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, December 11, 2008

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.

No comments: