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, March 4, 2009

Some clear glass, rusted iron and blue light

Cat Auburn and Karena Way: Little Rain
City Art Rooms
3 March -28 March 2009

City Art Rooms is a venue with shows I have always been reluctant to review because of my own professional relationship with the gallery. This is because of the perhaps dubious credibility of whatever I say. Praise shows, I’m promoting my friends; damn them, and I’m asserting some position in the in-house pecking order. That, and the fact that I value my right to openly express any views without worrying about offending my dealer, makes it easier to declare the venue a ‘no-go’ zone.

With the above comment I have hopefully pre-empted the avalanche of letters poised to follow, because there are some topics here worth looking at.

The main one is that of technique and verisimilitude, with 'transparency' in this case being literal not metaphorical. Here with Cat Auburn, the focus is on casting (like Akiko Diegel on occasion). Glen Hayward uses carving. Other artists like Fiona Connor are more complex in their methods of replication. Painting is sometimes involved.

But to be easily impressed by all this is, in my view, missing the point of art. It limits it to something shallow. It is ‘craft’ in the worse sense of the word. Something is glorified which actually should be invisible. Its reason for occurring needs to be carefully thought through, so that more than showing off is involved. The viewer needs to ask why.

Cat Auburn makes long lashed whips and riding crops out of glass. They are fastidiously detailed, clear as tap water, and look as if they’d break if you looked at them too long. They remind me of the glass intestines Asta Gröting made in the early nineties, but much, much more fragile. Which is their point, being whips. Attempted use might inflict bodily damage on the user.

This artist has also made two decoy ducks made of heavy cast iron. These are just as funny, having a propensity to rapidly sink. You have to walk around them carefully so you don’t trip or break your toe. They are not as visually beguiling as the sparkling glass whips. They intrigue, but don’t cause you to keep returning.

Karena Way makes excellent, subtly disturbing, photographs but I prefer her installations with light and moving image. The two Paradise works here are time-based in two quite different ways. One presents ‘time’ as the duration of a glass tank (backlit in blue) being slowly filled and emptied of water while being filmed. She has edited so some sections speed up and others slow down.

The other presents time as the viewer’s perception independent of the actual work, which in this second case is a blue spot casting a fuzzy circle upon the wall. The top quarter of the static blue ball catches the lower edge of a rafter traversing the ceiling. However when you walk across the room the blue light reflects on a long low horizontal steel rod positioned below, moving along it. Your body and this shifting line of blue are in sync.

Such a duration is in contrast with the artist controlled time of the DVD. Way’s bodily actions and her mind there affect the period of the disc – as distinct from the viewer’s roaming body and their mind interacting with the glowing wall and its highly nuanced spatial contents.

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