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.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Those miraculous Koreans

Fiona Amundsen: Miracle on the Han River
Gus Fisher
17 October – 22 November 2008

Fiona Amundsen’s display of seven Chromira photographs in the small Gus Fisher room is based on her recent residency in Seoul. In her typical manner they are cool but incredibly still images of social spaces where people are eliminated - through the slow exposures being taken early in the morning. However for the first time in her work that I’ve seen, there are occasional faint traces of distant figures.

Amundsen’s control is such that all these extremely sharp, detailed, urban images look like they were taken on the same day, though their titles show that is far from the case. They all have bleached, white skies and a soft, very even light. Her images are devoid of any romantic seduction through hue, or appeal to tourist interests. The work looks industrial in method. As figurative images go, they have an icy, abstract ambience, yet they don’t exhaust the viewer’s interest. There is lots to see and think about in each frame.

Like the works of the LA conceptualist, Christopher Williams, who employs other photographers to make his images, Amundsen’s own images are precise in their manipulation of chroma. In this suite the oranges and greens are intensely saturated, just as such colours normally are on an overcast day, with our retinal rods and cones creating in crepuscular light, what is called the Purkinje effect.

All the images of the architecture surrounding the Han River’s tributary the Cheonggyecheon - with its water turned to silk by the slow shutter speed - have a strangely subtle tonal blend so that the silhouetted edges look vaguely collagelike and forms flatten. Especially where the dynamics of perspective are not dominant.

Amundsen’s photographs are not of environments that are hyper-dense in buildings and advertising. You don’t get a dominant picture-plane in your face, cluttered with facades and neon. She likes to include air and roomy physical space so that the shown vistas meet halfway between ‘the concrete jungle’ and idyllic fields. They are never claustrophobic, or agoraphobic either. Only rich as a series of cross-sectioned views of South Korean social change, history and economic progress (the latter is the economic miracle the exhibition’s title refers to) – and, more particularly, image as constructed artefact.

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