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 23, 2008

Whether the weather....

atmos: weather as media
Curated by Janine Randerson
MIC Toi Rerehiko
17 October – 15 November 2008

The eight artists in this exhibition incorporate the phenomenon of weather into their practices, looking at the Greek word ‘atmos’ for ‘breath’ or ‘vapour’ and extending it beyond storms to include cinematic mists, or background noise.

They provide a mixed bag to dip into. Because it is sited in Auckland, the show is likely to be compared with similar themes explored there by other artists like Philip Dadson (Flutter, Breath of Wind) or Billy Apple (Severe Tropical Storm Irma 9301). While this topic certainly is a current theme, as global patterns continue to alarmingly change, in comparison it comes across as a bit dull, and slightly sterile. The ideas tend to be too layered, over worked and unnecessarily complicated, and the technology often really isn’t that exciting.

Randerson’s own work, though, holds together well. It consists of ten circular films projected onto the floor, and includes satellite imagery of changing cloud formations over the earth, and shots of ‘tornado chasers’ from You Tube pursuing twisters. Despite the dodginess of curating herself into this project, it is the one with the most immediate impact – placed in the middle of the main room. The show would have been a real fizzer without it.

Lisa Benson’s project is a lot simpler, and superior because of that - involving light coming in the window near the end of the curtain, and transforming assorted rectangles of photographic paper on the wall. I’m not quite convinced of its relevance, as its presence relies on the limited assumption that light conditions are tightly correlated with weather patterns. How does one compare meteorological conditions by looking at paper on the wall? Wet weather, with more light reflected from cloud cover, might have greater impact than direct sunlight. It is hard to reach conclusions, unless one has documentation from previous years.

The two lightboxes of Hoon Li, like Randerson’s project, are the crowd-pleasers of the exhibition, showing horizontal transparencies of hybrid cloudscapes, viewed from above out of a plane window. They are like Jae Hoon Lee meets C. K. Reynolds, but referring to Korean and Japanese scroll painting, their elongations incorporating a sense of speed.

The dullest work is that of the French artist Jérôme Knebusch, with almost a year’s clippings of daily weather forecasts taken from Le Monde, clamped together on a plinth, and translations written in vertical lines descending the walls and positioned in chronological order. It is hard to form meteorological conclusions from only the data of a year, and seems, along with Cameron Robbins’ project, to be technically at odds with this venue.

Andrea’s Polli‘s Antarctic sound recordings of scientists, machines, and treated data are treated to make aural art – though Randerson in her essay, surprisingly uses the word ‘musical’. To me, there is no hook. The content is uninteresting, as are the sonic sensations. Devoid of lyricism or transmuting structure, they don’t hold the listener’s attention.

Douglas Bagnall’s Cloud Shape Classifier is a well known, online interactive project, presented first in Enjoy and then RAMP. It is really about aesthetics and art itself as a social creation, rather than weather. As a satire on how we seek out the beautiful in visual phenomena, and how patterns form, it is a clever idea, though one wonders how many people will actually engage with it.

Tom Corby and Gavin Bally’s Cyclone.Soc. is the social masquerading as weather, using assorted streamed media to form words in projected lines. These make up swirling fingerprints, topographies (or cyclones) on the wall, a deliberate information overload from varied sources, one that is difficult to read. Technically amazing, the dense layering seems excessive as metaphor.

The wind drawing of Cameron Robbins is interesting because of the questions that are not raised, but which other artists elsewhere, like Simon Ingram, similarly using technologies of the ‘non-self’, do. Robbins images are delicately ornate and look like etchings. (Similar to Graham Bennett in Christchurch). Though ‘drawn’ by a wind directed machine, they are highly aesthetic, being carefully devised by the artist as circular documents bearing beautiful marks. They tell you very little about the weather but a lot about Robbins and his visual taste.

The fold-out catalogue for the show is excellent. It seems to have been done by the UNITEC design department, its eight essays and introduction short, pithy and lucid. For a free hand-out that can be picked up at the gallery, the whole thing is beautifully put together.

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