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.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Under cover

Ruth Watson: Entangled
Te Tuhi
4 October - 30 November 2008

This exhibition continues on from Ruth Watson’s fairly recent shows at Two Rooms or Akademie der Bildende Kunst, Vienna, where she used as raw material small glass beads or salt she then ‘painted’ with on the floor. However now, instead of rendering hybrid, heart-shaped, sixteen century Apian maps, she is coating found objects (‘blanching’ perhaps?) with white paint and beaded granular glass.

Obviously her choice of objects is important. There are four of them, in a sequential line that crosses the middle of the room: a surfboard, a table bearing a stack of books, an old globe of the world held in a curved wooden stand, a shovel.

Yet these objects don’t look good in the space. It swallows them up and is too big to grant a presence or spatial dynamic. Contrary to the title, because they are not in a vague circle or quadrilateral formation, and because the surfboard and shovel lean against walls and are not freestanding objects surrounded by space, there is no sense of an interconnected web of resonating meanings. You tend to start at one end, viewing them one at a time, jumping from sculpture to sculpture till you reach the end of the row. The linear placement discourages ‘entangling’. There is lots of ‘dead’ space each side of the line.

So what are we looking at with these things? The readily identifiable items, their surface details erased, glisten as if coated with sparkling salt or sugar, and seem to be a sort of rebus. Certainly they are examples of tropes – types of figurative language. They could be either symbol (a sign or emblem), metaphor (a literal, implied but unstated comparison), simile (a declared comparison), metonymy (an image associated with something), or synecdoche (a part signifying a whole).

We could look at them as simple metonymy, like so: the surfboard (recreational leisure); stack of books (researched human knowledge gained so far); globe (undiscovered knowledge yet to be gained); shovel (manual labour). Maybe their sugary or salty properties mean these boundaries are dissolvable, so that the four notions interpenetrate - as a common soluble ‘substance’ instead of as linking and interwoven semantic threads. Perhaps what is lost through spatial trajectories not being perceived by any viewer is gained by the objects’ coating (as simile) that is common to them all.

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