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 11, 2009

Looks good but....

Terry Urbahn video installation: The Sacred Hart
Festival Event
9 March - 12 March 2009 10 am - 10 pm.

This is one of those so-called community art projects that people ooh and aah over when they hear the proposal but which in actuality causes disappointment when they realise it is not what they thought it would be. It is two and a half hours of tedium that will be totally baffling to Aucklanders, as it was made for New Plymouth audiences. Even Taranaki people though, will find it hard to stick around for more than ten minutes.

The idea is a filmed gathering of about a dozen people having a ’last supper’ in the downstairs bar of the White Hart, the well known pub across the street from the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. All various people who at different times used to frequent the bar. Not a bad idea for a project, it should be good. The people include an ex-Govett-Brewster director (John McCormack); a local artist (Don Driver) very briefly; a couple of members of the local resident bike gang, the Magogs, one whom became a city councillor; the owner of a local CD and music store; and some earlier owners of the hotel.

The problem is that it is far too long, and the conversation (what little you can hear of it) is hardly sparkling. However visually it is sensational, and rich in allusions to Derek Jarman’s ‘Caravaggio’ and Peter Greenaway’s ‘The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover.’ The candle-lit feast held on a very long table looks wonderful set up in front of the bar. The camera on a dolly slowly moves backwards and forwards, out and away and back again.

To make the installation the back-projected screen is set into a steep arch on the left-hand side of the church’s interior. Close by, in front and to one side, is a replica of the famous carved deer that stands on the roof of the pub. Urbahn’s version has a woman’s front left foot.

Terry Urbahn is a highly respected artist – originally from New Plymouth - who very rarely makes fizzers like this. Affable and loquacious in temperament, he often creates art with communities he interacts with normally in his ‘non-art’ life - like rugby teams, surfie groups, or rock bands. Here I think, his affection for his friends and home town caused a lapse in proposal planning judgement. He's a very persuasive personality. The results here show that to be a pity.


tinks said...

I'm pretty sure the female mannequin front left leg isn't an Urbahn addition - the real one also has this unlikely appendage, apparently the result of either a domestic dispute or a stag night prank some years ago (depending on who's telling the story).

John Hurrell said...

Oh that's very interesting because (to me) the deer in the church is not the same as the deer in the G-BAG installation photo. I thought Terry had used a replica, but maybe it's the real thing.

artfromspace said...

As far as I know, the actual hart was removed from the White Hart for the GBAG installation, a displacement that created much local attention, but it is a replica used here. Terry has taken some creative license with the replica in exagerating a mis-matched replacement leg which, as a child, he had imagined was human.


John Hurrell said...

I'm curious to know how this project went down in New Plymouth. I was told some of the recorded conversation was 'pretty jucy.' Damned if I could hear any of it.(Forced myself to listen you understand.)

Were people really drawn in so that they wanted to know what was being said? Did they return again and again for a better listen?

Agnes said...

Hello John. Just to clarify, the leg isn't that of a women's mannequin, but a cast of the actual leg of the sculptor who made this stag replica. This stag is also not the same as the one used at Govett Brewster, instead, that original has been restored and is sitting up at the White Hart, from what I heard.

And to answer some other questions. Having sat in as an attendant on this installation, I can say that most people (at least98%) who visited stayed for much longer than ten minutes. People, who didn't even have ties or connections to New Plymouth such as those from overseas and plenty of Aucklanders as well. It did not baffle people (at least the people I met), but instead, was a catalyst for great dialogue.

Urbahn also didn't mean for anyone to stick around for the whole duration of the video (unless of course they wanted to), but instead to be able to come in and out of it, eavesdropping in on the everyday, not-so-'sparkling' conversation that you might hear small tidbits of in a pub you frequent. The idea being that you can catch it at anytime and still be able to step into an immersive environment. Having watched the whole thing a good 4 times over, I can say that this experience is very real, although it is also very tiring. Much like sitting in a loud, crowded bar. So these are really not problems, depending on how you view it, so much as they are an integral part of the installation and extensions of how Urbahn wished for it to be interpreted.

- Agnes

John Hurrell said...

Thank you so much for your considerable trouble here, Agnes. You are very informative.

Actually I stayed for well over 10 mins, but that was because I was obliged to try and analyse my experience, and I liked what I saw - up to a point.

You talk of dialogue. You mean groups of people would yak about it? That it provoked unexpected discussion?

You speak of 'tidbits'. That sounds very accurate. Tiny morsels that tease. Teenie weenie tastes. So exasperating.

Paul Brobbel said...

The original is back on top of the White Hart, having been spruced up a little by the GBag.

John Hurrell said...

So the fetching female leg? Is it on the original beastie or not? Who is correct about this: Tinks or artfromspace and Agnes?

Bruce E Phillips said...

I curious about why you assume that "Aucklanders" wont understand the work. I was just wondering if there is any subjective meaning lurking in such a slippage - or if it was just a simplistic assumption of the diverse audience of Auckland. I know it was exhibited in Auckland but is it really culturally specific to New Plymouth - and if so are Aucklanders not interested in the rest of the country? Do you propose that all artists in NZ are supposed to be catering to the folk up north? Or do you have a leaning towards art that assumes a culturally neutral representation (if such a thing is at all possible)? I am based in Wellington so i will ask around the folk down here to get their response on the Film Archive exhibition - to see if they are as baffled as you Aucklanders. Oh and your fellow bloggers have identified the source of your fixation see:

John Hurrell said...

Terrific to hear from you,Bruce.
Well there is no great mystery involved. Terry's work has a specifically Taranaki context, that line up of individuals that he filmed. You need to know their backgrounds to want to grasp what is going on, i.e. to want to bother loitering around an almost inaudible sound system so you can try and decipher their words.

You seem to think I'm bashing New Plymouth. Not at all. Heaps of great artists live in that town, or have come from there. own father was born in Eltham. Taranaki's in my blood too.

so you tell me said...

interesting review, congrats for letting a non art idiot have a crack at it. Provides humor much appreciated, especially the bit about being a


I saw the work set up at GB and was struck by its lifting the lid on whiteness, white culture, white power, white spirit, truly a herculean task and achieved with space to reflect...

such a well respected artist...

penfold said...

Tao, this is the white hart we are talking about here, white certainly, but hardly the seat of any power. Juxtaposed against Hohaia's work, as it was in the gbag, the curation spoon-fed a fairly pedestrian race-based reading but that didn't make it a herculean achievement nor did lift the lid much at all.
It was quite a nice idea and looks good. However the audio is certainly a bit iffy, it was problematic in the gbag and could only get worse when sited in an echoey church.
And Hurrell is right Bruce, you would have to be from Taranaki to know the rapist from the gallery director among the participants and all the other things that give the minutiae amongst the mumbling richer meaning.
Not that that necessarily negates the validity of a less informed reading but the information certainly adds more texture to the proceedings.

Unknown said...

Hi people,

Was wondering if Mr Urbahn released the video of the canvas he shared with the public? Be great viewing being a native from Taranaki.


John Hurrell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Hurrell said...

I think Terry might live in Australia now. The installation was presented at the Govett-Brewster originally, so they would know if the dvd was for sale.