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, January 31, 2009

Here are links to three reviews of the

Dutton book, kindly flicked on by David Boyce.

One of the things I'm curious about is why should a so-called 'artistic' sensibility be more successful in attracting fertile mates than say a scientist who does research with experiments in their hunt for knowledge, or a mystic or religious scholar searching for spiritual truth? As a skill, why would the 'artistic' be so attractive?

Here are those links...

Paste them into your search engine if you are interested.(Sorry, I can't highlight them.)

Sexual relief

Edward Bullmore: A Surrealist Odyssey
Curated by Penelope Jackson for Tauranga Art Gallery Toi Tauranga
Gus Fisher
30 January - 28 February 2009

Surrealism – with its interest in the theories of Freud and the role of sexual desire in the unconscious mind - is one of those art genres that has never sparked off much interest amongst New Zealand artists. This is surprising because after all, sexual passion plays just as big a role in many people’s psychic landscape as say hills and rivers play in their physical one. Our artists tend to blend surrealism with other artistic preoccupations (eg, Don Driver or Julia Morison), for rarely do its dreamlike properties come under close scrutiny. Wilhelm Ruifrok did it for a time in the early seventies. And Edward Bullmore did it much longer in the late fifties, sixties and some of the seventies.

Bullmore (1933 - 1978) is the subject of a touring exhibition organised by the Tauranga Art Gallery. Most of it consists of works gifted to that institution by his widow.

When I was a student in Christchurch in the seventies I can remember occasionally seeing his ‘stuffed’ and stitched constructions in the CSA as part of exhibitions by The Group. Rich in references to intimate body parts and made by stretching canvas tightly over sections of dismantled chairs, these works also referred to clothing, sailing and landscape. Because he spent a decade successfully creating work in England his most developed work was initially rarely seen here, even though he studied at Ilam and taught in Tauranga and Rotorua. What little was here was always talked about because of its provocative allusions or the sheer strangeness of his assemblage, but when he died prematurely at 45 he was still comparatively unknown.

The interesting thing is that today his early more conservative work – the portraits of himself and his wife Jacqueline - holds up better than his wall reliefs. Despite their references to (James) Gleeson, Dali, Raphael and Messina, they fascinate because of their connections to Canterbury artists like Bill Sutton. We see the blending of New Zealand landscape and skies with conventions taken from European Art History.

Bullmore’s fetishistic wall reliefs are brilliant because of the fact they say the unspeakable (cocks, cunts and tits) but he needed to be in London to get the empathetic environment necessary to construct them. New Zealand's art community was far too repressive a place to allow their creation and public display, even though they were sometimes subtle, even discreet.

As hybrid artworks they were often, I think, also too fiddly and decorative. Overloaded with references to seventies drapes and wallpaper, or clothing’s zips and straps, some stylised ornamental elements undermine the raw physicality of the sagging or tumescent biomorphic forms. It might be argued this very tension is their essential point, so that the straining of fabric over padded ‘flesh’ goes beyond titillation to become a societal metaphor about control. The ‘smut’ is strangely naturalised with the curved taut chair shapes, synthetic colours and frayed bandage/sail forms so it becomes decidedly unerotic - almost drearily prosaic. The references to the land and geological strata emphasise the ordinariness of sex, demystifying it.

Some of the didactic anti-nuclear paintings made in London also do not last well as images – unlike his friend Pat Hanly’s Chagall-influenced work of that time which holds up convincingly. Bullmore’s narrative paintings look corny, preachy and contrived, particularly with their mantis skull-like faces which seem like the heads of Michael Illingworth paintings. However curator Penelope Jackson has done the right thing in including them for they explain the early development of the reliefs.

This is a very unusual show about a very unusual artist. The display and its excellently researched publication say a lot about this country and its more recent history. Even the work that has dated is interesting for what it tells us. Try not to miss it, and bring the kids. Something to talk about during the car-ride home.

Sophisticated drawings

Works on Paper: Kevin Appel, Joachim Bandau, Frank Gerritiz, Jane Harris, Noel Ivanoff, Simon Morris, Geena Shin
Two Rooms
30 January - 28 February 2009

This is a tightly selected show that uses the whole gallery, with Frank Gerritiz providing some ‘drawings’ in the traditional sense of leaded graphite on paper, and Geena Shin and Kevin Appell creating collages. Joachim Bandou and Jane Harris explore the limitations of watercolour inside demarcated, repeated shapes that overlap – as does Simon Morris with liquid acrylic – while Noel Ivanoff makes ‘paintings’ in a sticky Judy Millarish way, with viscous coloured substance stamped with a grinding disc onto free-hanging sheets of dacron. Only three of the seven artists here are Kiwis.

In this shrewd, elegant and varied exhibition stock is made fresh in a new context. The works interact beautifully, with many cross connections made via similar colours and use of negative shape.

The most obsessively fastidious works are Gerritz’s carefully positioned squares and rectangles. These meticulous black blocks are stacks of dark rippling lines measured into thirds or sixths of the pages’ surface area. The harshness of the precise edges created by this German artist could lacerate your eyeball if you lingered too long over their razor-sharp, geometric contours. The mottled pencil lines seduce with their subtle horizontal wobbling motion and beguiling depth.

Geena Shin’s angular tangram forms are less optically stable, not being anchored with a sense of weight. Their pointy diamond forms seem to flutter and flip across the page, being like Gerritz ultra crisp, and exploiting negative gaps. Carefully pre-planned, these are made with rigorously positioned, glued on, painted card.

Whilst this is clearly an ‘abstraction’ show that examines nuances of surface, it is not only preoccupied with figure-ground relationships of shape or suggested volumetric form. Simon Morris and Noel Ivanoff deal with these, and the concept of process-driven time as well. Both use wormlike shapes that meander across the page, rising and descending - and stopping when they seem about to double back.

Morris’s inventive stencil-based configurations explore a delicate and flat, thick twisting line that snares unexpected but repeated white shapes within its airy looping course. Ivanoff’s line though is much fatter and denser. Because it is created from a printed disc application of slimy coloured pigment it looks telescopic and modelled, like a ventilation tube. It is squeezed into a compressed structure where negative forms cannot be a consideration.

These works have a nice looseness as well: Ivanoff where the squashed paint has oozed out and thickened beyond the confines of the overlapping, pressing circle, and Morris with the occasional flick of dripped paint. British artist Jane Harris capitalises further on such accidents, mixing her watercolour pigments in subtle chromatic combinations and placing them in rows of overlapping elongated ovals so that the drying hues start to separate and form dark surging waves peeking through paler fields.

There is another German artist in this show besides Gerritz, mentioned earlier. Joachim Bandau exploits the properties of diluted black pigment and only that, his overlapping rectangular washes looking like aerial views of stacked up sheets of tinted glass. Each faint rectangle has a thin undulating edge, a tiny line of linear black residue, and the ones in the centre, being positioned over many more layers, are darker and deeper in dramatic depth.

Upstairs the collages by American artist Kevin Appel show us his interest in synthetic cubism and architectural forms. On one wall his pencil drawings of patterned sheltering planes, airily aligned within the branches of trees, amuse with their whimsical inventiveness. On the other, appropriated photographs of landscapes have tent or hut forms inserted, with similarly decorative planes. This floor is in marked contrast to the austerity and lack of ornamentation on the ground floor below. Unlike the other artists, Appel’s work has a celebratory exuberance, a joyfulness in decoration, possibly even prettiness – without getting wild. It is still intrinsically cool.

Summing up, overall the works in this show are strictly controlled - with nothing really too abandoned or remotely frenetic. Yet though there is an emphasis on craft and technique, it somehow sustains interest without drifting into dry exercises or showing off. The visual properties, often fluid in the physicality of the medium, greatly intrigue. In their clever combinations of sensibility, they compel further looking.

[In descending order, the illustrated works above are by Frank Gerritz, Geena Shin, Simon Morris, Noel Ivanoff, Jane Harris, Joachim Bandau and Kevin Appel.]

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Viva la commonality

Assume Nothing: Celebrating Gender Diversity
Photography and films by Rebecca Swan and Kirsty MacDonald
MIC Toi Rerehiko
24 January - 19 February 2009

Like with last month’s Article 27 exhibition the chief sponsor of this show is the Human Rights Commission, but unlike that presentation this display is educational and documentary in focus – rather than about innovative art per se. Though immensely informative and moving, especially in the eloquence of its interviewees, it is not about experimental projects or radical intervention, but mainstream consolidation – a positive reflection of how times have changed for this country’s transsexual and cross-dressing communities for the better. Georgina Beyer’s prominence and parliamentary contribution is proof of that.

The static and moving gallery images and associated publication here are certainly very elegant, yet Assume Nothing lacks the raw intensity of say the pioneering work thirty–five years ago by Taranaki artist Fiona Clark. The public hysteria that then greeted her intensely raw images of transsexuals (and their written texts) in the touring Active Eye exhibition resulted in the police confiscating her photographs. Those works though were confrontational and calculatedly provocative. This show has none of that. The personalities, though assertive, are immensely charming, designed to win ‘conservative’ viewers over. The project is constructed to remove fear of the unknown, as well as provide a sensibly dignified discussion of topics often kept hidden. Its frankness celebrates difference whilst in a sense, physiological and psychological distinctions are also dissolved. These individuals may be unusual, but what citizens of Aotearoa have in common is also clearly demonstrated.

The exhibition provides a great opportunity for viewers to think about the way some of those interviewed can present themselves as male or female, changing not only their attire when so inclined, but also their body shape and facial ornamentation. Such actions challenge the mental baggage carried by many of those whom transsexuals and cross-dressers regularly encounter – the preconceived assumptions they might have about ‘male’ or ‘female’ behaviour patterns and core identities.

All this links up to the fascinating ideas of a ‘queer theorist’ like Judith Butler, whose discussions raise questions about the nature of role playing and self perception in identity, and their seemingly arbitrary links to the physiological. A show like this tells us not only how little we know about the range of gender types that exist (with their varieties of accompanying desire) but also how little we understand the causes of reactive hostility that can be so damaging. An excellent exhibition.

The above mixed media image is ‘Ola, Aitu, Mauli, the inner person’ (2008) by Rebecca Swan and Shigeyuki Kihara.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Here's a comment from Skipper on

Goodbye Randolph St. And David Boyce on Can Art ignore beauty.

Goodbye Randolph St

Whitecliffe MFA exhibition
Randolph St Gallery
17 January - 22 January 2009

This is the last exhibition Whitecliffe Art College present before they move to new premises in Parnell. Five artists showing their work in the large pristine, white space. Five varied mini-exhibitions by MFA candidates.

Colleen Collins’ practice involves videoed performances, photographs and installations that depict aspects of the forest wilderness of Ontario, Canada. One installation of blinding headlights comments on deer /driver collisions on forest roads; most of her other images refer to trees and/or night-time hours.

One particularly interesting work flaunts a moral ambiguity: a video showing the artist ringbarking a poplar, stripping away sections of bark while knowing this is likely to kill it. (She then nails the pieces back on again.) Although there is a very remote chance the tree will recover – and one dying tree in the woods is not hugely significant anyway – the documentation is disturbing: it is hard to determine a rationale for the action. It is memorable because it seems incongruously destructive, though it might not be. The moral doubt is the subject-matter here, the unease, the lack of certainty in motivation.

Linda McKelvie’s paintings of poured pigment mixed into varnish blend billowing Helen Frankenthaler forms with Dale Frank’s methodology. The sensuous, glossy colour is not stained but floats on the white canvas surface.

These works are competent but not memorable. There is no exciting research here, exploring new subject matter or techniques that take painting to new places. McKelvie’s works are shallow, conventional and trite. Pretty décor only.

Also clichéd are the drawn portraits by Simon Vine in pencil and white wash on vertical plywood oblongs. There is no detectable logic justifying the unusual support, while the sentimental images (some taken from statues) that feature a classically draughted line with suggested undulating planes, seem incongruous competing with the patterned knotty wood. The plywood seems a vacuous gimmick.

The most successful exhibition here is by Ann Fletcher, one exploring dismantled chair and table shapes as sculpture. She uses three rooms. In one some mutilated and dismembered painted chairs have been stacked up on a line of skinny unpainted wooden tables to make a convincing and imposing installation, while in another she has constructed a bizarrely swelling, towering stool blended into a table.

Fletcher constructs austere and refined sculpture that combines a Shaker sensibility with the use of found furniture. The work is well thought out in its organisation. She knows how to manipulate a gallery space and impose mental and bodily pressure on the ambulating gallery visitor.

Of the five Whitecliffe artists the sound and visual work of Lee Harrop seems the grittiest and most contemporary - even though her installation here is too minimal to create any serious impact. This Randolph St project features a music box into which is threaded a looped cardboard score repeating the words ‘Dead Beat.’ The letters are in the form of holes repeatedly punched in to create notes. The sound is surprisingly tuneful, delicate and melodically contained – a cleverly buoyant contrast to the despair of the words that ‘play’ it.

Harrop has other installations on at the moment too - in Manukau Police Station and at Waitakaruru arboretum. They focus on texts. In projects such as these, she presents political nuances within word plays and ambiguous readings, gained by butting words together in spirals or circles. Though intriguing, they seem a tad dated and not as unusual as her exploration with text-generated abstract sound. That is a richer field, to be possibly mined in the future.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Things Russian

Last month when I was looking at Richard Dale's Article 27 show and the table of books organised by Xin Cheng, there were two books in particular that I found especially rivetting. One was Vladimir Arkhipov's Home-Made: Contemporary Russian Folk Artifacts and the other was Half-Letter Press's Public Phenomena.

Half-Letter Press (Chicago) look startlingly impressive as a small publishing firm that focus on very unusual community projects, and the Arkhipov book not only has terrifically clear photographs of each home-made utensil but the writing on each by their creator (or creator's relative) is beautifully vivid and informative. You really get a sense of a crumbling economy and how hard it is to get many things that we in Aotearoa take for granted.

All this brings to mind the visit next month by two Russian artists (representing the Factory of Found Clothing collective) for a UNITEC residency where they show work at MIC Toi Rerehiko and Snowwhite. They also have a project where there is a search for a saintly person similar to Dostoyevsky's Prince Myshkin (The Idiot). I such people exist, and if so, would they want to be identified?

Their visit is part of this year's Auckland Festival and the visual arts component looks remarkably strong. Usually theatre, dance and music dominate in such events but this time round there seems to be an exceptionally good line up of art shows. Of course we have to wait and see how the dozen or so exhibitions/performances turn out, but from the online blurbs, the selection committee have done a very good job. Auckland art lovers are in for a real treat.

Can Art ignore beauty?

I see there is a new book just out by University of Canterbury's Philosophy of Art lecturer and Arts & Letters Daily founder, Denis Dutton. Called The Art Instinct, it is apparently a Darwinian approach to the evolution of art, modelled on Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct.

I gather it is not so much about an 'Art' as an Aesthetic instinct. The two are very different - and although a lot of art ignores beauty and visual seduction, it clearly retains the status of art and is part of its history. Most of us would agree I think, but would Dutton?

Is he being sloppy equating art with aesthetically pleasing artworks, or is he just being provocative? Is he being ignorant or calculating? Has anybody out there (in the US) read his tome? I'd love to hear some opinions. Get some reviews even? His book is now out in the States where he is currently promoting it, and it will be here next month.

Now there are some books examining notions of a biological basis for art that are highly regarded - like Morse Peckham's Man's Rage For Chaos - but I suspect Dutton's book will not be one of those. Take a look at this lecture and you'll see why. As a philosopher he is highly emotional, with an intense dislike for contemporary art (he even fumes over Chuck Close) and a real loathing for continental theory. He longs for a conservative resurgence of pre-modern art that is representational and skill-based.

Normally such personal opinions wouldn't matter, but Dutton spends much of this lecture telling jokes and not providing a cohesive argument. The main flaw as I've suggested above is that real 'art' as he sees it is pre-Duchampian and a mixture of disciplines - he mixes up music (eg. Beethoven), literature (Austen) and art (Rembrandt) so that the three disparate traditions become one. Over the long course of time the 'artist' sexes have perpetuated a pleasure seeking, cross-cultural 'art gene' that assists the survival of our species.

What he doesn't explain is how this went wrong, why over the last 1-200 years did art become so different? Why is it that the majority of tertiary art education institutions, concert halls, libraries and museums promote works with values Dutton despises? Why is he a 'relic' out of step with his time? Modernism and post-modernism are here to stay and certainly there is no hint of any future reversion to pre-modernism - though those values are certainly not obliterated.

Take a look...

Here's some information from Stuart Page on up and coming screenings of

his doco Stustak. Thank you Stuart.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Good start

Selina Foote: FIRE RIOT MEAT
13 January - 31 January 2009

Selina Foote had a striking little exhibition in ACFA in August last year, and I was expecting more of the same – lead on a little by the invite blurb which described how she altered found online images. Actually this show is quite different. Her practice has radically changed. It is now closer in thinking, oddly enough, to the Newby / Moore installation now on at Window.

Foote’s earlier paintings were more graphic tonally - with more ‘realistically’ saturated chroma too - but now she is knocking that back with milky or mauve washes. The work was more surreal and as such disturbing. Now it has a cooler, more icy, cerebral quality – as if examining representation but not chasing ‘affect’. There is a new distance apparent in these eight works, with a chalky quality as seen from through a diaphanous screen. The show's title seems to allude to Mary Louise Browne's use of magic squares and transmuting words.

I miss the creepiness of Foote's earlier mutilated images. These new ones are a pinch bland with their bleached hues, but not all of them. The method of placing the pale layer varies from work to work. Some just flatten out the space – as with Racing Cars, Singer and Diorama – and deaden the underlying photo-based images. In others the layer looks like a rippling curtain and repeats the orientation of the form (as in Cactus), or is in brusherly streaks (as in Fire).

The best ones are when the washes are not consistent in density but uneven and splotchy. Some areas are opaque and reveal nothing underneath, others are transparent and provide you with clues. This teasing effect can be amusing, as shown with Meat (as selection of salamis and hams that could occasionally be cheeses) and Riot (you can just detect the flailing arms and punching fists). Horse is also buried under a puddle of purple but the image is so static and banal nothing gets generated. It stays forgettable though it is perhaps a little more maudlin.

It is good Foote presents these paintings as a coherent group, because if you saw them individually (in isolation) you might think she had had temper tantrums and impulsively thrown a jarful of paint at each canvas. That she has had some sort of crisis and suffered a failure of nerve.

If one wanted to interpret these paintings (if that were necessary - it may not be, but it is fun to try) how would one go about it? In a very interesting little essay which discusses the process of pressing flowers within the pages of a book, John Ward Knox mentions the faint coloured indexical traces left by the crushed petals and leaves on the paper. Though her images are found online Foote’s might allude to memory and how some aspects fade and others are vividly retained.

The works might also be a critique of realism itself – and also photography - as a putative method of correlated semblance. The obliterating white screen might hold the position held by Nelson Goodman, Roland Barthes, Rosalind Krauss and others (contrary to Peirce) that all signs or codes of representation are arbitrary. Perhaps Foote agrees and feels a deep dissatisfaction with her method.

Anyway, hats off to Newcall for kicking off a new year of Art in Auckland. This is a stimulating beginning. The city is particularly empty and dull this time of year, so it’s great to see energetic and fresh gallery projects now happening.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Vanished headlands

Fiona Jack and Ngati Whatua o Orakei: Kohimaramara
ARTSPACE billboard project on Karangahape road

Mixing up or blending together images from the past and present is one of the obvious characteristics of digital photography where physical cutting and pasting (collage style) is no longer needed. Two photographs of the seafront at Bastion Point, taken 107 years apart, provide the raw visual material for an exciting new panorama on a huge billboard on the Langham Hotel car park on K’ Rd. These images by Haruhiko Sameshima and James Richardson have been combined to create a spectacular land, sea and skyscape, supervised by Fiona Jack (lecturer at Elam) and Ngarimu Blair (the Heritage Manager of Ngati Whatua o Orakei).

The massive horizontal hoarding mourns the destruction in 1908 of Kohimaramara, a large rock (called ‘Sugarloaf’ by Europeans) that was linked symbolically to the various peace agreements between Maori tribes in the Auckland area. It has a ghost-like presence in the centre of the rectangle. There is also an odd wit in this image's placement on the side of a hotel car park to subtly critique ‘progress’ and 21st century modernity. It shows lines of parked cars on the foreshore as a symbol for the present.

The image and title allude to an oral tradition where place names were used by Maori as a sort of mapping structure preserved not by visual means but through stories and language. No persons who have seen this rock are alive now but historical photographic archives provide a valuable resource that supplements verbal and written records.

It would be good to know why the rock was destroyed. Plain ignorance? Malicious vandalism by the pakeha authorities maybe? Perhaps it was seen as a hindrance to shipping, or as aesthetically unsightly?

This billboard is a subtle work that prods us to look closely at the past and how it effects our assumptions about the landscape of the present. In a lively, very evocative text Layla Rudneva-Mackay speculates about what happened to Kohimaramara, suggesting that it could have been ground up to help build the causeway or even used to make a foundation for the Shortland Street Post Office.

Kohimaramara reveals a particularly smart use of the panoramic properties of the elongated billboard format, making it the most successful so far of the several works ARTSPACE has organised. The image plays with us like the recent lenticular photographs by Megan Jenkinson of ‘phantom’ Antarctic islands. Both sorts of work deal with evanescence - one physical, the other mental. You ponder presence and absence simultaneously. In Kohimaramara’s case, the large scale of the image makes both past and present equally palpable, super-assertive and hard to pull apart.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Better late than never

1: Daniel Malone, Francis Alys, Mark Adams, Eve Armstrong, Fiona Banner, Ann Veronica Janssens
Brian Butler Ed.
Designed by Warren Olds, Studio Ahoy
Colour, b/w illustrations
Softcover 132 pp
ARTSPACE and Clouds, August 2008

This Volume publication looks at Brian Butler’s first six months as Director at ARTSPACE, his term being from 2005 to 2008. It presents the work of six artists, has essays by five writers, plus it has another publication (Eve Armstrong’s) enclosed within. The book is quite eccentric. One artist has two essays (Francis Alys), two artists have none (Malone and Adams), and one of those never even showed at ARTSPACE - yet strangely their images are I think the highlight of the book (Adams).

Butler is not a very good editor: some of the articles are too long, digress wildly and need shaping - especially Allan Smith on Armstrong and Nathalie Robertson on Alys. They simply don’t capture what is exciting about the artists they’re discussing, but Butler’s own short piece of writing on Fiona Banner is the best we’ve seen from him. Hopefully we will see of his writing in future Volumes.

The most successful texts are by Matthew Crookes and Stella Brennan. Crookes looks at myth-building as part of Alys's practice while Brennan’s text is extraordinarily focussed and tells us a great deal about actually experiencing Janssens’ various projects in the ARTSPACE rooms. As mentioned Robertson’s discussion meanders away from Alys but an examination of Maui as ‘trickster’ in her text is informative and entertaining. Her writing becomes more attentive to Alys in the second half.

Of the artists, Eve Armstrong’s inserted book on How To Run Trading Tables is so brilliant visually and conceptually that it is clearly to Volume 1’s advantage to include it in its entirety. The best writing linking Armstrong’s sculpture with her interactive performances, and giving an accurate overall account, seems to have been by Natasha Conland, so a chance was missed with her omission. Allan Smith’s essay focuses unduly on the notion of ‘stack’ or ‘pile’, contextualising it with various excerpts from novels and poetry, but ignoring the fact she is an accomplished colourist and shaper of sculptural form. His text is really about him not her, showing his ability to pull material from unexpected literary sources, and seamlessly blend it as a series of crammed riffs exploring semantic themes.

Daniel Malone’s four opening photographs of his ‘graffiti’ wall by ARTSPACE’s K’ Rd entrance are not particularly interesting in their own right, and could have done with a verbal analysis to explain the details of the frontage’s changes. They seem to be there because they showcase ARTSPACE’s street signage, and cannot compete with the wonderfully compelling images by Adams (Cook’s Sites) and Armstrong (as documented by Richard Orjis) in the publication’s centre.

Although this is a good looking publication with much informative material, it needs an explanatory introduction, and at $70 is somehat overpriced. (Compared to say Reading Room at $50.) Nevertheless we look forward to further issues in this series.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Crockford on K' Rd

Patrick Lundberg
Sue Crockford Gallery Project Space
Dec – Jan holidays

This window display by Patrick Lundberg, the recent winner of the TWNCAA in Hamilton, takes his interest in subtraction as a method of historical analysis (when applied to gallery wall surfaces) and transmutes the frame motif he has used previously into a Peter Halley-like cell or circuit. Here the space it is in is a crucial component (though not in a site-specific sense). It is the window by the entrance to the old Teststrip space on K’ Rd - now Gambia Castle. It has been for some months a little annex for Sue Crockford and this is its fifth or sixth show.

In this glass ‘tank’ Lundberg uses the worn doors of a small cupboard. It looks like a fusebox, and that reference makes it reflexive, alluding to the hermeticism of the art world as an isolated cell. On the doors is a vertical lozenge and a smaller wheel form, and together the two seem to allude to Crockford’s downtown gallery and this street frontage. Other meanings could be different art world circuits that are separate communities.

Lundberg’s cleverness is that there is more than morphology involved. The image’s significance goes beyond shape, for there is a chronological element where historical traces are implied through scraped away paint. Change is built in as Lundberg exposes where old layers have been covered over by new ones.

This window gallery is a shrewd tactic by Crockford to catch the eye of those traipsing Auckland’s ‘art mile’ along K’ Rd. A good way of luring prospective clients from the top down to the bottom of Queen Street.

In a silent way

Tahi Moore, Kate Newby: Run!
23 November - 28 January 2009

Moore and Newby are two well known Gambia Castle artists. Moore seems particularly interested in the ambiguities of the reconstructed moving image, and Newby, the spatial and corporeal possibilities of 'treated' found or given form.

For this collaboration we see stretched across the inside of the plate glass window of the university gallery, a large rectangular piece of translucent muslin, stained with yellow and red blobs. It is similar to the suspended screen in Newby’s August ‘Thinking with your Body’ Gambia Castle exhibition.

Behind it, on a monitor discretely placed to one side, screens a looped, silent video in slow motion – presumably made by Moore. It shows two male figures (occasionally a woman replaces one of them), dressed in black, chatting about what they come across as they walk around the public spaces of an inner city area. The image is blurred by the milky material, though you can peek through a small gap on the far left side to see the screen from an angle.

The show is about thwarting the viewer’s desire for clarity and assessable meaning. The obstructing painted fabric screen seems to serve several purposes.

Firstly as a symbol for cultural mediation when attending generally to art, it denies ‘the innocent eye’, representing other sources of ‘pertinent’ or ‘necessary’ knowledge such as conversations, essays, wall labels, magazines, books etc.

Secondly it represents mood shifts and fluctuating abilities to concentrate, on the part of the viewer. Looking at energy levels, not knowledge sources. Also, its unique marks can stand for the problems of a particular experience – as presented by this exhibition only. The contingent nature of this library foyer encounter on one particular day.

For all that, this installation is not a satisfying experience. Its obliqueness is clearly deliberate. It is also a poor show, one that seems insufficiently thought through. It is not that it is difficult; it is that it lacks structure, and needs more coherence. The painted fabric and the narrative of the video seem so disconnected, that any linking logic is doomed to remain vague. Yet such logic is implied but not underlined. It doesn’t convince, or even wish to.

As artworks go, Ash Kilmartin’s wall essay on the silence of a portrait of a mime (poirot) is a far more resolved project, beautifully executed but not helpful for those looking at Run! A sceptic might argue Kilmartin's involvement is a smart-aleck joke about detective stories and Agatha Christie, but that is excessively cynical (like a novel with its last page ripped out) and convoluted. The essay is not integrated into being part of Run’s discussion, but remains separate. That's a pity, but is a common situation for galleries like Window and Newcall, where provided texts often undermine and not assist comprehension of the presented artwork.