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, October 3, 2008

Nameless sites of desecration

Lisa Crowley: City of Earth
24 September – 1 November 2008

This exhibition of six recent Lisa Crowley photographs is quite exceptional. I think this is due to: firstly, the sensitivity of the hang, no measured out formulas but positioned by eye, with uneven spaces between works that are themselves of different lengths; secondly, the metallic sheen of the silver paper; thirdly, the warmth of the ‘black and white’ tones – they are in fact colour prints where there is a tinge of sepia and hints of other hues; fourthly, their muscular scale, all being 1234 mm high and between 1386 and 1946 mm wide; and fifthly, their great detail. The acuity is remarkable.

Their narrative/historical content is hard hitting and raw. We’ve all seen such disturbing vistas many times before, from all over the world, of felled forests and horrifically scarred, open cast mines – but in Crowley’s hands the scale, sheen and nuanced chroma makes them extraordinarily beautiful. That in itself might attract criticism – but not from me. However the fact she hasn’t stated their locations within titles is quite surprising. It is as if she wants them kept generic, not particular. She obviously is not keen for the specific stories behind these mutilated wildernesses (found in Northland apparently) to surface as captions for her images. They float within their own conceptual space independently.

Part of that space is the thematic notion behind Crowley’s ongoing project: Production and Failure. Some images include regeneration (like forest seedlings) while others are entirely barren, in a state of permanent stasis.

She is using the genre of settlers’ photography to examine the tension between latent possibility on one hand, such as building with logs and stone from the ground up using materials in a primary state, and on the other hand, ‘a lived reality of bare sustainability’ where the landscape has been abandoned in ruins which function as signs of its past occurring industrial activity. The overwhelming sense, however, is of oppressive failure. A new forest may well be about to emerge phoenix-style from the sawdust and splinters of the old, but the sense of waste is still incredibly disturbing – in terms of, not logic, but emotional impact.

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