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, November 8, 2008

Collage as sculpture

Peter Madden
Slices in a disappearance, incisions across a paper sky
Michael Lett
5 November -6 December 2008

With this exhibition one witnesses a firming up of the relationship between Madden’s collages as investigative drawings and his freestanding sculpture. The innovative explorations of space he has achieved in his sculpture are marching in step with his collages which are now much finer in terms of detailed shapes and planes. Previously the interaction wasn’t so finely tuned.

Madden’s evangelical ethos of zoological plenitude is therefore more apparent. There is a vaster, more sweeping gradient of scale in the collages so that utterly tiny elements are deftly included (a great many of them) along with those that are much bigger. Within the frame he uses several sheets of glass to hold these, so that forms overlap and move in relation to your own movements along the wall. He is in total control of their illusory and physical space.

Space in fact is the real subject matter of Madden’s project, not the anthropological, eco–postcolonial treatment of National Geographic imagery that you might suppose. Expansive depth is what makes you gasp when looking at his imagery, not the abundance of the earth’s flora and fauna. David Attenborough can give us that more effectively, and does.

With all this, one can overdose on the work’s wholesomeness. There is a goody-two shoes didacticism that often makes you wish Madden would take his National Geographics to the tip and try cutting up some other sorts of magazine. Squalid stuff that is depraved or corrupting perhaps; maybe industrial images, new technologies of mass production; celebrity culture; military or sports hardware: images where new meanings can be liberated by his treatment of paper images in space. He is getting repetitive and needs to tinker with new emotional fields, pushing unpredictable content into his methodology and letting new unanticipated meanings emerge.


peter madden said...

Firstly my sources are many and other than Nat Geo also I got them from the tip why would i want to take them back I love them indeed am a dedicated subscriber but like your reviews have been unable to read a whole one with out drifting off.Can I sugest you think about craft and folk culture when looking at my work. That you think in multiplicities so you may better contemplate repetitions in any given installation. May i also suggest adjectives like "Goodie two shoes" speak more to languorousness and the venting of spleen than accurate art commentary and isnt "letting new unanticipated meanings emerge" a tautology and slightly circular. So do you think we could have a little more smarts in future reviews as I and others have noticed a slight rage creeping into your texts???

Lilith Cohen said...

My esteemed colleague Ms. X. recently gifted me with the poster of Madden’s “Ur-World,” from the Escape from Orchid City exhibition (October 2007) and I gasped when it was unraveled (I have it above my desk in front of me now)- from afar it looks like an aerial photo of New York City taken with a fisheye lens whilst neurochemically altered, but only up close it’s an explosion of images deftly rearranged- tropical fish, human skulls, planets, Supersonic airliners- all dissolved into a psychedelic maelstrom of existence; a Cibachrome retinal burnout. I love it. It is the closest we grown- ups can come to the splendour of seeing National Geographic for the first time as an infant. More to the point, Madden is one of very few Auckland artists I give a fuck about. Also note that his style is so fun to look at, so well executed and novel, it just doesn’t need the zimmer- frame of po-mo art school bullshit to justify it.
“Goody- two shoes didactism”? are you serious? Another kind of magazine? Oh yeah military imagery collage- like nobody hasn’t already thought of plastering camouflage pattern across everything- and mixing up porn with military hardware is already a stale cliché in porn anyway. celebrity culture? That’s an oxymoron if ever I heard one. “Yeah this collage represents my disgust for, like, celebrity culture.” Let’s try this one- YOU make some retro- Dada circa 1910’s collages and see how far it gets you. “Squalid stuff that is depraved or corrupting perhaps”- the world is awash in the stuff, and nothing could really be more boring than more art- porn. If you want depraved or corrupting, go and study forensic medicine, or start collecting Norwegian death metal albums. Or watch Saw I-X. But why make this suggestion in the first place? It’s like suggesting that Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles that they should have eaten more bats on stage.

Aqualina said...

To be so odious as to include ones own predilection towards an more sordid and the depraved subject matter, within an actual critique of another’s work, speaks of a soul whose mind is reflective of our societies current desire to sensationalize, consume and defecate on everything in its path. Leaving nothing that is uplifting and worthy of encouraging life that inspires others to character and strength. People who rip down the fundamental processes of life, living and reflection upon quality with a desire to muse upon the dross, puss and dirt ultimately reap the disfigurement and ineptitude they thrive in.
In these works of Peters I have seen a quality time intensive craftsmanship that encapsulates a relevant and timely desire, on behalf of a great number of people to see joy and beauty in the world, built from what we carelessly throw away, and inversely in this attendant critique, such a perverse desire to pollute those traits. Which is a rather sad indictment on the state of our current art criticism and its slavish adherence to the ravaging’s of popular culture.
Get yourself up out of the dirt and get a life Mr Lett.

John Hurrell said...

Many thanks Peter for your reply.

I don’t think it is rage that has crept into my more recent reviews (hope not, what would I be enraged about?), but I have consciously tried to open the conversation up a little more. What you wouldn’t, but I would, call ‘smarts’. Look at some wider issues, like the worship of craft.

The ‘goodie-two-shoes’ comment goes with the ‘wholesome’ argument, for your sort of global eco-content is politically in favour. (The Greens, after all, have just increased their number of seats to eight.) It is art that educationists adore because it is sensual and didactic. And easy to promote because it is self evident. I fall for it myself, despite its sweetness, for I like the abundance and colourful spectacle. But I, I….well you know what I said. Your method could explore other contents.

You mention craft and folk art. Why would you want someone to discuss the craft of your work unless you crave flattery? It is the spatial and semantic consequences of that craft that are interesting. The new connections discovered through making. How the space influences the image. Not your manual dexterity.

As for folk culture? You mean like the paua house with its repetition? You are not saying you are a folk artist, are you?

I realise that telling an artist what to do is asking for a scrap, yet that is what criticism often does; its point, saying how work might be improved. It goes well beyond just interpretation or elucidating the artist’s intentions. It’s about evaluation.

Many quality articles on your work, by Tessa Laird and others, emphasise your use of National Geographic, but if that is an exaggeration, and wrongly over-stresses the importance of that publication, then I stand corrected.

Lilith. My point was about how his method, his treatment of space, mingles with the content of his cut-out images to create something new. I was suggesting he explore alternatives, and was responding to the current gallery exhibition, not a poster from an exhibition several years old.

Aqualina: Michael Lett is Peter’s hardworking dealer and champion. If anyone has a jam packed, busy life, it is he.

Aqualina said...

John: I never said anything about him getting a life that was busy and jam packed, a 21st century illusion that seems to equate quantity in life with quality, and I don't reverence peoples doings (a hardworking dealer and champion), as many people do, over their beings, (a man who not only seeks promotes depravity and corruption in life but tries to instill it in others), hence the reference to picking himself up out of the dirt and getting a life.

John Hurrell said...

Aqualina, I confess, I don't get it. Why on earth would you attack Michael Lett? Isn't it me, the writer of scurrilous reviews, you should be attacking? I'm the bad guy here, he is the good guy trying to sell the work of his artists.

peter madden said...

ok so some of your more pejorative like comments are because you pecieve certain pedalogical institutions as being one Political and 2nd fashionable? surley these are neo con projections on to my work and speak more to your rage against said fictitous insts than the art.I would confess to making art politically but not political art a subtly distinction worth noting.
I would of thought my suggestion of folk artists with their economy of means and scarce resourcing are a rich and fertile area for thought. But you are only able to toss another barbed comment re the Paua house in relationship to thinking about folk artists. I could go on about your reductive style its repetitive use of art historical quotation but feel i would be wasting my time .I have art to make [the mass extinction of flora and fauna worries me deeply and all i know is to make art]
but i would like to congradulate you on such an open forum and emediate right of reply and invite others to elucidate what i have missed.

John Hurrell said...

Great to have this frank conversation with Peter. Is he right readers? Do I have a pejorative and reductive style? Perhaps he has left something out? Anyone like to elucidate further?

Aqualina said...

My mistake, thanks for your correction Mr. Hurrell, and sorry Mr. Lett for the mix up.Therefore, Mr. Hurrell the comments I made must be referring to your worldview.

In response to your last statement: my criticism hasn’t been directed at whether your work is pejorative or not, as isn’t that the nature of art critique, as I have found your writing has been both depreciatory as well as complimentary.
No for me it has been about your comportment in trying to dismiss, no not even dismiss, but override, an artist’s contemporary ecological and social concerns in favor of dialogue on the materialist diatribe that brought about the abject squalor of our century in the first place. To assume the nature of the pejorative in your work Mr. Hurrell would be to recognize the lack of discourse on opinion that provides solutions and a sense of going forward, and not a rehash of popular cultures taste for the spectacle and the repulsive.
Mr. Madden has had the courage to expound upon a series of ideas that seem to be two-fold in nature: 1. He is engaging the viewer in an intellectual discourse on our consumption and materialism nature and its related sociological concerns of capitalism and consumerism, but more importantly he is, 2. Engaging the viewer in a spiritual sense, by offering the soul a chance to contemplate the nature of an aesthetic that is uplifting, encouraging them to move beyond didacticism into a place of actually being able to do something about our present situation, rather than continually rerouting it.

Lilith Cohen said...

Is it fair to make this association of Madden's work with politics? I've had a go at what I suppose your argument to be, but all the premises are suspect. Would you diss Picasso's Guernica just because it refers to the horrors of bombing civilians?

The ‘goodie-two-shoes’ comment goes with the ‘wholesome’ argument, for your sort of global eco-content is politically in favour. (The Greens, after all, have just increased their number of seats to eight.)"

P1 All Artworks that are political in nature are impure artworks
P2 All Artworks by Madden are artworks that are in keeping with contemporary political movements
P3 Artwork that are in keeping with contemporary political movements
are political artworks
∵Therefore all works by Madden are artworks that are impure

(is this a fair rendering of your argument?)

all A are B
All C are D
All D are E
Therefore all C are E

Where A= artworks that are political in nature
B= impure artworks
C= works by Madden
D= artworks that are in keeping with contemporary political
E= artworks that are impure

Lilith Cohen said...

Sorry- B and E are the same; the last line should just be "all C are B"

John Hurrell said...

Thank you Aqualina for clearing that confusion up. Important that you did.

What's all this 'soul' stuff you rabbit on about? I thought everybody knew we are just bags of water with chemicals whizzing around them. Why believe in souls? That doesn't help us comprehend the work. You obviously have an agenda.

Anyway, as you notice, I try to balance out positive and negative responses to shows, if I have them. I suspect most art reviewing is far too respectful to the artists' intentions, and not critically examining those closely enough.It is not as if the artist has last say on the work's meaning.

Lilith. Noble intentions don't necessarily make an artwork interesting. I was quite shocked by Peter's enthusiasm for a polemical practice in his last comment, because I find such eco-narratives far too conventional. The spatial ingredient is what makes his work interesting, not the didactic message. And he obviously is not interested in that, and how other varieties of magazine image could explore new meanings. That sort of thinking seems to be alien to him.

I agree however with his sentiments about the planet and its dwindling species, but that doesn't help make good art. If his art is any good, it has to be because of other quite different reasons - to do with its internal structure.

David Cauchi said...

Well, at least John is coherent. What are we to make of:

'ok so some of your more pejorative like comments are because you pecieve certain pedalogical institutions as being one Political and 2nd fashionable? surley these are neo con projections on to my work and speak more to your rage against said fictitous insts than the art.'

It seems Madden is saying that politics and fashion are fictitious institutions (huh?), and that calling his work fashionably political makes you a neo-con! What bollocks.

Is 'neo-con' replacing 'nazi' as a term of abuse to use when your arguments have failed and you want to shut the discussion down? That's pejorative and reductive.

A poor effort all round.

Victoria Munro said...

Damn it I didn't have time to read every comment and response (have to say that it was great to read some of the dialogue and good for you for responding(and I will definitly read all later today)) - but there are so many things I would like to chime in on already that got my back up that I couldn't possibly list them here.
I do however think you've missed the point/feeling/emotion in Peter's work and have to say that admiring his craft and recognizing its importance to the obsessive nature of the works is not to be flattering towards peter but to look at it as an integral tool in creating meaning for the works - after all doesn't the artist actually even reference his craft in the Title of the show (slices/incisions.....) .
I think your comment on the Paua house was irrelevant and offensive, folk artists ARE conceptually relevant and influential in contemporary practices and I can only speak for myself as an artist, but I would have no problem with anyone considering the Folk in my own work (or calling me a "Folk Artist" - which Peter was certainly not asking you to do) and really don't think that Peter would be too upset with a bit of folksy labeling - perhaps he is creating his own brand of folk art?.......

John Hurrell said...

So Victoria, what exactly is a 'folk artist'? Are they self-educated and 'uncorrupted' by the institutions? People who've been to university can't be folk artists, right?

Clem Devine said...

John, I want sugar in my tea, not salt. Sometimes I want something sweet, not sour.

My definition of Folk Artists, is they're outsiders. Considering 'Contemporary' aritsts are outsiders too, these folk artists are in outer space, and you would have to have this much room to make work as obsessive as Peter Madden.

Pictures look great, will have to go see the show.

Anonymous said...

"Is he right readers? Do I have a pejorative and reductive style? Perhaps he has left something out? Anyone like to elucidate further?"

critical yes, pejorative non. perhaps it all comes down to interpretation. does madden's work have an overt political intent? or is it simply a curiosity, pretty enough to ensnare one's attention yet ambiguous enough to deny ready interpretation?

does his novel use of space and the depth he achieves through the use of multiple surfaces function metaphorically as well implying further depths of meaning awaiting explication. or is it simply a further case of style over substance; a kind of eco agit-prop that serves to dazzle the eye with detail and reify the viewer's liberal values without threatening to disturb the complacency of their own assumptions.

taken your own 'wholesome' critique you seem to have already made your mind up in this regard, so perhaps that leaves you open to the reductive charge. then again, in light of mr madden's response either his artistic sensitivity extends to the thickness of his skin, or he knows something that the rest of us don't.

John Hurrell said...

I like to think there are patterns to my bigotries. That I am consistent when I snarl at people so that it is obvious there is some guiding principle that drives my irritation.

However I - like anybody - can change my mind, even cringe (with the wisdom of hindsight) at earlier indiscretions. That though is rare. It is more likely I get bailed up at some opening and given a stern talking to. However this site is the venue for that sort of thing. Far better to air the debate out in the open.

walter said...

I just saw Peter Madden's show at the Inst. of Mod. Art [IMA] in Brisbane.
After only very recently having marvelled at quite many a work at the APT6, also in Brisbane, and having thought there was a lot to really marvel about, works very successful on many levels of 'intake'
...well: To me all that paled utterly in comparison to the impact Madden's work had on me.
I fucken loved it like nothing I've seen in a long time. It exalted me, I had to exclaim impulsively while viewing, It was great!

---pause here to let sink in---

And, more to the point of this old, forgotten [?] debate on some blog, this impact had NOTHING much to do with anything I considered to reside in the lowly spheres of politically correct/in flavour. NOR would I ever take serious any claims that this impact was the result of clever space management [otherwise a useful observation though]. Of course these statements somehow pick out aspects of this work that are 'true' enough, but in a meaningless sense, as they miss the synergetic effect of the many singular 'crafty' and/or plain clever considerations that make good artwork.

What I felt and thought is clearly a lot to do with my personal state, sum of my life/conditionings/sensitivities, etc., and so: Sure, the artist doesn't have the last word, or cannot be held responsible for my being deeply affected, both aesthetically, poetically, and dare I say: spiritually. And while my mind cannot but want to find words [ADJECTIVES!!! MANY!!! And one I want to be present in the critique of Maddens work is 'psychedelic', in a visual sense]to place what I saw in my co-ordinate system, and be able to communicate this excitement to others, I strongly feel the limitation of that. This is quite possibly the ongoing effect making art/objects myself, favouring non-verbal, visual expression for some "things" that would take many cumbersome pages of words to then only be flatly described.

That'll be why I'm not a critic, then, I suppose.
I don't even wish to extract single factors out of the sum total impact of the 'positive' inspiration I just received.
Though I'm sure my 'artistic eye/mind' will not be stopped from doing that, anyway, over time, just out of the desire to create similar effects in different contexts and media – especially as I'm working with insects, and small objects.

One thing I like to remark critically, though: It's not the attention to detail, and the time put into the work that is worth mentioning, by itself. More relevant to me is the intent and energy I can feel behind all that manual effort. And a large part of that seems to me like it is what a child would do, if it had the patience and skill, a child intoxicated by the world of physical experience, wide-eyed, exhilarated, loving it, and slightly scared.

BTW: I landed here after compulsively googling for images of more of Madden's work, and couldn't help myself but respond....

John Hurrell said...

Hey, Walter, thanks for your lively letter but can you give me your surname? House rules I'm afraid.

walter said...

Oh, sure:
Walter Stahl

Walter Stahl [...ah.]

...while I'm at it: