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.

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)

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