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.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Nice surprises

Elam Art Upfront: The Foyer Art Project
Curated by Sonya Korohina and Mythily Meher
Various windows and foyers in Shortland St
6 March - 20 March 2009
Auckland Festival

Here we have five downtown corporate venues in the upper reaches of Shortland St – spaces that are often visible from the street - and nine artists. Good artists who because they are immensely varied, make this a show worth making the effort to get to. Lots of unexpected things to ruminate over.

Let’s start near the top of the street and zigzag our way down.

Shortland Street Chambers (#70) has three artists. Firstly there is Florence Wild in the window. She likes to write out a cursive script by draping lines of cassette tape across a space so you can read words. The lines are suspended in the air by invisible threads of nylon. She seems to be a bit of a punster who loves anagrams. This one says Live Evil, and as it is audio tape it is likely to be of commercially recorded music. Perhaps it is from a cassette of Miles Davis’ live recording of the same name. Behind the window glass the wrinkled, brown, skinny ribbons shimmer in the sunlight.

In the foyer, leaning against the wall near the lifts are two photographs (Work is Work) presented by Fiona Gillmore and Louise Menzies. The images of a stream in some lush tropical bush are blandly dull, but the nearby wall label is immensely interesting. It tells us that the artists purchased the images from the national Geographic Image Library via Getty Images, who laid down three strict stipulations. (1.) Only to be displayed internally, i.e. indoors. (2.) In one location only. (3.) For six months only, then the licence expires. These terms intrigue as they ensure obsolescence and likely renewal of purchase. Not much generosity there.

Also at this address was a Timothy Chapman sculpture which I didn't see but which is pictured above. It had a sibling I discovered at AXA.

Across the street just inside the door leading up to the NZ Post office (#69) we can see Tiffany Singh's presentation: moulded wax effigies from India placed on interlocking triangles of spread rice and herbal powders. Fruit and flowers dipped in wax can be seen from the street on the window ledge but hidden on the floor below are ines of the mentioned plump elephant gods and pointy angular Madonnas. The beeswax has a penetrating aroma that is quite overpowering when you go inside.

In the WHK Gosling Chapman Tower (within The Shortland Centre at #51-53) is a dramatic display of six hollow fibre-glass spheres by Priscilla Brown that vary in size. These have been suggestively stained with undulating organic patterns of black ink and areas of ‘skin’ removed. They seem to have a printmaker’s graphic sensibility, and so are unusual when seen on large sculpture. Brown’s orbs have a real presence, successfully competing with the Bing Dawe sculpture attached to the low ceiling above them.

In the AXA centre (#41) we can see works by three artists. A very special treat is provided by the moving image and sound installation of Katie Theunissen. Her three projections dramatically exploit blurred motion created by tumbling rolls of bandage, jerking bags of spilling flour and suspended but stationary, testicular pear-shaped forms. Theunissen knows how to make compelling viewing out of the most simple of methods. She has a real instinct for strikingly lit movement that holds your attention, has ocular appeal but which is also theatrical and vaguely profound.

Roisin Moore’s three photographs of plants growing alongside the AXA building comment on the sterility of AXA’s foyer area where they are placed, as they do the external sites being documented. On her label she compares her photos with fake plants but actually they lose out in the comparison. Fake plastic pot plants have more appeal than her dry, somewhat icy, photographic images.

On the outside of a skylight just around the corner, but viewable from below, is a giant plunger created by Timothy Chapman. The handle trembles and flickers through the glass like a stamen on a flower. Its movement brings a nervousness that makes the sculpture anthropomorphic, denying any possible reading as Pop Art but showcasing the airy environment affecting it.

At 34 Shortland Street Warren Childs manages to upstage Dick Frizzell’s nearby mural of rippled Australian bottle glass. Childs’ black tubular plinths have flat mirrored tops that look like whopper guitar picks. They hold bizarrely shaped, glass-tanked mini-motorcycles with large chrome exhausts. These small choppers seem like colourful rocket-ships that have morphed into insects. They seem inseparable from the shrewdly constructed plinths that possibly were once plants conceived by J.G. Ballard. It’s an unusual pairing of gently lumbering botany meeting a delicate but abruptly stilled velocity.

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