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, October 12, 2008

More Spong

Swriwhana Spong: Solar Midnight
Anna Miles
1 October - 25 October 2008

Hot on the heels of her recent Newcall gallery show we have this new presentation from Sriwhana Spong. This one has some of the same hanging beaded thread sculpture and blobby lacquered fetish panels as Newcall, but there are also other new mobiles, collages and digital photographs referencing the great Russian dancer Vaslav Nijinsky.

Overall, though wider in thematic content, this display suffers from the limitations of Anna Miles’ awkwardly cramped and distracting, glary windowed space. A lot of the work does not succeed visually, especially the collages on cardboard and free-hanging mobiles which seem compositionally indecisive and don’t draw you in. The new video in particular is indulgently solipsistic in its referencing of Javanese artefacts in some American museums - blurrily filmed with a furtive pinhole camera as some kind of pathetic protest at having cameras officially banned.

Of all the items presented, the lacquer focussed projects work best – like in the Newcall show. Old 78 rpm records have been melted down to make black paint that’s been applied thickly to wooden struts or panels, or thinly to filmy muslin shawls. Spong’s puddle-shaped blobby forms hold assorted items like poppy seeds, hairclips, mirror fragments, butts, chains, pins and thread within their hardened viscous ooze, and allude to the eclipse of the show’s title and Nijinsky himself. Being from records, the paint has an implied aural and historical component conceptually built in.

Particularly striking is Spong’s new use of blue filters, which brings an air of melancholy to her photographs and collages, linking them in mood to Joseph Cornell or Lindy Lee, and of course, Nijinsky’s own depression and mental collapse.

The links Spong makes connecting the Russian dancer’s hand movements, in the photos of her collages, with Javanese performers help a little to explain her interest in him, though one wonders how far the thematic links extend with the painted lacquer. Is the music linked to Diaghilev’s productions that Nijinsky danced to in the melted grooves of the black puddles? How tight is the significance of the history of the particular items (not substances) in grasping the nuances of Spong’s collected assortments. How focussed are the details? Perhaps I am being too literal in such a narrative based interpretation?

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