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, 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.

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