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.

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