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.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Rights and liberties

Article 27: Xin Cheng, Kah Bee Chow, Majlinda Hoxha, Tui Kerehoma, Jasmine Lockheart, Christina Read, Daniel Webby
Curated by Richard Dale
Northart Gallery, Norman King Square, Northcote Shopping Centre
10 December - 22 December 2009

This December is the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The title of this modest little exhibition in North Shore examines the fundamental human rights expressed in Article 27 in particular. It focuses on firstly the right of individuals and smaller communities to have a voice that is not drowned out by larger, more dominant communities, and secondly, the right of authors, scientists, inventors and artists to gain material reward and/or moral recognition for their labours. The Human Rights Commission in this country approached Richard Dale, the Auckland freelance curator normally known for his work with videos of Chinese performance art, to assemble this show.

The seven individuals he has picked from the Auckland region make up a display that is not finger-wagging or tub-thumping. It is much more nuanced. And although their cultural backgrounds are varied, that issue is not forced. There is no enforced template through which the exhibits have been squeezed. The show has a nice relaxed flow to it.

Two artists that have created installations using books, provide conceptual ‘bookends’ for the show. One is about how books, their content, titles, authors and publishers can sometimes be perceived – so they end up being banned. The other is the practical use of their content. How they can help us make useful objects.

Christina Read’s shelf of various banned books reveals not real publications but hard-covered mock ups made from other books painted with bright colours, applied hand lettering and white pages. This assortment is more fascinating than if say she had just got all the books out of the library, or bought them. They look exuberantly quirky, as if handmade. However one has to be really curious to find out why they were ever banned and by whom. The artist doesn’t explain, but most Google searches provide clear explanations for innocuous books like Black Beauty, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or publications by Dr.Seuss. Read’s display looks at freedom of written speech, and how vulnerable that possibility is.

Daniel Webby turns that vulnerable relationship between one individual and a wider community to a videoed game, a recorded performance where two blindfolded people toss uncooked eggs to each other to catch. The exercise explores the limits of telepathy, where actions are based on some knowledge, and also intuition or instinct. It examines justification for actions, and the relationship of responsible decision making to intelligent guesswork.

The five works by Jasmine Lockhart oscillate between a bushy-tailed innocence and a moody cynicism. The utopian visions of universal love and peace (with the peace v-fingers sign in a glass box) and a cut-out masonite shrub give way to doubts where all objects are smothered with an anaemic, pale ‘snifter’ green (from silage covers).It is akin to hospital wall green, designed to calm patients down and lower the heart rate. Around the corner, away from the chirpy Kiwi outdoors, is an All Blacks carry bag, its logo lit from a fluorescent light inside. It refers to the conflict of the 1981 Springbok tour, the year of the artist’s birth, the split between the ideal harmonious Aotearoa and its acrimonious underbelly.

Majlinda Hoxha and her family recently came to New Zealand from the troubled republic of Kosovo. Her poignant photographs are unusual in that they reference the Serbian massacres of Albanians and the NATO bombing, by photographing the Auckland swimming pools at Parnell and Panmure. In one Hoxha and her family stand with closed eyes at one end of an empty pool as if it was a site of some terrible atrocity, and in the other we see a public sign in front of stagnant water that says ‘Bombing allowed’ – referring of course to ‘dive bombing’ where idiot jumpers try to make noisy splashes and spectacular waves.

More remote historical events are referenced by Kah Bee Chow in her One Day Sculpture project which was set in Wellington’s Haining St. The three videos show the discussions within the local community about the history of the street, particularly in the ‘Chinatown’ region. There is some discussion of the racially motivated murder of Joe Kum Yung by Lionel Terry in 1905, and also the role of the Sister Aubert Home for Compassion.

Historical events are also examined in the photograph by Tui Kerehoma of ‘mummified’ heads carried on the back of a gliding glass swan that seems to be an ashtray. These don’t appear to be moko mokai. Though they look emaciated they are not tattooed. They are made of white soap and because of that seem to refer to Europe not the Pacific. The material has overtones of fat from concentration camps that was made into soap, and the washing away of guilt from various atrocities. Below the image is a cup, on which are engraved lyrics from the Kenny Rogers song The Gambler.

For me personally the highlight of the show is the Reading Room by Xin Cheng. On a table is an assortment of unusual books teaching or demonstrating how to make needed utensils out of recycled rubbish, and completed examples are presented on the walls. A major theme is prison life, but not all. Bush survival is included, as are urban on-the–spot modifications or inventions improvised by city dwellers. There is even a SAS military handbook. It is a fascinating collection.

Dale has constructed an intriguing exhibition that deserves a bigger audience, as it has been under publicised. Fortunately it is going to The Physics Room in Christchurch. Hopefully other venues will pick up on it.

Photographed works from top to bottom are by Christina Read, Daniel Webby, Jasmine Lockhart, Majlinda Hoxha, Kah Bee Chow, Tui Kerehoma, and Xin Cheng.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Hamilton Rules!

Nature’s Engraver: a Life of Thomas Bewick
Written by Jenny Uglow
Faber and Faber 2006
458 pp, b/w illustrations and colour plates, hardcover

The relief printmaking technique of wood engraving in this country is mainly known through the prints of Mervyn Taylor and to some extent, more recently, Campbell Smith. Smith was also director of what became the Waikato Museum of Art and History Te Whare Taonga o Waikato, and one of the great legacies he acquired for the city of Hamilton is a fabulous collection of prints by his hero, the Englishman Thomas Bewick (1753 -1828).

Stored away in Solander boxes are about 300 of Bewick’s small but fantastically detailed, accurate and often humorous engravings. Many of these he published in his pioneering birdwatching guides for British birds, and other books such as those of mammals of the world. This Tynesider was a celebrity in his day, his pastoral images adored by everybody from Wordsworth and Bronte to Ruskin. Sadly in Aotearoa he is almost unknown. Outside of Hamilton, to my knowledge there are no Bewick prints in the main municipal or national art collections, despite the fact that he virtually invented line engraving and that many of the feathered and furry subjects he rendered are commonplace here.

Uglow is well known as a writer of art history and literary biographies, and highly regarded for her works on William Hogarth, Doctor Johnson and George Eliot – as well as various scientists. She is an historian with an obviously encyclopaedic knowledge of the various intricacies of eighteenth century British culture, and a gifted communicator at showing how seemingly disparate elements are actually vitally related. The importance of her book is that she provides a panoramic contextual setting for Bewick’s genius, makes clear why this workaholic was idolised, and explains how he became prolific at making extremely intricate images (based on astute observation) that need a magnifying glass to appreciate - at the time of Blake when there was no electricity, only candles. To see the merits of Bewick’s images, Unglow’s book illustrations are a bit pinched, a little too fine. If so desired they can be ignored in favour of enlarged pictures found in other publications. Most municipal libraries have them. Or better still, make an appointment with one of the registrars at Waikato Museum and check out the real thing.

The best parts of Uglow’s biography are where she is explaining precisely how he made his images – he used slices of boxwood cut against the grain, with fine steel engraving burins or tools with tips like needles - and what his innovations in printing methods were (parts of the block were printed by tilting, with less pressure to make the more distant lines greyer) and how he was successful at acquiring new information on wildlife by people sending him dead (or half-alive) creatures. His tailpieces that filled up the ends of pages, smaller images of fable-like vignettes depicting the human inhabitants of the countryside, are immensely entertaining and perhaps even more popular than his zoological renderings, being packed with little narratives and jokes about the ‘rustic’ life. The ‘vulgarity’ of his earthy humour used to worry his champions like Ruskin, who moaned that his ‘fixed love of ugliness…is in the English soul.’

Bewick, and his early teacher then partner Ralph Beilby, employed various apprentices in their Newcastle workshop to help keep up with the escalating demand for his illustrations. He did occasionally travel to London but was never tempted to move there. He hated the crowds, disliked its anonymity, and was invariably homesick.

Uglow makes clear how radical Bewick’s political views were during that Georgian era, when the government had spies in many public houses looking for supporters of the American or French revolutions to haul before the magistrates. Bewick was a Northumbrian humanitarian, a champion of William Wilberforce and the anti-slavery movement, one deeply resentful of trigger-happy militarism. At one time in the mid 1790s the repressive climate made him so fearful he briefly considered emigrating to America, for his views were well known in Westminister. Even James Gillray, when employed by the Tory government, created lampooning images with motifs referencing him.

To contemporary eyes Bewick is valued as an early champion of the natural habitat and its dwellers, an opponent of cruelty to animals (though not of hunting) and a major crusader for the keen observation of what hitherto had only been dismissed as ‘dickie birds.’ Others had published bird images before him, but none with his detail and accuracy. He opened up for the public a new world of wildlife in their own backyard, methodically explained and suddenly made excitingly accessible.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Mentally engaged (floating and gliding)

Bruce Barber: Reading and Writing Rooms
Te Tuhi, Pakuranga
13 December – 25 January 2009

Bruce Barber first became known (in Auckland anyway) in the early seventies as a performance artist, one of several taught by Jim Allen at Elam. Barber is unusual – then and now – for he is also a skilled writer with a passionate interest in Marxist theory. He considers himself a ‘littoral’ artist, though it might be argued he as an educator is too much a part of the established ‘art world’ and not sufficiently immersed in the ‘life world’. In other words, not politically extreme enough. Still caught up in the baggage of ‘an art career.’

Whatever the case, because Barber has spent the last thirty or so years living and teaching in Canada, his work is rarely shown here and so a mini-survey like this one at Te Tuhi - because of the esteem he is held as an artist and teacher – is of national importance. It is a twin of the excellent O-AR Jim Allen exhibition held in January 2007 at AUT, for both shows, with their documentation of Auckland City Art Gallery projects, highlight the brilliant radicality of John Maynard – the first director of the Govett-Brewster who then worked as curator at ACAG - while Ernest Smith was director in the mid seventies.

As the title states, three of the works (Vital Speeches (1982), Novel Squat (1998) and the gallery library where Barber’s notebooks and publications are made available) provide facilities for reading and writing. However thinking tends to be generated by the physical activity of writing, for as Roland Barthes used to say, reading begins after you’ve closed the book and start mentally responding. However these days you often don’t need books. Some Barber essays are available online, as are the speeches found in the magazine Vital Speeches that he places in his installation, and which you are invited to read (sarcastically or with sincerity) aloud into a microphone linked to speakers. You are invited to perform to an imaginary audience seated in rows facing confrontationally – in opposing parts of the room with no compromise possible. A surrogate for the artist perhaps, inside his installation.

Even more than the activities of reading and writing Novel Squat invites you to add to an ongoing novel on a computer in an elegantly fitted space with red chairs, a couch, pot plants and two canaries in a cage), the dominant image in this show is the door. All eight excerpts from Vital Speeches, on the installation walls, feature door images somewhere. The writers include Henry Jackson, Pope Paul VI, Ronald Reagan, Leonid Brezhnev and J.H.Warren, and are so varied the texts never fail to surprise.

There are two other works that discuss doors, like Vital Speeches, using them as metaphor. One uses a LED electronic signboard of moving words to spell out a drastically pruned down quotation from Kafka’s The Trial:

Before the Law stands a door keeper and I am only the least terrible of door keepers. The third door keeper is so terrible I cannot bear to look at him. No one else could ever be admitted here since this gate was made only for you. I am now going to shut it.

The work speaks of many things to which one might want to gain access: artistic intentions, career positioning, community status, personal happiness, economic stability, certain forms of knowledge or skill.

On the wall below the noticeboard is a large peephole, like those commonly found in doors, next to the locks and security chains, through which the gallery visitor can be scrutinized.

The other ‘door work’ is Work to Rule, a large very elegant installation in the main Te Tuhi gallery. This is Barber at his best, a powerfully direct, spatial and linguistic experience not mediated by photographic documentation – as in many of the other works. The square room is divided by a long white wall consisting of ten doors that alternate with their hinges so that half open towards you, half away. The front doors have red letters that say ‘Worker Rule’, and the back ones have black that state ‘Work to Rule.’ One implies trade union solidarity, the other employer-enforced contractual control. Like Vital Speeches you are invited to take a position, to stand on either side of ‘the fence’.

There is another dimension to this work, in that the sign writing was executed by an experienced professional teaching a younger trainee their skills. With modern computer-cut technology, this manual method is rapidly disappearing, especially now more than in 1981 when Barber did the first version of this work. Each of the two signwriters had to negotiate their own terms of employment, either an hourly rate to do all twenty letters (Worker Rule), or a fixed fee (Work to Rule).However these artisans are not mentioned on the wall label. That their names are missing is a political statement in itself, just as putting them on would be.(Perhaps they could have been asked - and that stated?)

In Barber’s exhibition there are fourteen works (including the library display) giving us a representative sample of his career. Most of them consist of black and white photographic documentation (printed images or video) of performances in the seventies. Some of them I think you really had to be present to grasp the event. Bucket Action (1973), for example, whether in Auckland City Art Gallery (see W. Curnow and J. Allen’s New Art book) or later in Kerikeri Community Hall (See Splash magazine #2), seems a lot more than merely Barber’s blind-folded spatial negotiation through a difficult set of obstacles in order to perform certain tasks. The smell of the thawing fish, the sound of slopping water in his alternating buckets, the sound of his bucketed head accidentally hitting the horizontal iron pipes – all would have helped create a vivid experience for all who attended – and the displayed visual documentation only captures a small part of that.

Likewise some works, like Hand Game (1974), Like a Bat Out of Hell (1974), and Talking to Myself (1971) simply lack precise information as to what actually occurred. They need detailed explanatory wall texts, maybe even sound recordings – though perhaps Barber’s recently added audio tour guide has helped remedy that.

Gum Box (2004), a Perspex box filled with chiselled off chewing gum ‘patties’ acquired during a performance of thirty hours of voluntary ‘community service’, is intriguing as any such box in the style of Arman would be, yet which community did Barber think he was servicing? Personally I enjoy seeing dried gum on the footpaths and lamp-posts, it doesn’t offend me, and in fact it makes city life more visually pleasurable – though I am repulsed by seeing it in people’s mouths. It is like tagging, hoardings, and posters, part of the visual richness of a modern urban environs, and not physically dangerous like broken glass. Picking that up, like Billy Apple once did as a work, is far more community oriented.

The earliest work, Untitled (Float/Glider) from 1972, is a sculpture made of railway sleepers (balanced on rollers) which support two parallel steel strips from which is suspended a sleeper ‘floating’ in a central steel trough. It intrigues because its use of equilibrium, and various horizontal and vertical balances and counter-pressures, implies something more than just playing with the physical properties of the materials. Like Hans Haacke’s Water Box (1968) a glass cube containing condensation, or later works by Jeff Koons with basketballs floating in tanks, there seems to be a larger metaphor present, one alluding to economic forces, factors that ensure the positioning and sustaining of a GNP or phenomenon like (say) the art market.

Barber’s best works are visually compelling and ‘read’ more effectively than any written text, having an inherent logic that gradually reveals itself to applied thought. The experience they provide draws you in, and curiosity kicks off processes that invite you to research further and perhaps use the facilities provided. Well worth a trip to Pakuranga.

Photographed works, from top to bottom, are: Vital Speeches, Kafka’s Castle (detail), Work To Rule (both sides),Bucket Action documentation Talking to Myself (Walkie Talkie, Tape Recorder Performance documentation), Gum Box (part of Diddly Squat)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Summer flora

The Enchanted Garden
Curated by Mary Kisler
Auckland Art Gallery: upstairs @ the New Gallery
13 December – 8 February 2008

This is a family show set up for the summer holidays, and is about gardens as sites of recreation, and also through symbolism and metaphor, philosophical speculation about the world, nature and civilization. It includes works from most of the many diverse collections in the care of Auckland Art Gallery, and because of that, seems to be about the institution's holdings more than a particular theme.

For in trying to sample everything, it attempts too much (and oddly also not enough) - for in some rooms, the focus becomes dissipated. Portraits and still lifes are included, as are paintings depicting myths in the woods, orchards, feral landscapes and buildings. There are even canned fruit labels, bonnets, dresses and a tea cosy. Few traditional art and craft genres are not squeezed in. However a couple of background trees or a flower or fruit do not a garden make. This doesn’t have a rigorously tight curation like that of say Zara Stanhope in the Adam Art Galley’s similar Botanica exhibition of five years ago.

It’s a shame because a more detailed look at the history of gardens –particularly earlier - would be very interesting, but to do that, more exhibits from other (probably overseas) institutions would be needed. Yet if one forgets the occasionally tizzy, scattered selection, this is a fun show to dip into. There is some wonderful contemporary work from artists like Jae Hoon Lee, Richard Orjis, Megan Jenkinson, Boyd Webb, Judy Darragh, Gil Hanly and Kim Meek, plus the usual ‘vegetation’ paintings you’d expect from artists like Pat Hanly and Karl Maughan – one impressively inventive with its ‘molecular’ Blakean cosmology, the other stilted and rigid with its placement of receding bushy forms.

One surprising inclusion is a brilliant Ross Ritchie painting quoting Toulouse-Lautrec, showing a customer in a brothel sitting between a madam and one of the girls. They are looking out at the Auckland landscape through a large plate glass window. Here ‘garden’ takes on totally unexpected, non-botanical meanings.

The highlights of the show though are where artists are represented by sizable bodies of work that provide impact. Paul Morison’s short Cambium film and his dozen Black Dahlia screenprints are gorgeously inventive as refined graphic, black and white forms, while Ernst Haas’ large suite of coloured photographs of different blooms are spectacular and moody.

Of the single works, I was greatly surprised to see a wonderfully rendered Magritte etching/aquatint, Pear and Rose, of great delicacy and subtle violence, and a surprisingly energetic - but also admirably composed - pencil drawing from Rodney Fumpston, whose prints I usually find flat and insipid. Overall we see a wide range of depictions and representations of plants and gardens in a disparate show that is fun to visit over summer while you have time on your hands - but which by the time winter arrives, will be long forgotten.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Welcoming The Ignorant

Mladen Bizumic: Everyone is welcome
Te Tuhi billboard project
13 December – 25 January 2009

An excerpt from Kafka’s posthumously published novel ‘Amerika’ is here repeated in three small hoardings in different languages. Pitched to speakers of English, Maaori and Korean. The source of the quotation is not mentioned in any of them, so they will be taken at face value as advertisements – for that is what they seem. Take a look at the language. Click on the images. It is stirring stuff.

In Kafka’s book Karl Rossman, a poor depressed unemployed immigrant, gets hope by seeing a poster seeking artists for a theatre production. On the fence-lined streets outside Te Tuhi the poster’s text takes on new different meanings and Clayton and Oklahoma become mysterious local places, their whereabouts worth speculating over. They could be newly available housing divisions, or satirical mockeries of American globalisation. There is a hint of menace when we are dramatically told ‘If you miss your chance now you will miss it forever. If you think of the future you are one of us…Down with all those that do not believe in us.’

The text rails against outsiders, those who don’t support the particular community that is speaking and for whom the words are totalitarian propaganda. It offers instant employment for all artists, as long as they enlist ‘by midnight.’ For those readers on the streets of Pakuranga who don’t grasp it is in fact an artwork and part fairytale, and who aren’t aware of its connections with the large building across the road, it offers false hope.

Bizumic is currently residing in Berlin, so he can’t directly observe his impact on his audience. With this clever project he has created a mischief-making - but thoughtful – artwork, one that destroys the barriers between fiction and the 'real' world by changing the physical and conceptual context and so, the readership.

Limited edition for the almost invisible

Julian Dashper
Untitled (Black for Fred Sandback) 2001-08 Edition #1/10
Untitled (Blue for Fred Sandback) 2001-08 Edition #1/10
Te Tuhi
3 September - 3 February 2008

This project of Dashper’s continues the interest in perception that has been apparent in his recent Crockford exhibitions, where some works were hard to detect in the gallery space. The two works in this current Te Tuhi show though are harder to see than the above photos indicate. The light on the wall above the main Te Tuhi entrance is normally dimmer, making the pencil marks look fainter.

Despite Dashper’s titles referencing Fred Sandback, that artist’s acrylic yarn is a lot different from pencil as a material. It has more body and projects forward. However despite Dashper’s work being more like lines made by Agnes Martin, Richard Tuttle or Sol LeWitt for example –by virtue of it being pencil - Sandback did butt coloured lines together in lithographs just as Dashper has done here with black and blue pencil. It’s a nice idea of Dashper’s to do horizontally what Sandback did diagonally.

Most people visiting Te Tuhi will not notice this work, even those who read the rather crass ‘bronze’ plaque located in the middle of what is normally the ‘drawing wall.’ It states the works’ existence, but doesn’t say where they are positioned. The sign will antagonise Dashper’s audience as a cause of frustration.

By being close to the door, the work apparently is meant to reference the Michael Parekowhai sculpture outside, its horizontality serving as a foil to Parekowhai’s verticality. However that is a far-fetched fantasy, an artist’s pipe dream. The two works normally would not make up a pair, they are so different. Dashper’s project is interesting because of his other ‘minimal’ shows that are contextually linked to it. Not because of any in situ qualities in Te Tuhi’s environs, such as acquired artworks. The connection is not convincing.

Dashper met Sandback in 2001 in Marfa, hence the dates of the works’ construction. The works are installed at Te Tuhi on long term loan until 2019 and are in an edition of ten. That means there is a restriction on the number of lines that he will create of those particular colours, pencil type, alignment and length, that he doesn’t intend to crank them out. A clever touch.

Monday, December 15, 2008


Bulletin Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu
Issue Number 155
Dec. 2008 - Feb. 2009
Editor: David Simpson
Art Director: Guy Pask

The Bulletin was established as the Robert McDougall Art Gallery newsletter way back in the late seventies, and for a long time was an extremely dull affair. The current issue however is a complete revelation, for though the publication has been gradually changing, the new issue looks amazingly striking. With the teated Fiona Hall coke cans on the cover, it is a pleasure to pick up and flick through. The layout is clear and considered. It looks like a skinny artforum, but more elegant.

Clearly this is now the smartest looking municipal gallery publication in the land. Not the most sophisticated. For that one goes to Auckland Art Gallery’s Reading Room. But that is pitched to a university readership and not a mass audience. It is too close to October and somewhat dry. The NZ art scene needs a publication not so high-brow, that is eye-catching like this Bulletin - presenting advertising tastefully, but with quality articles too. It needs an accessible magazine from an institution that goes beyond just promoting the publisher’s own exhibitions. Something wider. Something like Midwest or Tate Magazine.

The articles are varied, make excellent reading, but are still a pinch light, and too short. They don’t take long to consume. The publication is not sufficiently ambitious in its content, and needs to be less inhouse and more far-reaching in its discussions and those who contribute. Like say Greg Burke’s Govett-Brewster Visit publication of four years ago. With remarkable talent like Jenny Harper and Justin Paton on the CAG staff, that vision and those wider connections need not be a pipedream.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Night is right

Seraphine Pick: Fall and Trip Hazards
Michael Lett
11 December - 31 December 2008

We have here six new paintings from Pick: two beauties (Wandering Rose; Five Miles of You); two middling works (Good Morning, Morning; Fall and Trip Hazards): and two awful ones (Dressed Up For the Letdown; Love Like Yours). The works are shown from top to bottom.

The really successful works are so because of their unrelenting theatricality and spatial resolution. They are simple and immediate as composed images. Not too complicated. And rich in interpretative possibilities.

The other paintings tend to get spoiled by two main sorts of problem. One is that often the women seem stiff and robotlike, as if they secretly suffer from ghastly spinal ailments. They are more like plastic dolls than human.

The other is that often Pick’s forms aren’t anchored convincingly in the illusory space. They hover above the ground instead of standing or sitting on it. I think she knows this and tries to joke about it. Hence the pot plant on stilts in Good Morning, Morning.

Fall and Trip Hazards seems to be about sexual anticipation, but with an odd,ungainly composition that is making a joke about Balthus. The windows have a compelling rhythm while the precariously balanced reclining figure leaning back has a lip that looks like a tongue. It is pointedly the same height as the standing woman’s genitals. And the plastic tape covering the window crack looks like an erect phallus.

You think I am being a grub? Well Pick paintings are often sexual. She constructs images knowingly. These aren’t accidents. A viewer with a filthy mind is her perfect viewer.

The other paintings have young women suffering from frozen posture. They are sickeningly demure, and the paintings would be better without them, especially Love Like Yours where the trees on the skyline behind the rocks are fantastically inventive. She seems to have more facility with paint when creating night-time scenes. Apart from the brilliant Five Miles of You, in this show nocturnal imagery is what seems to suit her best.

Coping with the stressful rat race

Dan Arps: Explaining Things
Gambia Castle
5 December - 20 December 2008

Joseph Beuys’ legendary performance was called How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare. Dan Arps’ Explaining Things though is to live humans. One interpretation is that it is about the fundamental properties of the self and how to cope with the many tensions of modern daily life. Aspects of the show connect with the satirical HR parts of last year’s Gestapo Pussy Ranch at The Physics Room, and the much more recent Fractal Tears at Michael Lett – with its appropriated and inverted Helm Ruifrok imagery.

As Arps exhibitions go, this Gambia Castle display is a comparatively retrained affair, without the sense of mayhem and unpredictability many of his other exhibitions have had. Initially baffling (as usual) one means of access is to use the newsprint poster sent out as an invite, and Reader #6, the accompanying Gambia-published set of anonymous writings (a downloaded chatroom thread) called Ecce anon, in conjunction with the major work in the room: a sequence of blurry video recordings on meditation.

This video is about an hour. Some of its recordings include American ‘trance’ personalities like April Crawford, and clips discussing astral projection, how to get rid of inner demons, and basic meditation procedures on reaching a ‘no thought’ state.

Around the room are objects that seem related, such as a set of empty vertical shelves (a figure, a self as vessel?) with a blank rectangle of card for a head, a collage with inter-racial pornography (demonic desires?), a paint encrusted photo of a tropical beach (‘paradise’ as spiritual symbol?), and a sculpture of an owl next to a mystic, glowing globe (wisdom and cosmic truth?). Most intriguing is a framed photo of a woman practising her golf swing. Pasted over her head so we can’t see her face is a scrap of paper bearing doodled letters and scribbled phrases such as ‘motivational sales’ and ‘promotional marketing concepts’. There is also a table and chairs to help watch the video.

The poster Arps sent out as an invite is a large diagram of the different elements that channel into the individual human mind, represented by a triangle with the empirical world facing its open side. At its back, behind its tip, is a vertical plane, an underpinning space-time energy-mass continuum.

The published thread in the Reader is even stranger still. Much stranger. At the centre of the discussion is an anonymous contributor who is striving to attain a state of Godhood through hypnosis and meditation. He tells us that on a modular shelf he has stacked twelve monitors so they can play continually and simultaneously, week long recordings taken from various television channels - with all sound on. They have been recorded at four times normal speed and are all connected to a computer and a single wireless keyboard. Under hypnosis he hopes to process all these multiple inputs simultaneously, and attain Enlightenment.

Such a project is the opposite of John C. Lilly’s famous sensory deprivation chambers, where participants float in a warm saline solution in darkened soundless tanks, and start hallucinating within an hour. This project instead deals in cacophonous sensory overload.

I’m not sure what Arps is trying to do with all this (it doesn’t seem like he is trying to promote meditation – only look at it as a social phenomenon), but I admire the way all these elements fit together. His show is not a visual treat – it is scruffy and consciously unattractive - but it is also a stimulating catalyst. As a collection of ideas, it holds your attention and is memorable.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Brmmm, brmmm

Group Show: Clock the Ton
Gow Langsford
9 December - 30 December 2008

Nifty title this, for those determined to race down country roads at more than 100 mph. An unusually hoony moniker for a Xmas show. It also means you can count 100 works here, each no bigger than 600 square millimetres. It postulates the premise that size is not the same as scale, that formal and emotional impact can’t be measured with a ruler or light meter. Really though it is about sales not perception. Who’d dream otherwise?

Represented here are eighteen artists: Ball, Cotton, Cousins, George, Frizzell, Gimblett, Hight, Hughes, Ingram, Maddox, Maguire, Maugham, McWhannell, Millar, Murado, Nitsche, Paterson, and Pule. Though they average out at five works each, some in fact only have one (McWhannell, Hughes and Cotton) and others eighteen (Antonio Murada).

I normally hate salon hangs and I especially hate Christmas shows. But this seems like one work, a particularly crazy composite by some deranged artist influenced by Killeen. The odd thing is that the randomness and density of the hang is perversely entertaining. It is not easy to compare, say, all the Gimbletts or Murados, or Maddoxes. You have to concentrate to find them and then come up with an opinion about which work would best represent that artist, should that item somehow appear in your fantasized ideal Christmas stocking at the end of your bed.

It also allows you to ferret out recent changes in artists’ practices. You can examine say James Cousins’ optically unpredictable, zigzaggy fields, or the peculiar aluminium shapes Judy Millar is now working on that have a concave contour included. These edges pointedly enclose as a negative form, the plane of the supporting wall - and seem to indicate the underpinning architectural context.

If you want to temporarily forget your aesthetic sensibilities - and be like me a nosey parker when it comes to artists - check out this show and indulge your drifting, wandering eye.

Twenty-three in the Bath

Group Show: December exhibition
Bath St
2 December - 20 December 2008

Christmas stock shows, whilst they can be irritatingly trivial if the works seem like dinky trinkets, are also a good way to surveying a gallery proprietor’s taste. They give you a chance to see if there is a pattern or consistency. What makes them tick? What aesthetically or conceptually pushes their buttons? They might even avoid consistency.

This Bath St show is spread out on the walls of the large L-shaped room so the twenty-three artists don’t get in each other’s way. Even small sculpture is on the walls.

A cursory glance indicates that there are some formal and stylistic groupings that link some of the artists and works together. Circular wheel forms – for example - are found in Louise Purvis and Robert Jahnke works. In painting also, overlapping and undulating net forms are seen in Katie Thomas and Kathryn Stevens. Or pressuring shape with contour-edge or line in Leon van den Eijkel and James Ross.

If I could scurry into the gallery in the dead of night with a suitcase and help myself, the works I’d pinch would be the gorgeous Denys Watkins’ Indian works on paper and Katie Thomas’ two fascinating ‘net’ paintings. And I’d probably risk a hernia by also grabbing Bob Jahnke’s wonderful 'crayfish pot' made of corten steel.

I’d be tempted by the several mesmerising drawing/photographic hybrids in this show: works of ink on photographs by James Robinson (for him subdued and restrained); a photochemical drawing by Grant Beran; and surrealist photographs by Tanja Nola.

There is plenty to think about here. Peter Gibson Smith’s shaped panels use intersecting planes in a manner related to the drawings of Georgie Hill (at Ivan Anthony), but with a delicate scrubbed coloration that avoids intensity, using modelled forms, not negative shapes.

There are also Anna Eggert’s intriguing sets of common objects covered by wound-on data cable. The effect of repeated tiny horizontal lines creates shifting moirelike patterns, unpredictable rhythms and curious optical blendings.

Eggert is an Australian artist, as is Jonathan Jones, previously shown here in the Jim Vivieaere curated exhibition Good Company Flash Lights. He now presents shelves holding wiping sponges. On these he has placed aboriginal motifs that look like bark painting patterns, and which also seem connected to Jasper Johns’ famous ‘flagstone’ paintings. The sponge serves perhaps as a clever post-colonial metaphor, the wiping away of one culture maybe to superimpose another.

This is a good exhibition to leisurely ponder over. It has an enjoyable diversity.

Descending from top to bottom, images are of works by Katie Thomas, Robert Jahnke, James Robinson, Tanja Nola, Peter Gibson Smith, Anna Eggert and Jonathan Jones.