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.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Saving a place: postponement or confirmation

smashed to pieces
(in the still of the night)

gestures towards habitual actions while leaving the location vague and the event unpredictable
Amit Charan, Francis Alys, Michael Stevenson
Curated by Laura Preston
Gambia Castle
7 - 29 November 2008

It’s quite complicated. Looking closely at the promotional material for this project by Laura Preston (who works at the Adam), we find that for an underpinning conceptual structure there is a double-arrowed prism defining the content of this exhibition, each point on that model located by an individual artwork. At the top peak, there is a Lawrence Weiner piece intact as a text within the curator’s title, and at the far bottom two Eadweard Muybridge bird images on the invite and poster. More importantly, for the middle cross-section between title and promotion there are works from the artists announced on the invite: Francis Alys’ film, Michael Stevenson’s three catalogues and Amit Charan’s four floral arrangements that change every week and which are independently designed - without his participation - by a florist.

Though an earlier context and placement was on a WW2 anti-aircraft gun platform in Vienna, the Weiner work when situated in a New Zealand title for an exhibition about indexical traces and the problematics of (mainly photographic) representation, invites comparisons with the polemic of Giovanni Intra’s anti-forensic installations of scattered smashed up cameras.

Preston however is convinced that ‘all is fiction,’ a Derridean position more extreme than say Nelson Goodman with his critique of representation and its signs in art, and one which naturally raises the question of whether ‘all’ includes herself and her critiquing essay.

Of the three artists with work in the gallery, the most conspicuous is Francis Alys. His 30 min. video ‘The Politics of Rehearsal’ (2005-7) mixes together images of a pianist and a singer rehearsing a piece by Schubert; a stripper partially removing her clothing and then stopping, redressing, and then restarting her strip; and the voices of the artist and a curator discussing the ‘love affair’ of Mexico with modernity (in the form of the United States) and the anticipated economic rewards that stay tantalisingly out of reach.

With Weiner’s entitling text, because of the short phrase (and parenthesis) that it uses, it tends to thwart easy narrative in the way Alys’ film also subverts it with its stripper stopping, reversing and then recommencing. Weiner once said he sees his books and catalogues as the chief carriers of his art, and this fits in with Preston’s decision to include three Stevenson publications (not his ‘art’) dealing with economic themes to go alongside Alys’ film. One of these is a collection of nine fables. Another is about 'The Moniac' - the pioneering computer shown in Venice that was used to demonstrate fiscal theories.

What is particularly clever about Preston’s show is her fitting of the different elements together. Central to her discussion is the notion of ‘placeholder’ where an image is only arbitrary, a temporary shortcut for something unresolved, a trace that (contrary to C. P. Peirce) can never truly correlate indexically.

This fits nicely with Weiner’s ubiquitous use of parenthesis as reserved gap, a space set aside for transient signs. That is where Amit Charan’s work fits in, for while the location is not vague the details of the event are unpredictable – as the show’s title claims. His flower arrangements ‘warm’ the room by being art barely noticeable as such. They serve as a political foil to Alys and Stevenson through their transience and low social standing. Because they are arranged flowers they are not 'serious' as art. Like comparing a stripper to a singer of Schubert.


Daniel Munn said...

Ok a book can be a chief carrier, but is a book still a book if it's at Gambia Castle? Sorry I didn't see the exhibit, was there a chair and table? What's a book without a chair and table?

John Hurrell said...

The 3 Stevenson publications (Fables -Lenders of Last Resort; c/o The Central bank of Guatemala; Celebration of Persepolis) are on a table. I'm sure the folk in the Gambia Castle office would be willing to lend a chair if requested.