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 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.

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