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.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

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.


Unknown said...

John Hurrel's glib comments seem hurried and the his lack of insight typical of art criticism.

John Hurrell said...

Don't tar all critics with the same brush, Skipper. However maybe I am glib and inattentive. In that case it would be nice if you could point out where and why. What exactly have I missed?