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.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Under the microscope (traces of the heart)

Marie Shannon: Large Still Life
Sue Crockford
10 February – 7 March 2009

There is a rich assortment of photographs, watercolours and oil pastel drawings depicting scribbled notes on paper, gallery and domestic interiors and miscellaneous symbolic objects like screens and candles – all hung in a large salon-style cluster on the main Crockford gallery wall. However the Shannon works that intrigue me above all else, and which I want to talk about here, are the photographs of ‘love’ cards and notes. Little intimate missives of affection that some couples write to each other and which many children write to their parents.

With these images you try and figure out what game Shannon is playing at. On the one hand you are aware that this is art, something embodied in the workings of the human imagination, the leaps of fantasy that artists use to beguile viewers. On the other you may know that she is married to Julian Dashper, another artist, and has at least one child, a son – information which may or may not be contextually relevant. Beyond those basic facts, extra elaborations, other seemingly biographical works can easily be fabricated.

So with such photographic, ostensibly documentary images, the key question is whether Shannon is trying to tell us about private matters of the human heart (notably hers, or Julian’s) ie. deep affection for each other and their offspring and the reciprocation of that love, or is the project more distant? Is it a little clinical, and about what humans do to for the bonding and cohesion of the nuclear family? That public commitment. And could she be pretending to be focussing on particular modes of expression (within her own family) when really she is concerned with the universal or more general sociological – with her own situation being a convenient example.

Shannon has been making this type of image for some time now, and initially I saw them as sentimental and corny. Now though, I am consistently intrigued and amused. They are still sentimental, but I also see them as entertaining props that might never be used as actual notes. For all I know the Dashper-Shannon household could be one of dysfunctional, ferocious belligerence and appalling psychic violence, and no outsider would ever realise. This is art not life - stuff that showcases Shannon’s inventiveness with language, her play with concepts of drawing and photography.

It is about the demonstrative, the showing of emotion as a psychological phenomenon. A very clever, articulated examination of that. It looks at how affective written language functions, without those objects ever necessarily fulfilling their apparently designed purpose. A strange anthropology with collected recorded specimens. Authentic examples or false, it doesn’t matter.

(Thank you Sue Crockford Gallery and the artist for the images.)

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