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, February 4, 2009

Reelin' in the years

Tessa Laird: The Rainbow Reels
The Film Archive, Karangahape Rd
6 December – 7 February 2009

I hate television with a vengeance. Haven’t had one in the house for years, simply because I’ve always felt so insulted by – in this country anyway – its consistent mediocrity. Some might call me a ‘snob’ but I think it is sensible to use your time wisely enjoying books, CDs, DVDs and Charlie Rose instead. Oddly, when checking out Tessa Laird’s Film Archive installation of seven spectrally arranged monitors, each with a selection of film based on a specific colour and positioned in a curved formation on the floor like a rainbow, I was startled to experience pangs of nostalgia for the seventies and eighties (their TV news items in particular did it), and got quite rattled. You know… horrible things like dewy eyes and lumps in the throat. She’s got a lot to answer for.

Seven screens for seven colours is a clever idea. Laird explores colour as a trope, as a word in spoken language, and as a physical sensation. The later is not as evident as you might suppose. It is not as immersive as the films of Len Lye or Nova Paul can be, so I was a little disappointed that my retinas were not bombarded with sweet chromatic sensations, though there were some. There was lots of documentary material, coloured and b/w, and many interviews (especially from Sweetwaters Festival), much of it inadvertently funny with its high moral tone (from politicians and police) when addressing the behaviour of youth.

As you’d expect from Laird, the show has a ‘green’ (ie. ecological) and anthropological flavour. It is consistent with the persona she creates with her writing and exhibited artworks. It’s serious and whimsical, with a big interest in social history – but nuanced in its organisation.

Because of the complexities of having seven channels to attend to, it needs at least a couple of visits to concentrate on some of the spoken content. An unusual project that probably hasn’t had the audience it deserves.

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