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.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Against interpretation

Noli me legere
Michael Lett
8 October – 1 November 2008

The Latin title of this show can be translated as ‘Don’t read me,’ and is usually understood as linked to the influential philosopher, Maurice Blanchot whose writings attacked the conventional notions of author, literature and interpretation by introducing the aspect of death. “Don’t read me” means assume nothing. Don’t try and decipher. There is a clear sense in all the works included – cleverly selected by Sarah Hopkinson – of obliqueness, of disrupting a coherent narrative, of blocking the possibility of interpretation.

Particularly memorable is a wonderful short film ‘Ben’, by English film-maker Emily Wardill. Here two voice–overs alternate, while maintaining continuity across blank screens or sequences of seemingly unrelated images, many of which include black and white props with coloured backdrops. One voice is that of a professional hypnotist. Seductive, creamy, and masculine, it coaxes acquiescence from a group of women on stage with their eyes shut. The other voice is from a West Indian or African woman speaking English as a second language in hesitant, faltering bursts. She reads a divided up text, a psycho-analytic case study, about a 52 year old delivery van driver, a loner whose unorthodox social and sexual habits are getting noticed by his neighbours and workmates. The voices hold our attention and propel us along as try to connect their words with the images and interwoven themes.

The highly regarded German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans has four enigmatic coloured images in the show. Two look at hazy light coming through the flopped-over end of a sheet of photographic paper, one makes formal connections between different sized and patterned eggshells on a table with pods and strange cones, and the other has long dried leaves protruding from a small vase comically intertwining with a floral tie.

Influential artist and educator, Jim Allen contributes a very mysterious photograph, taken doing one of his pioneering performances at Auckland Art Gallery in the mid seventies. Black and white, with glossy coal blacks, and dramatic lighting, it shows a group of stooped figures, wearing hooded smocks of crumpled paper, standing like statues huddled over a greasy, dishevelled floor. A memorable image.

Hany Armanious‘s contribution is a cast, limited edition, wall-sculpture with unusual components like a photograph of a granite modernist sculpture of male and female forms, their bowed heads mimicking the curved toes of two feet in an adjacent leaning image. Hanging from its right-hand end are two identically cast, pink forms that are partially pig’s trotter and partially boxing glove. The whole work intrigues. It seems to revolve around assorted visual puns on fingers and toes.

A glassed over aluminium box mounted on the wall by Simon Denny, contains three painted vertical strips of MDF, one boxed fluro tube and some junk-mail advertising, but mainly two elegant black and photographs of a saloon car. These could, by themselves, almost be mistaken for a conceptual work by Christopher Williams. The images are nearly identical but not, even when de-reversed, and relate to the b/w Jim Allen positioned on the opposite wall.

Finally, Ava Seymour’s pristine photographed collage which greets you at the gallery entrance, is more complicated than usual with its clusters of triangular forms. Yet her work is now so tasteful it seems hard to connect Seymour’s present imagery with earlier controversies like her rubber-fetish and ‘Hannah Hoch visits state-housing’ projects. ‘Jubilee’ fits in well with the Hopkinson’s theme, despite its comparative blandness. It is an icy, blemish-free configuration; attractive, though bafflingly hard to locate semantically.


Anonymous said...

sorry john...but wolfgang tillmanns, who recieved the turner price in 2000, has always been a german, not a belgian artist.

John Hurrell said...

Thanks Boris. I stand corrected.