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, March 31, 2009

Unitec show

Kathy Barry / Sarah Munro: and happy the world so made
Snowwhite - Unitec
20 March - 17 April 2009

Here we have two artists, a grid-obsessed watercolourist and a relief sculptor who uses industrial spray-lacquering technology, both using diamond-like polygonal forms to investigate a shallow tray-like space. Kathy Barry dominates the exhibtion with five drawings. They are watercolour on ruled pencil on paper – with some holes cut out and a little paper glued on. There only one Munro work in the gallery: a bright red wall relief with many parts. However she has another, a lime green work in one unit - from a different series - outside in the foyer. Though it seems like an after thought, it is the best thing there.

Despite their interest in a common form Munro and Barry have quite different sensibilities. Barry seems to like symmetry and order that can only be reluctantly disrupted, while Munro prefers asymmetry and lopsided spatial disintegration. Barry uses a very limited palette of synthetic (non earth) transparent colour that alternates hot and cold to code and organise her modules within a larger holding pattern. Munro is more chromatically nuanced. Despite her chosen limitations using saturated sprayed layers applied to planes and edges to optically accentuate her fibreglass and wood forms, what at first glance seems all glossy red, soon becomes various tonally controlled browns, purples, and siennas.

Barry’s best drawings are Wood in the centre of one room, and Everyday Daylight, by itself in another. They let a lot of airy white paper surround the solid, petal-like diamond forms that bisect each 2:3 proportioned, horizontal rectangle, so they float radiantly in a clear interconnecting space. These configurations act as a foil to another finer grid system of much smaller horizontal and vertical strips that is less conspicuous and which flickers like a delicate Piet Mondrian/Rita Angus hybrid, peeking through from behind vertical trickles of green and red watercolour dribbling down from above.

Barry’s other drawings are a bit formulaic and rigid but the two mentioned move towards an attractively causal loosey-goosiness - even a relaxed unpredictability. Having said that, of the two Munros the horizontal, single unit, green work inside the vitrine in the hall is preferable to the meandering ‘wild’ wall work of the gallery. It is compact in its blocklike but curved form, somehow condensed though of little weight, and astonishing in its glowing chroma. It has a steady inner light that draws you back. Delicious colour that is enhanced by the nuances of its sensitive contours. Almost disembodied. A real treat.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Dramatic video installations

Gary Hill: Voice Grounds
Curated by Leonhard Emmerling and the artist
St Paul St
12 March – 24 April 2009

Voice Grounds presents a range of work from the wide-ranging corpus of Gary Hill, a most remarkable, innovative American artist – a video pioneer. In this rare programme of legendary and unusual projects, all are screened on walls; no monitors, or monitor tubes out of their cases – as he has sometimes done – but some split screens, and the sound is impeccable. Individual day screenings are with a single channel in Gallery 2, all week screenings with five channnels - in Gallery 1. Two works on every day.

Here is the list of works arranged chronologically – paralleling the images above:

1984 Why do things get in a muddle? (Come on Petunia) Wed. only
1986 Mediations (Towards a remake of Soundings [1979]) Tues. only
1987-8 Incidence of catastrophe Thurs. only
1989 Site Recite (a Prologue) Fri. only
1995-6 hanD hearD Tues – Sat after April 7
2001,July, Accordians (The Belsunce Recordings) Tues – Sat before April 4
2001 Goats & Sheep (from Withershins [1995]) Sat only

So seven works spread out on different week days are quite difficult to get to. You have to be keen – especially if you don’t work in town – but so you should, they are worth it. Six are currently screening at present. The seventh starts in the second week of April.

The most visceral installation, the five channel Accordians, features the faces and occasional movement of the inhabitants of Belsunce, a city in Algiers. The sound track is loud, random and staccato, very short bursts of sliced up spoken voices. The images of people in the street are similarly brief. They abruptly zoom in and then out: unloading of goods from vans; beggars on the footpath; busy passers by; dense crowds and a lot of faces. There is an all pervading paranoia, a sense of an outsider intruding – maybe a tourist with camera – a mood of hostility. It’s a disturbing, powerful experience.

Site Recite is a particularly carefully and precisely written work that uses Hill’s own slightly Beckett-like text and an actor’s voice. The soothing voiceover reveals a mind examining its own ocular and verbal limitations – literally a ‘head-trip’ scrutinizing its own physiology of senses outwards from within. Meanwhile the camera briefly focuses one at a time on bird skulls, insects, nuts, shells, crystals and unexpected natural objects on a flat round table, searching for parallel visual metaphors in the outer non-body world. We see quick glimpses amidst focussing and unfocussing blurs. Now and then the text and image synchronise. Usually they vaguely overlap, one hovering over the other and not really connecting, yet creating a peculiar haunting beauty.

Incidence of Catastrophe shows us Hill’s interest in Maurice Blanchot, using his novella Thomas the Obscure to riff in a long video about the collapse of the self, a mental breakdown. It dwells on a consciousness that scrutinises the act of reading with close-ups of the turning and scanned pages. It expands on Blanchot’s story, a strange, looping, condensed blend of Edgar Allan Poe and Beckett.

What is interesting about this film and another, Why do Things Get in a Muddle, is how similar they are to aspects of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks TV series, made five years later. A panicking reader running through the ferociously dense, moonlit woods; an animistic gushing river; the bizarre voices and movements of Alice (from ‘Alice in Wonderland’) and her father - these actors had to recite the script backwards while being filmed normally - all seem big influences on Lynch’s brand of filmic surrealism.

Interiority is the main preoccupation of Hill’s in all these works. Inner mental processes, self examination, and how they fit in with our social interaction – if and when that happens - and of course it does. The theme of reflexivity so apparent in Site Recite is made more obvious in Mediations (Towards a Remake of Soundings), where the voiceover comes out of the black flicking speaker being filmed. The commentary describes the artist’s actions (which we see occurring) pouring grains of sand over the undulating cone so that the accumulating layer muffles the sound quality. Oddly, it becomes more distant but then clearer.

In this cross-referencing suite of works the actions of the tongue or gestural movements of clasping, folding or pointing hands often serve as signing devices for language attempting to link signifier with signified, or study itself. The vulnerability of The Self is indicated by collapsing banks of sand worn away by foaming waves, or mouths of molars being picked at by dental probes searching for decay.

Any show of successive video installations like this, featuring such a programme of quality works, is a rare event. Of these dramatic and engrossing St. Paul St presentations, usually it is the shorter ones that are the most haunting (Site Recite, Mediations). Others are particularly intense (Goats and Sheep), if not exhausting (Why are Things in a Muddle). The last, seventh work, a soundless one with five projections, begins on the second Saturday morning in April. For any lover of quality contemporary art, several visits to this very special exhibition are essential.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Shot counter-shot

Harvey Benge: I look at you, you look at me
Book of paired photographs
Hardcover, pp 146
FAQ Editions 2008

In this book, one of many Benge has published presenting his photographs, the format is a little different from usual. He has asked the sitters of his portraits to take photographs of him – to go alongside his images of them. A sort of visual conversation.

This approach makes sense. Benge is an affable, gregarious Kiwi who partially lives in Paris and obviously enjoys meeting people. But where they live is important too. Some of his pictures are in New York, but most are in Europe – so part of the fun for the antipodean viewer (if they happen to have travelled widely) is figuring out which cities provide the backdrops. Looking for clues: like snippets of written language on posters, or details of architecture or clothing. Or national facial or body types, if you believe they exist.

How did Benge select these people? Are they friends, strangers, products of a random system? Is there a pattern? Is it facetious to analyse according to class, age, gender, race, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, choice of music, drug of preference?

I guess he could have asked them to photograph anything they like, then and there, on the spot – let them be conceptually creative if they had the inclination. But he insisted they photograph him. Many of the images are boring (by both Benge and guests), but the good ones have a mischievous sense of conspiracy between the two photographers. For example curtains from a nearby window might wrap around both heads, or a sitter might hide their face or show only the back of their head.

I don’t like portraits much as a rule. I find them predictably bland – and I’m a misanthrope anyway - so I was surprised that some of these images made me quite curious about the sitters. Certain qualities made me want to return to these people. Facial expression, exotic background, bodily demeanour, peculiar clothing, an unanticipated prop, an unexpected detail.

I wondered what would I ask them if I had the chance? Looking at a photograph gives you opportunities to examine somebody in a way you don’t have in a face to face situation where you don’t want to be intrusive and stare. Do they have secrets that are wickedly strange? Perhaps I would photograph them another way to make them more interesting than Benge’s sometimes rather dull effort.

What of his process here? Did Benge end up with duds that he thought unpublishable? Did he reject any images? Perhaps even technical cock ups are interesting. With his camera, was it possible for things to go wrong? I wish he had included more bad tempered people. I wish he’d made himself less perky and friendly. Some unguarded, accidental – even disturbing - images would have been great. More truthful than making ‘good’ or ‘normal’ appearances.

With that in mind I find there is one image I really love: of some skinny little guy in a sleeveless jersey standing by an open door. He looks like he’s just fallen out of bed. His eyes are half shut, his hair is a mess and he can barely stay vertical. He seems as if he is patiently indulging Benge, humouring him so he’ll just go away. It’s hilarious and very sweet. A non-photograph that’s a winner.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Melissa reveals all on Here's a question....

Warm but not cosy

Richard Francis: Warmth
A Centre For Art (Elliott St Apartments, Level 2, Rm.206)
25 March - 11 April 2009

Richard Francis is a Kiwi sonic artist, one of two who recently performed in Broken Fall, in St. Paul St. This ACFA show is quite different from that live work - except I do remember he crumpled some dry paper into a microphone and recorded it, and that’s a good connection. Here he presents a vinyl record (33 in size but 45 in speed) on a battered turntable with adjustable amp and a couple of old black speakers. It’s up on a table. You play it and listen when you arrive.

The recording is a one sided pressed disc documenting another one sided blank disc being played on another turntable. You can hear lots of static and increased crackling and low rumbles over its six minute duration, and a certain amount of Wellesley St. car noise seeping in as well.

Each time you play it the needle wears the grooves down a little more. The intensity of the static noise and various electronic resonances alters to increase next time.

I’m not sure how interesting Francis’s project is as sonic art, though I’m delighted ACFA has presented this so I can think about it. Maybe repeated playing causes it to grow on you as you pick up more layers of eggshell crunching and new frequencies. I do like the idea of making such a recording. However whether many would listen to it for pleasure or genuine interest, I don’t know.

The sounds though are hard to ignore: they never could be background. Though not loud they nevertheless are ‘in your face.’ They put you on the spot and are confrontational. But maybe that is a misreading. Maybe some find them soothing and uplifting, even exuberant. Maybe.

The title comes from the often stated belief than vinyl makes a warmer sound than digital, that CDs sound icier. I’m not convinced about this ‘temperature’ claim myself, though I recognise CDs have a much lower frequency range and recorded music has suffered for that. A thoughtful heading for an unusual aural experience.

Three in one

Julian Dashper, Daniel Malone, John Nixon
Sue Crockford
13 March - 28 March 2009

This is an excellent stock show where three well known, but very individualistic, artists could get in each others way – but they don’t. Lots of space keeps them apart so that their different visual and conceptual characteristics are accentuated.

The main Crockford gallery wall has a particularly elegant arrangement of fifteen Dashper paintings. His palette is restrained and understated and often doesn’t involve paint at all, just simple stretchers made of canvas, linen, jute, plywood, hardboard or drum skin, that are sometimes stacked on top of each other so they subtly project out into the room, or paired placed side by side, flat on the wall. Textured surfaces and clearly elucidated shape and thickness dominate here over chroma.

On the other side of the gallery and pushing into a corner between two smaller walls, John Nixon's paintings indicate a different approach to colour that is often strident or jewel-like with complementary combinations. His earlier works were much closer to what Dashper's are now, but even more object-like. Nixon currently investigates thin supports, saturated hues, more complex juxtapositions, and often structures that have framing borders that compress - instead of expanding a field that runs off the edges. Unlike Dashper he is not keen on circles. Corners rule.

Of the three Daniel Malone works, two come from a performance in Santiago Chile, where he baked a batch of clay kumara in an indigenous oven similar to a hangi. A modified poster, a DVD, and the vegetable ceramics show Malone’s interest in a theory that kumara came initially from South America, bought here by Polynesian navigators.

Malone’s neon signature, sitting glowing in an open package case, is more ideationally convoluted, quoting from an Auckland tagger who amazingly once put it on the ARTSPACE frontage and for whom ‘Malone’ is not his real name. The pink signature is packed in two halves so you have to imagine how they’d look together. It references Billy Apple as well as tagging, and is a curious example of disparate sensibilities perfectly blended to achieve gorgeous results.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

artandmy life responds to Here's a question....

Here's a question for

the ninety-nine other people who attended the Paola Pivi performance on Saturday afternoon at Auckland Airport.

Did anybody actually see the plane in the air? How do we know that the fish were Sydneyites and not Aucklanders pretending...that the bowls were not installed in the passenger seats in New Zealand? How do we know the filming was done in the air and not while coasting on the Auckland runway?

Does it matter?

Actually I think it does. I hate conspiracy theories, and the last thing I want to do is drag Auckland Art Gallery and One Day Sculpture into one. However I would like to be assured that we weren't all conned and that what we were told happened actually did.

Perhaps it's a non-issue. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Menzies show

Louise Menzies: Gut Feeling
12 March - 10 April 2009

As teaching aids go the hinged particle board stand with four legs looks striking in the Window space. Normally it supports pinned up sheets of paper to be written or drawn on by a teacher – as Menzies’ preparatory collaged drawing above shows – but this time it presents one piece of light canvas on which are positioned 21 soft black fabric letters, cut out in solid caps. Nicely proportioned, they look good. The words they say: HISTORY LOSES ITS APPEAL.

That aphorism has a Jenny Holzer ring to it. It could almost be a ‘Truism.’ It has a witty layered quality that draws out different nuances.

History loses its attraction to any student who might study it. History is on trial and has lost its case. History that once spoke only of a Eurocentric master narrative has lost its credibility. Losing this credibility has helped history regain its appeal.

The phrase swirls around, weaving in and out all the implications that post-colonialism brings to bear on a once rigidly orthodox account of past narratives. It frees the way for overlapping but parallel clusters of new histories. Ones where words transmute: His Story becomes Her Story; Lose Loosens; Appeal becomes A Peel, A Peal. A celebration of a new order.

In the above drawing Menzies has a sheet of newspaper positoned under the upper green sheet. Her project extends that newspaper to the Library's Level 1 with the journal and periodical collection. Two flyers bearing the same four words again, at each end of a shelf. They prod us to examine the contents of that shelf: the printed discussions' staying power, their appeal.

Monday, March 23, 2009

If not lazy, then dull

Mash Up
Curated by Julia Rodrigues
7 March - 29 April 2009

The topic of translation is one that is endlessly fascinating in its diversity of different approaches from different authors. In terms of natural languages, Umberto Eco has written a book of essays on the many types of conversation he has had with his translators (Mouse or Rat?), William S. Gass has collected essays about his thoughts on the difficulties of translating Rilke (Reading Rilke) and there are many others. But these are about the intricacies of attempting to correlate specific languages. What of bigger issues? What of cross-cultural translation that goes beyond just the spoken or written to much wider matrices of parallel value systems?

Mash up, with its referencing of digital overlaying from disparate sources, deals with cross-cultural translation, and the famous 1923 essay by Walter Benjamin (The Task of the Translator), as well as the later theories of Haroldo de Campos. There are many ways of approaching this – like for example Donald Davidson and his use of the Principle of Charity as a device for grasping what one person in one culture might assume in terms of truth while attempting to communicate to or understand someone else in another.

Benjamin’s approach however is the dominant thread here and is not the conventional notion of conveying equivalent terms of information. Instead he says that the task of the translator ‘consists in finding that intended effect upon the language into which he is translating which produces in it the echo of the original…..translation does not find itself in the centre of the language forest but on the outside facing the wooden ridge; it calls into it without entering, aiming at that single spot where the echo is able to give, in its own language, the reverberation of the work in the alien one.’ (p. 76. in Illuminations, Zohn trans., Schocken)

He approvingly quotes the translator Rudolf Pannwitz who says, ‘Our translations, even the best ones, proceed from the wrong premise. They want to turn Hindi, Greek, English into German instead of turning German into Hindi, Greek, English…The basic error of the translator is that he preserves the state in which his own language happens to be instead of allowing his language to be powerfully affected by the foreign tongue.’ (ibid, p.80)

For the Brazilian poet de Campos, what we could call ‘translation’, he would say is really ‘trans-creation’, ‘recreation’, ‘transillumination’ or even ‘transluciferation mephistofaustica.’ We are not talking about an illusory ‘transparent’ accessibility to the original text, but a form of creative writing which accentuates the differences between the two cultures instead of silently repressing them.

The ideas in this project about cross cultural layering and related tensions are complex, but the show itself doesn’t clarify such issues. For an Auckland audience Mash Up needs an articulate essay elucidating the specific ideas of Benjamin and de Campos and explaining why the individual artworks have been selected.

The line up, alas, is disappointingly dreary. There is just so little excitement. Shigeyuki Kihara’s Self Portraits as fafine are already well known (having been recently shown across the road at MIC Toi Rerehiko) though their inclusion as cultural ‘translation’ does make sound sense, Carla Zaccagnini’s interactive text and drawing project seems to have attracted very little participation and so is invisible, and Jens Haaning’s use of the Newton Post Office clock to present Kabul time is hardly earth-shattering (even though it apparently references NZ troops in Afghanistan). Copenhagen Brains for COPYSHOP has a project that is too similar to a recent Superflex display, and Shimabutu’s video of a captured octopus in a plastic bag being given a whirlwind trip between Akashi and Tokyo and functioning as metaphor for an involuntary nomad, seems inappropriately flippant and glib.

The remaining five works work well, though they are not necessarily visually imposing. Olof Olsson’s Q & A performance occurred just after the show opened. The pregnant pauses and seemingly authentic cross-cultural bumbling that occurred while he organised his audience with distracting overlapping tasks (like telling him the time with cell phones or lining up a series of queries) were consistent with the theme and entertaining, while Lilibeth Cuenca’s documentation of a visit to her grandmother in the Filipines, a good demonstration of trans-generational ‘translation’, presents a conversation revealing the older woman’s unexpected superstitions about pregnancy and the artist’s own irrational fear of mice.

Delanico and Lain’s number-coded stacks of store bought objects, each number denoting a letter, are interesting because of the punning humour about the items found in the short texts which the viewer can ‘translate’. Local artist Finn Ferrier likewise demands viewer participation. He mixes up Maori and Pakeha names for sites of scoria so that you examine the colour closely in an attempt to link up the pairs according to their geographical/geological origins.

The most successful work here I think is Kaoru Katayama’s video of Salamancan dancers trying to adapt their traditional Spanish dance steps to techno music played by two DJs, seeking out common rhythms in the music so they can respond accordingly. This is a wonderful film, visceral with its music and image and cerebrally engaging as the dancers rise to the challenge. It is a shame there are not a lot more items of a similar standard.

Images by Sam Hartnett

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Piscine Flight 485 from Sydney to Auckland now boarding

Paola Pivi: I wish I am fish
Hangar 4, Auckland Airport
21 March, 5pm.

Paola Pivi is an Italian artist who specialises in staging tableaux or gestures that are poignant or dramatically sweeping, with great impact – something like a lavish version of Fluxus. Often they involve animals, and usually provide impressively memorable photographic images – like a solitary donkey standing in a boat, or a leopard walking over a floor covered with white cups of cappuccino. Invariably they are filmed as well.

Pivi is one of several overseas artists brought to Aotearoa for the ONE DAY SCULPTURE, those ‘days’ being spread out over a year with many varied projects. Her work yesterday was in two parts, one leading to the other. The first was in the hangar where a plane just in from Sydney was presented to the audience, and the second was the interior of the plane and its contents.

As only fifteen spectators were admitted at any one time, the other eighty-five (100 visited the work in total) consumed drinks and nibbles, fraternised and waited in the pristine grey hanger, admiring the exterior of the slightly paler, pristine grey charter jet.

The hangar looked gorgeous as an installation venue. Its curved roof and spotless floors glowed with light bouncing in off the runway through its huge open doors, and this radiance was abruptly curtailed when you finally, in line, went up the boarding ramp and was ushered into the inside of the aircraft. It was comparatively dark in there, with only the hangar light coming in through the passenger windows. It was hard to see the seats’ contents, but your eyes adjusted and there they were: 85 goldfish bowls with one fish in each.

Some goldfish were almost invisible in the centre rows next to the aisle, often being stationary, but others near the windows looked frenetic, sprinting around just under the edge of the circular rims. They seemed hyper, as if charged up by reoxygenated water – which I suspect they had. The resulting surface ripples were dramatically caught by the outside window light streaming in.

I imagine seeing this display one viewer at a time would be very different from being in a group – as I was - that moved along the aisle to the far end and then reversed, exiting back out the way they came in. The plane would seem a lot larger. Yet in hindsight the plane wasn’t too big – not like a Boeing 707 with 500 seats, nor was it too small, like say the 12 seat ‘pencil flight’ from New Plymouth to Auckland. It was just right.

When I saw Pivi’s film downtown in Freyberg Square later that night, it was an edited document quickly constructed from filming during the flight over – or the stop before we boarded. I found it was something different from what I had experienced. It was better lit, with two types of image that alternated. One sort, a lovely overhead shot of a single bowl that generated golden flashes as the fish wiggled about, had light that seemed to bounce off a metallic surface under the bowl, something placed over the blue airline seat beneath it. The other was a set of long three-quarter view pans up each row, three seaters one side and two on the other. It was like counting, as On Kawara or Roman Opalka might do, featuring a regular but obsessive repetition.

I have a theory about Pivi’s use of repetition and goldfish – a notion that goes beyond her normal poetic, or surrealist methods of image making. In her best selling book, ‘Seven Days in The Art World’, Sarah Thornton quotes Laurence Alloway’s quip that the Venice Biennale is ‘the avant-garde in a goldfish bowl’. (p.252) For an artist who exhibited in the last Biennale, that comment might have struck home and sown a seed. An airplane full of goldfish in bowls says a lot about how common and repetitive such art fairs have become, that many cities are organising them as tourist attractions, and that the artists soon start experiencing bowl–like claustrophobia.

Through creating an image of extravagance in a time of recession Pivi could be presenting something really powerful for the international art community to think about, questioning the raison d’être of these art fairs, or perhaps even international events like ONE DAY SCULPTURE. It might even be critiquing its own existence.

However if you look at her history of images, it is more likely she is an artist who just loves incongruous juxtapositions, and the way light falls on water or fur or snow. Goldfish in bowls might be a coincidental symbol. She likes images of methods of conveyence, such as boats, planes, coffee cups or bowls, and the resonances they offer.

Nice layering, all the same.

(Drawing on invite, Dylan Horrocks)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Tentacles of capitalism

Martin Basher: Free Spirit No Interest
10 March – 4 April 2009

This new exhibition by Martin Basher is radically different from his previous show at Starkwhite of paintings, though there are one or two of those included. This display is more like a sprawling installation of assemblages and wall hangings. It seems at first glance to belong to the dada collage tradition established by Schwitters as perpetuated by Rauschenberg, Stockholder and others. Some vertical sculptures are like Rauschenberg, but others are more scattered, but tidyish, in plastic bags, stacks and bundles.

It also has a superficial look akin to Dan Arps and Simon Denny. However Basher uses a different sort of syntax, a more individualistic ‘sentence’ or rebus structure preoccupied with consumer desire, capitalist global strategies, and the construction, wooing and milking of purchasing selves – usually youthful. Denny on the other hand is more interested mixing up disparate technologies and minutiae from design history, and Arps in creating a sort of nihilistic art lab where meaning can be stumbled upon by jamming opposites together or using unconventional mark making methods that bring up new blends of mental connection.

Most of the material Basher uses comes from Two Dollar shops, Warehouses, head shops and clearance stores, packaging as well as purchasable items. It functions not as material laden with seductive visual potential, but as symbol substance that is deliberately not broken down or dissipated. It’s left intact so it can be read. They usually function in figurative terms as synecdoche (where one part is used to signify a whole) or as metonymy (where things become linked by association, through usage), and are positioned in carefully allocated, internally resonating, groups.

In his examination of the omnipresent, pervasive drive of commerce to exploit a vast range of social, religious, tourist, aesthetic and bodily longings, Basher rarely fixes down juxtapositions for good. Items are placed thoughtfully in proximity to each other, perhaps taped one on the other – but never glued. It is as if it is part of the mercantile impulse to keep all options open. Never make permanent, in case that combination doesn’t sell and you are stuck with it.

Basher’s groupings are arranged, but not too much so. As groups of signs, their compositions are decisively clear but not super elegant. They seem to want to stick to the banality of their sources, and so don’t draw you in with formal sophistication, re the placement of their shape, colour and line.(Being in the space is a different experience from what the above images would suggest.) Same with humour. There is nothing too obvious. Amusing semantic connections could almost be accidental, but you are not quite sure. The work doesn’t seem to want to be too clever.

This is an unexpected sculpture show from Basher, one that is startlingly bold. From the point of view of reading his collected batches of tropes, there is too much in the room, but maybe that is a tongue-in-cheek comment on the commercial world - outside the gallery - that inspired the show.

What is it about film?

Tahi Moore: War Against the Self
Gambia Castle
13 March - 4 April 2009

Tahi Moore: Against Other People
A Centre For Art (Suite 206, Level 2, Elliott St apartments)
4 March - 21 March 2009

Lisa Stansbie: Hackamore
(Window online)
12 March - 10 April 2009

These two Tahi Moore exhibitions show his passion for film and moving image in general. ‘Obsessed’ is too strong a word, but he really loves the stuff. No static images are here at all. The monitors function like chords and stacks of notes in a piece of music, clusters of ongoing movement and dialogue that weave in and out of each other’s field. Things are deliberately chaotic, though you can turn the sound down or up on each screen if you wish.

You try to extricate meaning if you can, or wish to. You may not want to. You might prefer just letting the images and sounds wash over you - without analysing. To dissect though, you have to be really keen and believe the artist likes structure, has a focussed purpose.

He certainly likes words, Moore does. He seems to love writing, and using friends for quoting and reciting. Included in the Gambia show with its five monitors are people repeating texts, some apparently written by a Chinese poet, Gu Cheng, who lived on Waiheke Island. And Moore includes as contrast tv clips of short story writer, novelist and poet Charles Bukowski telling stories. Bukowski talks exactly like he writes. Entertaining and vivid. Fast and gritty.

In this show (pictures above) Moore’s two titles from both Gambia and ACFA (they merge) are reflected in the array of screens competing for your attention while you try to focus mentally. There is even a text on the wall about sleep deprivation, implying (with irony I think) that the self (whatever that is) functions best when wide awake.

In the ACFA show we hear and see words too, in text running along the bottom of a monitor screen, from a book Martyn Reynolds is reading, or within a brief conversation he and Moore have about it. The ACFA show has four monitors.

Moore’s shows aren’t slick. They are rough hewn in the way he uses casual readings by friends, or home movies of individuals walking along a beach, or people in a flat dyeing fabric in a bath. These he places alongside Hollywood movies, a DiCaprio film that has been antiqued into black and white, or a Hitchcock silent, Lodger, blended with a later Bowie soundtrack of the same name.

So what is he up to with these installations? War Against the Self seems to be a meditation on the relationship between language and nature (somebody says ‘you have to live in the world and not in language…you could almost mistake this language for nature.’). It seems related to the work of Diane Thater but without her pop arty colours and big production. Moore loves found imagery and making juxtapositions.

Against Other People is more about the Word versus the Body, a very abstract approach to the physicality of thought, one that slides from the separation of dualism to the explicitly corporeal approach of Antonin Artaud. Thought ‘lodging’ in the body.

In contrast to Moore’s installations where you walk around the images straining to decipher the words, on the Window website is an intriguing work by the British artist Lisa Stansbie. If you click on you can see and hear where she has treated three sections of film by adding carefully written audio ‘commentaries’ that only tangentially connect with the ‘action’. You sit in front of your computer at home and concentrate on the three clips one at a time. Even without connecting the disparate narratives and voiceovers - the three ‘club sandwiches’ - on a sensual level, the sound, the language manipulation, and the visual images are remarkable. Unlike Moore's monitors, they don’t overlap. If you wish, you can do that in your head anyway.

Top four images from ACFA show, bottom three from Gambia Castle

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Social shift

Jude Rae
10 March – 17 April 2009

Jude Rae is well known for her various painting projects over the years since she began in the early nineties, from dramatically twisted sheets and superimposed texts, to innovative industrial still lifes using gas cylinders and fire extinguishers, and ambiguous crumpled sheets that suggestively teased between what they might be covering and what may have laid on top of them.

In recent years she has become much more interested in architectural space, and even her small Morandi influenced still lifes have reflected that. She once worked in black, white and chromatically nuanced greys but now even her still lifes have an Impressionist feel. The object surfaces and forms are very solid, but the chromatic flicks on their ‘skins’ pulse and shimmer. The light is on surfaces, and not say in the air. There is no atmospheric dematerialization. Closer to Chardin in essence than Monet.

There are five works in the big downstairs Jensen gallery. One is a receding dark corridor inside a Parisian block of flats with light glowing from a window on a distant landing. The blue black shadows are dramatic and propel you to rush forward. Two other works are based on T5 at Heathrow and tease out spatial contradictions apparent upon and behind a dominant glass window, and before it, receding and reflective tiled floors. The rusty horizontal rectangles and umber vertical beams seem to float, serving as foils to the thin diagonal floor lines.

The smaller of the T5 works features distant silhouetted people against the window-gridded sunlight. Its ‘human’ content links it to the key work in the exhibition, a painting based on a newspaper photograph of a group of bystanders in Lebanon watching the Israeli bombing of Beirut in 2006.

The work has an ambiguous image of billowing smoke and a distant flash on the distant horizon – a parallel of images of the testing of the very first Atomic bomb – and the rectangular surface is covered with delicate trickles of thin blue and orange paint that discretely optically activate it. The sense of drama achieved by using a historical narrative is a new area for Rae, one that moves away from her usual contemplative spatial preoccupations towards active commentary. A shift from quietistic murmurings to that of being more actively vocal. An interest in the social manifest in paint.

German photography

Presentation Representation Part 2
Curated by Thomas Weski of the Haus de Kunst (Munich). Toured by the IFA and Goethe Institut.
Bath St
17 March - 28 March 2009

The five photographers in the second half of this German show are so good I cursed myself for missing the first half. Superbly installed by its own globe trotting technician, this display is a remarkable flagwaver for German culture. The work is pristine, elegant, remarkably fresh and fastidiously hung. It looks as if the curator lived in Auckland instead of Munich, and had the L-shaped Bath St Gallery in mind right from the start.

Weibke Loeper’s dozen Perspex mounted images look magnificent with no frames; the colour is oddly pure like lollies - vaguely piercing in its fruity, lickable intensity. The artist focuses on a small city (Wismar) where all the young people have gone, and shows us the streets and buildings’ exteriors. When we see a handful of people moving around the city centre and the toylike houses, they are all elderly. Everything is immaculately tidy with nothing unseemly anywhere.To Kiwi eyes it all seems rather surreal and dreamlike

Laurenz Bergan’s eight photographs are much larger, framed and all indoors – inside abandoned buildings that have been used by squatters, if at all. Everything is unloved and seedy but the squalor of the images is oddly appealing. The floors are covered with dead birds, cigarette butts, dust and feathers; children’s drawings provide a refreshing innocence on the grimy walls. The glimpses out through windows of the adjacent countryside are even more depressing than inside.

Heidi Specker’s ten images of a friend’s home and garden in Switzerland are really a cumulative portrait, using textures and odd portions of things to describe her friend. With bits of log cabins, patterned woolly jumpers, fungi close up, smooth glass windows, prickly pine needles and creaking ice, it is as if the images are not to be looked at but only felt by hand or cheek. The tactility provides a strange immediacy, something startlingly elemental.

One artist who avoided hanging pictures on the wall is Claus Goedicke. His photographs are printed into wallpaper which is pasted on inside the gallery. The seven images are incorporated on to a vertical green field with decorative filigrees of repeated crossed arms and hands, silhouettes of birds of prey, and alternating pink flowers. It’s a wonderfully strange way of exhibiting photographs, digitally processed of course - and adaptable for galleries with high studs.

The last artist is Uschi Huber. His nine C-prints record the actions of Cologne shop keepers just prior to the marching of any big parade through the city. They fit large sheets of plywood over all windows and doors to protect them from hooligans. The results are refreshingly beautiful with the patterned laminated wood lining the streets. The shops look like temporary movie sets before paint. Or an oddly scaled toy city made for children.

(The photographic images are in the order of the artists discussed.)