art.

Oram’s bizarre but poetic gesture is reflected in one room within Christchurch Art Gallery where Jen Berean (Can.) and Pat Foster (Au) have positioned bronze busts and figures from the gallery’s collection on absurdly towering plinths so they can only be fleetingly glimpsed. The white stands become sculptures in themselves.

In the room next door Guillaume Bijl (Bel) presents an extraordinarily opulent venue for the staging of a ‘Miss Christchurch’ competition. Red velvet drapes, shimmering gold backdrop and green lights make this sumptuous display for never-to-arrive contestants rivettingly memorable, helped by a wonderful seventies soundtrack of danceable music from Motown, Stax and white schmaltz. The music transforms the somewhat staid venue into a piquant but pleasurable setting for unfulfilled romance and dance floor capers - a fantasy location of bodily bliss.

Across the foyer on Christchurch Art Gallery’s ground floor is an entertaining video by Maider López (Sp.) showing some of her assistants holding potted flowers and tall blank placards, and others teetering on ladders balancing parcels and rows of plastic storage boxes. They are attempting to block out within the camera’s vista all evidence of advertising signage found on the surrounding mall buildings.

Down in the centre of the city, in the Anglican Cathedral that dominates the square, Lonnie Hutchinson (NZ) presents a binocular stand with which to view a virtual reality display (seen through drawn stone columns) of rippling pools of water, black silhouetted flax groves, trees and swooping native birds - the original pre-European swamp of the city’s site.

Nearby under three of the city bridges crossing the gentle waters of the Avon, Aaron and Hannah Beehre (NZ) have placed on the river bottom, sound-sensitive meshes of twinkling bulbs that radiate swirling vectors of eerie glow-worm-like light, when disturbed. They seem supernatural, as does the installation by Callum Morton (Au) of a giant meteorite that has crashed through the roof of a suburban fruit shop, to be seen through its front window.

Much gentler in mood is a small earth and grass amphitheatre designed by Muat and Fuat Şahinler (Tu.) where small groups of pedestrians can sit and talk. This permanent installation, Breather/ Tenefüs, is positioned in front of the municipal gallery and is a wonderful idea with its modest size and function - a great foil to some of the more grandiose additions to the city’s permanent public sculpture.

Paul Johns’ (NZ) contribution to SCAPE is to reinstate a plaque Yoko Ono originally persuaded CCC to make commemorating the life of her husband John Lennon and which the council later removed. Situated in some woods on the outer perimeter of North Hagley Park, it has strawberry plants positioned around it - a whimsical tribute to the power of the public imaginary as nourished by popular music on the radio.

More brutal is the work by Tea Mākipāā (Fin.) attacking the west’s destructive reliance on oil. Two partially buried, wreath-covered cars and a mounted engine are positioned on a grassy knoll near the bars and cafes of the Arts Centre. Surprisingly for this exhibition, they are not the most subtle of images.

Just as blunt is the work by Zones Urbaines Sensibles (Ne) of scaffolding steps and tiered seating overlooking a fenced-off reserve in Linwood. It crosses a fence to encourage public access. However the straddled and maligned barrier may in fact serve a good purpose. It may prevent vandals using the grass to make ‘dough-nut’ tyre-marks for example. Though the work is politically witty the little park now looks like a construction site and so is hardly welcoming anyway.

Likewise ham-fisted is Ron Terada’s (Can) painted slogan on the high walls of the Old Post Office building in Tuam St: ‘Who watches the watchmen?’ It seems to be rather ordinary graffiti expressing a rather ordinary sentiment, with no visual nuance in site or rendering.

Ann Veronica Janseens (Bel) had a show in ARTSPACE a few years ago, using – in one room – flashes of blinding light. A social variation of this interest is a fleet of bicycles with silver clad wheels that sporadically reflect ambient sunlight. Free and useful (I enjoyed my pedalling out of the GBD to see the Johns, Morton and ZUS works) the optical effects are not that memorable. More of interest to me was the viewing of parts of the city I had not visited for over twenty-five years. Like walking it encouraged a slower pace of observation (but more detailed), a rekindling of old memories.

Other zigzagging trajectories, those of inner city shopping, were utilized by Ayşe Erkmen (Tu) who placed golden rectangles bearing slogans on different sized shopping bags from nine shops. These were cleverly attuned to the particular products sold, such as for example, ‘never felt better’ (clothing), ‘never sat alone’ (coffee), ‘never ending story’ (books), ‘never without you’ (jewellery), or ‘never without music’ (cds).

What if the artist and the shopped for become inseparable as a commodifiable brand? Billy Apple’s (NZ) display in Ballantyne’s corner window on City Mall shows an early 1962 bronze apple made just as he was about to change his name from Barrie Bates. On its right is a coloured polyester apple made forty-six years later to commemorate his transition to legal trademark for an edible, marketable fruit called the ‘Billy Apple.’ The artist is using his name to promote a registered, specially created horticultural product, merging his own identity with that of a mass produced saleable commodity.

The theme of an image’s mass circulation is explored by Erick Beltrán (Mex). He has created facsimiles of the legendary stamp ‘Penny Claret’ which was withdrawn in 1906, reprinted and then (its originals) mistakenly sold. The original stamp can be seen in the Canterbury museum, and used to identify Beltrán’s fakes when they are intermittently released into the Christchurch community.

What we know about but cannot easily identify is also explored by Karin Sander (Ger.) who is employing a walker to circumnavigate the perimeter of the city. Like Beltrán’s museum display which provides a reference point for the public to use, Sander has a map located in the entrance of the Christchurch Art Gallery, on which there will be a daily marking out of the walker’s progress as it occurs. The walker is not readily identifiable. The map provides the only clues for his daily whereabouts and generates interest in parts of the city normally not noticed.

The Christchurch SCAPE Biennial is a lot smaller than the Auckland Triennial. It’s more public with fewer artists, having a higher profile while emphasising a far greater involvement with local sponsors. There is a vibrant mix of local and international art stars – I didn’t see everything but what I did see was mostly impressive – and SCAPE itself seems to be improving. Overall it rates better in my book than last year’s Auckland Triennial which was very inconsistent. Great for the Garden City.

(Images from James Oram; Guillaume Bijl ('Miss Ghent', not 'Miss Christchurch'); Ann Veronica Janssens; Billy Apple; Erick Beltran; the curators.)

Friday, September 26, 2008

By hook or by crook

Daniel Crooks: Everywhere instantly
Christchurch Art Gallery
18 July - 9 November 2008

With this exhibition Jenny Harper (Director of CAG) and Justin Paton (Senior Curator) have established themselves as the successors to Greg Burke (Govett-Brewster 1998 - 2005), as entrepreneurs of gallery spectacle. Their installation of Crooks' bodily immersive art should attract art pilgrims from the length and breadth of the country – while also exciting their very large local constituency to take advantage of easily repeated visits. Plus indicating to all, the way of civic art of the future: the merging of the cinematic with an acutely visceral and yet social experience.

Though born in Hastings (N.Z.), Crooks is a long established Melbourne resident who is rapidly acquiring an international reputation for his installations of projected moving images. With a show that samples five series of works (eight artworks in total) it is easy to see why.

With works that digitally cut into the filmed image to create stacked vertical or horizontal slivers (what Crooks calls ‘time slices’) he is clearly following in the traditions of Marey or Muybridge. Yet it is easy to exaggerate the importance of time to his practice – rather, to our experience of his practice. Some of these works are so bodily penetrating it is music that is the closest parallel. Especially when the rhythmic beat is unrelenting.

In fact you are more aware of time in the works in the foyer, where temporal sensation changes (compresses and then expands) in a hallucinatory fashion. At first glance the black and white images of Imaginary Objects # 1 and #4 seem to be static photographs. Inspired by Hiroshi Sugimoto’s photographs of clay geometrical teaching aids, Crooks’s stark forms instead have cast shadows that move almost imperceptibly. These works seem to place Crooks as an artist preoccupied with slowness like Min Tanaka, Bill Viola or Douglas Gordon who tease out the threshold of what normal observation can detect.

Yet just when you have it figured out, Crooks changes the lack of tempo and gradually speeds up the movement of the shadows. Then suddenly the shapes, originally like architectural ornaments, themselves morph into dry plant forms with leaves that start to unravel and billow out. You notice time because it becomes alarmingly unstable.

With Train No.1, one moving train is filmed from another going in the opposite direction. Although you can ponder Einstein’s account of his Theory of Relativity (involving this same train scenario) if you wish, this panoramic work (using eight projectors in a row) is particularly immersive and hypnotic, with its clicking soundtrack and flickering vertical pulses that seem almost subliminal. To use art historical comparisons, the works seem like Balla’s 1912 futurist painting Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash transmuted by Steve Reich’s Music for Eighteen Musicians, or kinetically converted David Hockney’s Polaroid photograph collages of the eighties. The images seem to rapidly fibrillate, as if advancing, returning and then advancing again: a very rapid, inbuilt, vibrating shudder.

Though there is an overall process operating, the artist seems to occasionally intervene and manipulate the groupings of vertical slices, particularly when passengers are emerging from the carriage doors, or when the filmed train moves to the right and the fence in the foreground as an illusion moves to the left. The rhythmic tensions and ripples of movement are very tightly controlled.

A less horizontal, more planar, compact musicality is found in Static No.10 (falling as a means of rising), based on film of rolling waves and frothy licks of foaming curlicues. Crooks here seems to have blended opposite alignments so that forwards blends with backwards, upright with inverted, flipped over image with normal. What looks like at first an overhead aerial shot becomes a three-quarter view. Disparate pieces of imagery showing falling water from separate locations are merged together, with jumps where large sections have been removed. Foam flicks backwards like crazed leaping salmon, creating a visual pleasure just as musical groups such as The Beatles or Radiohead have done with aural material played backwards. The shallow space of this eddying agitated swirl relates to some Bill Hammond paintings, Roni Horn’s Thames photographs, and of course the woodcuts of Hokusai.

The other Static work, No.9 (a small section of something larger), still has a musicality but introduces another of Crooks’ interests, spatial recession. It features horizontal slices that examine portions of moving bodies: mainly walking feet, but sometimes swinging elbows, hands with bags, or fabric covered hips. These are stacked up vertically and vary from swinging vertical cords to bowed lines and swirling DNA spirals. They move across the screen in both horizontal directions. Often Crooks doubles the length of the compressed rectangles to create depth - with smaller lines in the distance and overlapping descending ‘ropes’ in the foreground.

This depth is also found in Train No.1, and like in Static No.9, it is not enterable. In the room showing Pan Nos. 2, 4 and 5, the three rectangles of walking pedestrians and cruising traffic present a new sort of spatial relationship, one that offers the viewer a limited entry.

These Pan images have no ‘slices’ with clean, sharp, straight edges, but rather are horizontal bands with smeared wobbly borders. Not geometrical but organic, they feature vertical and horizontal distortions, akin to the elongated forms of Giacometti and the blurred smudgy paint of Francis Bacon. They have the mercurial rounded forms of mirages, and are like the distorted stretched blobs seen in reflecting amusement park mirrors.

One looks through and at these rectangles. When ‘at’ one is confronted by Kenneth Nolandlike bands of twitching ‘awning’ colour formed by merged subjects pushed into a horizontal alignment like plasticine; when ‘though’ one usually sees foreground figures moving to the right, and background walkers drifting backwards to the left. One is drawn into this separation, moving into the parting of the lines of figures so that your eye enters a new terrain of limited depth before being cut off by the descending ‘Noland curtain’.

This works in a non-interactive fashion like the interactive pavilions made of two way glass by Dan Graham in the early nineties. Located in many European parks, their planes of distorting glass amuse onlookers who can also look through them to see others being similarly entertained on the other side. Thus people can move around the sculpture, wave through the glass to each other and yell, something clearly impossible in Crooks’ projections where audience and filmed pedestrians can never connect.

Dan Graham is also famous for his time-delay videos, which with cameras and monitors set up in shopping malls, are a great favourite with energetic children who like to film themselves pulling faces and then sprint across the mall to see their delayed efforts in the monitors. Crooks’ sensibility is quite different. He is a crafter of images more than processes – though obviously the latter are hugely important. His work is not open-ended but aimed ultimately at a finite generator of visual pleasure that grows out of his own playful invention.

There is no doubt this remarkable exhibition is a real coup for Christchurch. It combines accessibility with sophistication to set a new benchmark for this country’s art institutions to measure their projects by. One can only hope that the good citizens of ‘The Garden City’ (and other NZ cities too) cotton on to its existence in mass and visit before it comes down in early November.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Vertically sideways

Matthys Gerber
SOFA, Christchurch
September 2 – October 3, 2008

Matthys Gerber is a well known Australian painter currently doing a residency at Ilam. When I last saw some paintings by this artist it was fifteen years ago in an MCA show in Sydney called Wit’s End, about humour in Australian painting. His works were very large, figurative, kitsch in the manner of velvet paintings, and strangely, calculatedly, corny. I found them amusing but gross aesthetically. Hideous but likeable. To a little Kiwi dormouse like myself, they were very Australian in their extroverted brashness.

The current show of large four works at SOFA has a very different sensibility. No homoerotic images of naked brooding black men in candle-lit rooms, or gushing, streaming waterfalls. Instead equally peculiar horizontal images of high key flat colour that look like Lari Pitman gone Buddhist: elongated mandalas disguised as Rorschach tests, but tipped on to their sides.

Admittedly I’m easily amused, but I find these works entertaining. I like the way they tease out the notion of symmetry and balance, trying to look at ease whilst suggesting they could have once been vertical columns instead of horizontal bars.

There is a cheekiness that puts all the fine detail and open space at one end and the simpler, more solid forms at the other. And making a vertical mid-axis horizontal. A clowning where most of the conventions of elegance are broken for a laugh – but still resolved so things look enticing anyway.

Apparently some of the decorative elements in these paintings refer to Theo Schoon. Such art historical footnotes don't necessarily make Gerber's images any better or more interesting - just more complicated conceptually, and possibly semantically overloaded. These references don't seem essential to the whole statement Gerber is making, only casual afterthoughts or idle distractions. They are not details pivotal in significance.

Drawing as sculpture and unopened lead

Peter Trevelyan: the incompleteness theorem
The Physics Room, Christchurch
19 September - 18 October 2008

The two galleries in the Physics room have been taken over by Peter Trevelyan to present two related but clearly different sorts of show.

The larger front room has an interactive exhibition with a large mirrored crystalline form attached to various cables. As the viewer negotiates the space, movement and/or heat sensors effect the mirrors and room lighting so that angular white reflections change upon the ceiling and walls. The experience is not dramatically immersive nor is it subtle and nuanced. A Smithson reference that is not particularly memorable either way.

The smaller back room is much more interesting, with incredibly delicate wall sculptures made of propeller pencil leads glued in weblike geometrical clusters. The lights cast fine lined shadows that make them and the shadows into ‘drawings.’ The sculpture flattens and the shadows project.

Trevelyan’s sculpture here has a lovely wit, to use graphite in this radical non-functional way. As a form not a tool.

It also has a Duchampian twist. (Actually the front room is also Duchampian in the way the viewer ‘completes’ the work.) Duchamp once called unopened tubes of paint ‘readymades’ and completed paintings ‘readymades aided.’ Curiously these are not completed drawings in the usual sense, and not in unopened canisters either. They are halfway between the two, sort of ‘readymades almost-aided’.

Suspended in mid air, poised above imagined marks they will never make, these constructions of pencil lead intrigue. Tool and created line here are inseparable.

Last gasp?

Julie Ross
16 September - 11 October 2008

The heads of rabbits or hares attached to human bodies or in forms wearing human clothing seems to fascinate many artists. They serve as a metaphor for a range of qualities, from garrulousness (‘rabbiting’ on), fertility, promiscuity and colonization. Artists depicting them include Michael Parekowhai, David Lynch, Barry Flanagan, Paul Johns and now Julie Ross.

Ross’s prints are very cleavinesque. Barry Cleavin plays a big role in her aesthetic, but not in her content which is not (unlike him) particularly witty. Hare heads are attached to people within a wide range of largely Renaissance masterpieces that she obviously wants her audience to recognise.

But what does it all add up to? Spot the German in a group of Italians? Pick the decade? Or is it an overwhelming obsession, a lifelong affection for long-eared mammals that nibble – and she can’t help herself. A Lepus infatuation.

The work is really about the craft of printmaking rather than conceptual ideas or the nature of art history or investigating art itself. It’s a possibly tragic fixation based on the pleasure of making a certain sort of image - one that is currently perceived as antiquated - and the production of which seems to be now disappearing with ever-increasing rapidity.

Less folksy Lautour painting

Tony de Lautour
16 September - 11 October 2008

This de Lautour show is a mixed bag of paintings, ceramics and prints, but with the different image-making methods kept apart: woodblock prints on one wall, paintings on the others, ceramics in the director’s office.

The trouble is, it looks lifeless. It’s too similar to a lot of earlier Lautour shows in this gallery, and needs a rehang so the contrasting works resonate dynamically - instead of being kept apart in quarantine.

Over the past couple of years de Lautour’s paintings have been becoming more geometric, austere and planar, and less folksy. Moving away from Hammond and more cognisant of Gordon Walters or Don Driver for example. Cleaner, sharp edges, and more careful and nuanced in their composition – particularly in their placement of letters.

This period of transition seems to be taking him away from detailed recognisable imagery towards broader, simpler, more geometric forms. Abandoning narrative, but oddly, pursuing language - particularly the language of text messaging. A new playfulness with letter shapes is emerging.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

LA flora

Joyce Campbell: Crown Coach Botanicals
Two Rooms
18 September - 18 October 2008

In this extraordinary exhibition we see six small unique Ambrotype photographs on glass plates, and thirty much larger works, prints on paper, taken in small editions off wet-plate Ambrotypes. These strange blurred and specked images are of plants (all useful and sort after species) Campbell has found in the Los Angeles region where she now lives. Looking at them is like going back in time a hundred and fifty years.

This is intended, for it is part of a massive botanical documentation project where the specimens function as an inventory and map of the historical movement of various communities within that great Californian city. Campbell uses a truck as a mobile field darkroom, making her Ambrotypes on location, and recording where she finds the plants (now growing as ‘weeds’), figuring out what they were used for, and by whom.

Yet despite this preoccupation with history one wonders why this artist is being a replicator? She doesn’t need to dabble in nostalgia (it is embedded in the visual results of her research) when her track record shows she can be an innovative inventor of new image making methods. Here she is a mere virtuoso. Albeit a scholarly one.

Though Campbell is recreating a very old method, instead of pushing the medium like say Stephen Pippin, the images are undeniably mesmerising. The specimens, varying in shape, texture and density, are seen through poured upon and chemically stained glass so that marbled bubbled blobs, streaks and blemishes float in front of the vegetation, but gravitating towards the edges of each plate. These technical ‘deformities’ are visually compelling, and if she were to tell us the details of what these plants represent to various groups of people, perhaps that might detract from their mystique.

After all Campbell could do the same documentary project with modern equipment, aiming at crystal-clear, coloured images - but she is deliberately rejecting that. She wants images that visually breathe ‘history’ so they serve as a sort of ‘archaeological’ data that provides information. That brings with it a sort of sentimental reminiscing that invariably accompanies the method, a pining nostalgia (call it 'melancholy') that cannot be removed.

Freedom from words

Isabel Nolan: Trance in Inaction
12 September - 18 October 2008

Isabel Nolan is an Irish artist currently spending some time in Auckland, working in the Museum and apparently studying its large collection of lichens. Especially interested in drawing she seems to work in a varied range of graphic media, plus fabric and embroidery. As the included animated video shows, she is an exceptional writer. In fact, her language skills make her visual imagery seem comparatively ordinary. I think in fact it is.

Nolan is interested in the state between sleep and wakefulness, that almost narcoleptic transition where you are almost unconscious on your feet, though still aware you are not, but experiencing hallucinations. However the video deals with another area, a series of letters from somebody wishing to withdraw from social contact and its accompanying speech, and then from all language, including traces of the written. Her remarkable epistolary text shows us somebody scrutinising her own interiority, trying to determine the essential elements within the self after discarding possibly irrelevant ingredients like linguistic or social components.

If Nolan’s character seeks a voluntary isolation that is free from words, that state (taking all the works as a cohesive installation) doesn’t help the resulting images. Her delicately coloured pencil drawings that are mystical in content, her (ironically?) cut-out words and neuronlike watercolours, don’t have a compelling placement on the page and deliberately look unfinished. They seem academic as referencing pointers, vague quotations serving as faux art brut, but not rivetting as drawings. They are the opposite of say, Antonin Artaud’s famous drawings, which through lacking in technical facility, have great power through his positioning of lines and shapes. He was obviously a man who was wide awake (in pain even) when making them, while Nolan’s are deliberately soporous. Her work is meditative but consciously lacking energy. Very precise, but strangely dull and cramped. Anality and stasis: hand in hand.

Gorgeously imperceptible (almost)

Julian Dashper: Pretty Minimal
Sue Crockford
17 September – 10 October 2008

Julian Dashper is well known for his restrained, geometrical, colour saturated paintings (often made without applied pigment), yet the above title for his current show seems peculiar in its idiomatic casualness. It is slightly wonky, as words go. Odd as a heading for an exhibition.

When you see the particular work it refers to, then the pun becomes obvious. ‘Minimal’ really means ‘barely detectable’, a tiny dot on a large white wall. And ‘pretty’ means more than ‘very’ or ‘fairly’. It is attractive and feminine in that it is a seductive, delicate pink.

Yet it is also more than what you are looking at - in that the other side of the wall is pink as well, so the dot becomes an extremely slight seepage leaking through the medium density fibreboard. The work on the other side is dot-fixated too, a diagonally aligned canvas with a record-like disc in its centre, and a dot-like hole painted in its centre.

There are a lot of coloured squares here (based on the ‘Four Square’ grocery chain logo) and the occasional rectangular combination too (one is based on the Maldives flag – a tribute to legendary German artist Blinky Palermo). Yet the best works here avoid straight coloured planes.

The skinny white horizontal neon tube is a knockout because the glowing line seems strangely compressed – odd in its slight flatness. Even better are the three hanging plastic chains, in the three primary colours. Dashper’s other chain works alluded to the sociology of the art world and how it literally and metaphorically supports the physical and conceptual placement of the work as ‘art’. This 1993-4 piece looks instead at painting and the colour wheel for pigment mixing as a ground for the practicalities of application.

This is a good show. There is lots of humour (One work of three squares is called ‘Four Squares.’) and plenty of ideas testing possibilities about what the activity of painting can be.

Aotearoa / Poland site collaborations

Daniel Malone and Ralph Paine
Make History Poverty
Gambia Castle
12 September – 4 October 2008

Daniel Malone is a well known New Zealand performance artist linked with the Auckland collective Teststrip in the early nineties, now living in Poland, and here collaborating with his old friend in Auckland, Ralph Paine - best known for some shows in ARTSPACE and in SIAP projects in Christchurch.

This Gambia Castle presentation has a published essay for sale in the office and some Malone drawings from a recent exhibition in Poland, and most of the exhibition in the front gallery. There are five sections: two separate groups of works on paper from Malone and Paine individually; a collaborative screenprint; collaborative drawings; collaborative paintings made of stitched fabric.

Paine showed a large body of drawings a couple of years ago in RAMP in Hamilton and his current solo works (watercolour and gouache) are not so graphically loose (being more wash based, less linear, less hatched). In the context of Gambia Castle they are oddly conservative and illustrative, inclined towards nineteenth century social realism, and without the use of written theoretical language which is usually a Paine characteristic. Their clusters of figurative imagery and saturated transparent colours bring a sensuousness rarely seen in this space.

Malone’s Polish drawings are frottages referencing the revolutionary rhetoric of Situationism and the events of May 68, and the surface textures of streets (flagstones and manhole covers) as weapons. They have a different flavour from his older Auckland works with their references to pop consumerism and nomadism.

When working together these artists create an effective synthesis more dynamic than that found in their solo elements. The screenprint, Delivery, with the text ‘we the artists’, not only references Billy Apple colours but his reflexive concept of artwork as a hyper-aestheticised receipt – though this time in plural and with a wonderfully elegant cursive script.

The collaborative drawings (Two Cities: One World) show Paine’s slogans added to by Malone. They are the highlight of the show, for Paine seems to have inspired exceptional inventiveness from his friend in the diversity of his added references (eg. Latin texts, maps, stickers)and the way they interact. The stitched canvases of black denim and felt, with their blending of Debord with Beuys, are a tad domestic and bland. They lack the physical scale and rawness to be truly memorable.

This exhibition is well worth seeing. The evocative collaborative drawings in particular are very special.