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.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Free-falling, while looking for your parachute

Broken Fall
Newcall, A Center For Art (temporarily in St Paul St, Gallery 2)
10 February - 28 February 2009 (Newcall)
10 - 13 February 2009 (ACFA)

Broken Fall is a clever idea developed by AUT lecturer Jan Bryant, of asking three Melbourne artists (Katie Lee, Lou Hubbard and Susan Jacob) to come over to Auckland and adapt their practices for two spaces in that city. To get a response to this recontextualisation she has also asked two New Zealand sound artists (Tim Coster and Richard Francis) to use the Australian shows to generate new works to be performed in the exhibition spaces.

Of the Australian displays, Lou Hubbard’s projected video grids are the most physically imposing. She uses the matrix as a structure while also slyly undermining it. At ACFA she has a group of seven toy Japanese soccer players, each attached to a hexagonal plastic section of playing field, standing in a sink so that they collapse and separate when the tap is turned on.

Her Newcall work is more interesting, wittily comparing the scaling of a fish with the scraping off of film from gambling cards, and in opposition, the manual completion of a grid by crossword. These actions are performed by an elderly woman who in one of the grid's four rectangles, stands alone in a corner of the room. The tension between the actions of her hands and her impassive face holds your interest.

The most intriguing work in the Newcall exhibition is Susan Jacob’s dried up Christmas tree projecting from the inner side of a door leaning into a wall. It has its branches reversed so they point up instead of down. Its subtle transformation draws you back to look at how Jacob broke off and realigned the various twigs, something that is not obvious.

This sculpture is not tightly connected to Jacob’s working drawings (at ACFA) and drives home the point that good art is often impulsive and about play, about fooling with materials – where hands are almost separated from the mind.

Of Katie Lee’s two videos (and related horizontal floor sculpture), the ACFA one without her figure balancing in a square taped to the floor is the more successful. The time lapse photography of the room’s flickering sepia light and artist’s absent body makes it a compelling – albeit austere – spatial statement that effectively references her works in the other space. The Newcall video though, intrigues more through being set in a low cupboard, than through the content of its moving images.

How did the Kiwi sound artists respond? They differed in that Coster used recordings of the Australians installing their projects as a starting point, and Francis experimented with the ACFA space itself and a variety of sound sources (modulator, computer, and portable objects).

Of the two live gigs, Coster’s thirty minute performance was the more dramatic and satisfying – less monotonous. His build up of an even drone of looping rumbling hums, delicate fluttery rattles and hissing wipes maintained a consistent tension until about five minutes before the end. Then suddenly samples of a sweeping operatic aria emerged, fused with peals of laughter and the occasional squawk. What was dry and abstract suddenly erupted into unexpected lyricism and humour, a poignant flowering that just as abruptly stopped – leaving the audience stunned and wishing for more.

Top three images from Newcall Gallery, bottom three from ACFA at AUT, then invite.

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