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.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ersatz forces of nature

Murray Green: Hook, Line and Sinker
Two Rooms
16 April – 16 May 2009

These works by Murray Green subvert the modernist notion of ‘truth to materials’. They celebrate ‘untruths’, a repertoire of false plastic drips, oozing viscous trickles and hovering brushstrokes – created by covering fibreglass casts with coloured varnish-like resin. His practice is related to the production processes of Andre Hemer in the sense that just as Hemer undermines gestural spontaneity, Green fakes the vicissitudes of nature and gravity. Both use repeatable units to construct an ersatz spontaneity.

In some small panels Green exploits the degrees of opacity in translucent resin, playing with the notion of time so that ‘brushmarks’ seem to be naturally situated in an advancing chronological sequence that in hindsight you later realise is faked.

Other large ‘drippy’ panels are like prints with waves of trickles duplicated in several reshuffled variations. The best have a dominant tone that is not oscilating between light and dark but consistently even, the most successful being the very dark ones. They have a psychological presence where there is a sense of ominous stormy weather, crashing phosphorescent waves, or even staves of musical notes at work.

That overt theatricality – corny though it may be – gets your attention. Despite his unusual method, Green needs such a device if he is to avoid the vapid, or suggestions that his work is ‘designy’ or intellectually thin. Utilizing a sense of the histrionic helps achieve that. It introduces paradox when a palette suggests turmoil or mental agitation whilst the method in fact is clearly the opposite.


Liz Maw: Venus From Hell, Escape Into Night and the Future of Her
Ivan Anthony
25 April - 20 May 2009

Liz Maw is one of those artists whose paintings I’ve never warmed to. They are too illustrative or 'realistic' for my tastes, and there is something about the acuity of the edges of her forms, the clarity with which they sit in space, that irritates me. The precision in the detail is okay (admttedly impressive) - it's an issue about the lack of spatial integration in the picture plane.

I admit that also I find her work icy, even though it is often rich in earthy humour. It is technically amazing too, yet overall I still dislike it. She is way down my list of important practitioners.

Having said all that, I quite like this show. I’m surprised. It is the scale I think that appeals. Her work normally is too big. This stuff is surprising intimate, even very small at times. The more diminutive her work, the more drawn to it I become. I move towards the middle of the frame and look at the image very closely. Normally with her bigger works, I can’t be bothered. Her compositions just look clunky and gross. Drearily cornball.

Even so, there is a small self-portrait here that is a real cracker. It is slightly jewel-like and self-contained. A wonderful little work within a wide dark frame. It has everything you’d never find in the big works: namely psychological involvement. She is wearing a suit and holding a strange ghetto-blaster, and the detail works with the scale. It never becomes surplus or decorative. Everything is compact and perfect. No excess.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Moffatt exhibition

Tracey Moffatt: First Jobs Series and Selected Films
Two Rooms
16 April - 16 May 2009

Australian artist Tracey Moffatt presents two sorts of project in this Auckland show. On the walls of Two Rooms' downstairs gallery are a large selection of pastel-coloured, digitally blended photographs featuring the artist in younger days, working in a number of tediously boring, low paid student jobs.

Here in these (often) fictitious scenarios, unlike real life, she is chirpily enjoying the work. Grimy spaces are prettied up with ironical relish. The colours are fruity, much like bathroom decor in their pale but saccharine sweetness. The cheerful palette is clearly sarcastic. The artist is obviously pleased she doesn’t have to do that sort of employment now.

The other works are short films: four on plasma screens and a fifth in its own viewing room. In these loops (Love, Lip, Artist, Doomed and Revolution) Moffatt has worked with Gary Hillberg, a gifted editor. He is a crucial contributor because these are montages of extremely varied, multiple clips taken from different movie libraries. Here precision in editing is everything. For these works, continually running splices of passionate and violent confrontation and snippets of dramatic dialogue flow like running water in a seemingly natural and rhythmical fashion, accompanied by a turbulent soundtrack.

Moffatt and Hillberg have taken a simple idea first explored by Christian Marclay in his 1995 film Telephone, and really pushed it towards something richer in content and very powerful emotionally. Their sequences are utterly engrossing, never boring, and sustain viewer interest for a long period. The coloured photographs will probably quickly pall in comparison, but Moffatt’s films are so layered (and physically compelling) you keep discovering interesting, hitherto un-noticed nuances – formally, historically, sociologically and semiotically.

This is one of the best shows Two Rooms have had for some time. Not to be missed.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Performance in downtown Auckland

Living Room
Curated by Pontus Kyander
Auckland CBD
19 - 26 April 2009

Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen: Complaints Choir (arranged and conducted by Sean Donnelly)
Gaia Alessi, Richard Bradbury: Cargo/Host
Cho Duck Hyun: Dark Water – The Antipodes Project
Aki Sasamoto (assisted by Arturo Vidich): Secrets of my Mother’s Child
Wen Yau: i-(s)wear – Tena Koe

Pontus Kyander is the current Manager of Public Art for the Auckland City Council. Pontus comes from Sweden, has been in Auckland for little under a year, and has become a well-known council figure among artists - approachable and friendly and regularly seen at gallery openings around the city. Here is a discussion of five of the dozen events he organised for Living Room, a week long, international performance fest held downtown. Any readers who attended those other performances I’ve left out - I’d be keen to hear your impressions.

First of all, a couple of gripes to clear the air.

The event was badly publicised. Most art enthusiasts didn’t know about it and I only found out by accident. This was the opposite of the Auckland Festival earlier in the year which was amazingly efficient in communicating with prospective audiences.

Also details for the artists’ talks at the end of the programme were not effectively communicated. I went to AUT on the Monday to hear the talks promoted in the handout and nothing was happening. No one knew what I was talking about.

Of the events I saw, the most amazing was the Complaints Choir - as witnessed in Kitchener Place, Vulcan Lane and Aotea Centre. The uniquely Auckland musical arrangement and performances were superbly polished, playing off delicious harmonies and witty lines (about the trials and tribulations of living in the City of Sails) through alternating male and female voices. However despite having about 23 singers the work needed a good sound system to really broadcast dramatically the achievements of the enthusiastic performers and Sean Donnelly the composer, and to compete with traffic noise and pedestrian chat. I hope recordings of this hilarious (but also gorgeous) song are played by the media - for the piece deserves to be heard nationally and internationally. Even non-JAFAs will love it.

On a less sensual but more ideational level, the two works by Gaia Alessi and Richard Bradbury were impressive as exercises in mischievous anti-ocular perversity; Fluxus style events that had a Dadaesque feel. Using the onsite shipping container as a sealable metal box they organised for the mid-day lunchtime crowds a invisible, very muffled performance by a suitably enclosed, small orchestra (a dozen members) of Handel’s ‘Music for the Royal Fireworks’ – apparently 260 years after it was first performed. The sequence of movements for brass and strings were clearly set out over a twenty-five minute period, the musicians filing in at the beginning, playing their baroque melodies exquisitely within the confines of the container, and then filing out after completion.

The night-time fireworks display was, despite itself, spectacular. White smoke billowed out of apertures in the cordoned off, fireman-guarded container and phosphorescent flares could be discerned through the horizontal door cracks. Now and then some irresponsible, sparking and whizzing jumping jacks would leap out and attempt to make a getaway, but to no avail.

This performance within the echoey metal box seemed cunningly arranged, using the aural properties and sound textures of the explosives in a knowing manner. Rockets would regularly ricochet off the clanging metal walls, and strings of cacophonous crackers make surging rumbling sounds. This work was impressively stupid. I loved its boneheaded disdain for common sense – denying its audience all that eye-shredding colour and dazzling white light they’d be longing to see.

Another artist who made good use of the available container format was Cho Duck Hyun with his installation. It featured a third-sized version. Using graphite and charcoal, he skilfully copied onto canvas enlarged photographs from his own Korean family history, incorporating into the installation European and Japanese images too. The container was then immersed in the sea for a few days so that the effects of saltwater on the images become a metaphor for time, physical decay, suffering and memory loss resulting from the cataclysmic forces of history.

After this dunking the box was hoisted up on to Princes Wharf for Living Room’s official opening. The works were then displayed in the Project Room at Starkwhite in a black replica box, with good lighting.

Nothing particularly dramatic resulted to the images from the saltwater, apart from the occasional streak and various migrating flakes of paint that came off the walls. The emphasis throughout was on the artist’s manual skills, and that the ideas potentially produced by juxtaposing different photographs from different cultural contexts, depended really on the viewer’s understanding of Korean history. Somehow, despite the ablution process, the works seemed dry.

Aki Sasamoto and Arturo Vidich’s performance in Khartoum Place was a lecture to the crowd about the search for personal happiness in life, starting with a discussion of categories of pupil in class and degrees of social success and goal reaching. Starting her talk by drawing chalky Beuysian diagrams on the back of a chest of drawers (she retreated inside those bottomless drawers later on) Sasamoto - in green jumpsuit – blended good advice with autobiographical anecdotes. At one point she elucidated about her own conflicted relationship with her mother, whom in the symbolic form of juicy grapefruit, she proceeded to chop up with blades on her boots, on the pretence of making chutney.

Vidich, taking the role of an oppressed self impeded by psychological baggage symbolised by a rickety stack of chairs, crawled around the space in a suit, dragging the useless furniture with him until it was pulled off him by invisible strings. The work was reminiscent of performances by the German artist John Bock, but without his wildly extravagant props, and had a refreshing looseness and spontaneity that endeared the performers to the largely non-art world bystanders.

The interactive performance by Wen Yau was more mysterious, obliquely about the transmission and loss of culture, involving initially a friendly chat at a desk in Khartoum Place about the passer-by’s family and where they are based. I told her about my sister who is living in Hong Kong (where the artist lives). After I had chatted for a short time about this she invited me to write my surname on any part of her body, and she would stamp her name on the same part of mine. She pulled back the collar of her blouse and showed me her neck and shoulder painted with several inked pictographs.

It occurred to me then that this work had overtones similar to Yoko Ono’s famous scissors and cut clothing performance where she provocatively invited people to cut and remove sections of her garments, but I wondered if I was being overimaginative. Thinking that writing on the neck or shoulder of a complete stranger would be alarmingly intimate (even if she did offer) I wrote my surname rather clumsily on her right cheek, and she stamped her name on mine. We were then photographed by her assistant, and I left to make my way home where I later I looked at her website. I found that Wen Yau is a ‘guerrilla’ critic who challenges (male?) supremacy with ‘her unusually tender and meandering writings’. Wen Yau's texts range from ‘perversion in the sexually seductive stories’…to ‘cultural reviews and other writings.’ It appears her interactions via artworks serve as some sort of catalyst for her literature. She sets up these situations that spark off her writing.

I hope Kyander does more of these performance based festivals. Next time he needs to circulate a lot more pre-show publicity about who is on their way here, and why. The event needs to be bigger in scope so that the art institutions beyond the Council’s footpaths get involved. That way a wider range of performance practice – a sort that is more varied in mood and concept, beyond entertaining coincidental pedestrians on the street but aimed at the art community already familiar with the genre – would get looked at.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Crockford window installation

Rob Gardiner
Crockford Window (next to Gambia Castle)
Karangahape Road

Last year’s touring National Drawing Award, due to its lack of any focussing structure, was one of the least satisfying exhibitions to grace ARTSPACE for some time. It may have been sprawling and indiscriminate, but among the handful of included quality works was an image of a photographed corner with drawn and collaged linear elements straddling the space. The research Rob Gardiner was doing with that drawing has now developed into this window installation, an examination of sculptural space and the psychological cues within it that enable us to experience depth.

The setting now though is not a corner but a box that is transparent on two sides. Opposing planes, not adjacent ones, are the key elements – as is ocular access permitted through the properties of light. The main component is a cardboard tube lightly painted orange with rough strokes, projecting from the far wall and held in position by three black elastic cords (Y-shaped when joined up) with hooking links. The latter are painted green to match the ends of the fluoro tube in the ceiling.

When we look through the glass window and down the dark tube, we can see that the other end is pressed against a short horizontal wooden strip. That strip’s thickness holds the tube so it cannot be flush with the wall, enabling light to bounce off the white plane and enter the long cylinder’s depth to rake across its internal lining.

The distant horizontal strip is lined up with the top end of a vertical length of tape extending down the inside of the window pane. Peering down the tube, it is like squinting through a telescope or gun sight to examine the art display space’s backing wall.

Looking at it slightly from one side, and not frontally, the work seems like a synthesis between Kenneth Snelson and the Russian Constructivist el Lissitsky in the way it explores temporary methods of creating tension for holding forms in place. However, in a reflexive sense, the elastic can be interpreted as a trope for the supportive mechanisms within the artworld that operate behind each show, those connecting social structures that enable the work to be seen and taken seriously. ‘The Given as an Art Political Statement’ as Billy Apple and Wystan Curnow once put it.

Gardiner is originally from Hamilton, and part of a community of older artists linked to the Waikato (other examples being Campbell Smith, Joan Fear, and Ruth Davey). Living in Auckland for the past few years it seems has done wonders for his practice. This work looks fresh, current and energetic. Perfect for a site such as this.

Here is a discussion from Daniel Munn on

Laura Preston's curatorial projects

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Placing trust

A.D. Schierning: Honesty
University of Auckland Library entrance
April 17 – May 15 2009

This beautifully made little display stand – with a cute little box-roof to keep the goods dry - is cobbled together from sawn up lengths of lichen-covered planks. It presents cans and pottles of herbs and growing veges for sale in the library foyer, in front of the gallery ‘window’. Initially it had several jars of delicious looking jams and chutneys on offer, but by the time I got to see it they had been taken, one assumes (one hopes) with appropriate financial recompense placed in the honesty box.

While this interactive sculpture is part of a wider project involved with helping starving artists, it is intriguing to see the word ‘honesty’ used in an art world context. Often it seems it is the socially circulated ‘story’ about the art that counts (eg the ODS Pivi goldfish work) and if dishonesty perpetuates that aim, then dishonesty will do. Okay, I’m now starting to sound like a cracked record…

On a red gingham table cloth on the bench top, Schierning has stitched a very clear message to the buyer: give all that you can; take only what you need.

I imagine her thinking probably goes something like this: please don’t exploit my trust by ripping me off to profit yourself through resale or hoarding of these products. If you genuinely don’t have much money I am happy to accept a small amount. This is not a commercially viable enterprise but an artwork where I am gracious enough to gift you a certain amount of my costs in preparing these products, in return for your needed social involvement. Enjoy the food by participating in this project, but acquire it knowing you have a clear conscience.

It would be interesting to find out how just honest A.D.Schierning’s student audience in fact is - when the sums are done and the remaining stock tallied after the show has finished. Did great quantities of jam or relish disappear without financial acknowledgement? Perhaps some buyers were excessively generous, contributing funds without even taking anything? It would be good to discover if firm conclusions could be established either way. After all the show is entitled ‘honesty’, so a final appraisal does seem a natural thing to do.

Friday, April 24, 2009

McLeod matters

Andrew McLeod: Ocean
Ivan Anthony
1 April - 23 April 2009

We have here a varied range of oil paintings (and one digital print) from this Auckland artist - among them a few surprises. The very recent McLeod paintings are interesting in that they show a moving away from the playschool, Killeen influenced, ambience of earlier works, towards a more sensual, lush painting.In other words, they are less illustrative, being instead Romantic, elemental and other worldly. Very physical. They have a sweeping, immersive rawness, mostly without his 'normal' finicky, anal fastidiousness. They are very dramatic, particularly the images of the sea, and indicate a serious interest in the paintings of the German artist Arnold Böcklin (1827 -1901).

I find these images of McLeod’s intriguing. I warm to them more than his other paintings – this is surprising for I personally don’t like Böcklin’s work very much. I find it somewhat histrionic. McLeod’s images though have a gruntiness and comparative roughness which I enjoy. And the symbolic content doesn’t seem in earnest. McLeod here loves drama. It is the blatant theatricality and hammy humour he is going for (er, this is what I assume), and it works.

Placed in the same rooms though are the odd, very small geometric paintings he has been doing for some time – modernist works influenced by LeWitt, Vasarely, Albers and others. These experiments in reductive geometry and perspective are humorous too, because of their extravagantly ornate frames, not because of the geometry. Ostentatious and vulgar the incompatible borders are perversely placed around the dynamic geometry so that many viewers (like myself) grind their teeth. The format is maddeningly irritating, for the distracting frames set out to obliterate the carefully designed spatial contents of the internal canvases.

In that sense they are funny – if you get amusement from seeing an exemplary talent like McLeod mock his own compositional abilities. Yet this artist always has enjoyed excess and plentitude. Modernist restraint and understatement are not something he happens to empathise with. His ratbag hybridity – in his own terms (not mine) – makes a lot of sense.

(McLeod images above, except for bottom three from Bocklin.)

Double vision, double vision

Matt Henry: Doppelgänger
16 April - 14 May 2009

This exhibition by New Plymouth artist Matt Henry teases out the confusing similarities between minimalist sculpture and elegant sound systems, or monochromatic minimalist painting (under glass) and flat plasma screens. These ambiguous geometric forms are presented in the two upstairs rooms that overlook K’ Rd, approximately mirroring of each other in their placement within the adjacent spaces.

These pristine box-or-slablike sculptures on the floor have a remarkable finish. They look sharply crisp, each edge or plane of their form looking almost hallucinatory in their hyper-reality. More perfect than perfect in their formality.

The leadless ‘sound systems’ are accompanied by a painting/sculpture hybrid where painted, glass covered canvas panels are float-mounted and framed. In one room the panel is a fluro lime green that has associations with outdoor TV sport broadcasts. In the other, the colouration of that panel is a very dark grey. You could confuse it with black caught in a raking light.

While they look vaguely like plasma screens, they are really thick and clunky in comparison. Closer to paintings that ridicule the presentational formats of ‘sensitive’ painting by being deliberately gross in their proportion and frame colour, they become bizarre fetish objects, items devoid of function that look store bought and not obviously ‘art’. They look impressively expensive.

Probably these works are best in a home where their ambiguity is most pronounced. At Starkwhite they are clearly ‘art’ and highly aesthetic. No one is likely to go looking for the missing remote control in the gallery space. In a house surrounded by other domestic accoutrements on the other hand, the box forms – not the wall components - would throw you. They are harder perhaps to worship as surrogate status symbols, and obviously mischievous.

A planetary object

Chris Cudby: Smooth places
A Centre for Art
17 April – 2 May 2009

Chris Cudby is an artist-musician now presenting a sculptural installation in the new ACFA space in Wellesley St.

Cudby has prepared the room so it is dominated by a complex tower sitting on a base of two chrome scissor-legged stools. Using a set of frail wooden platforms the sculpture is a spindly slatted structure that incorporates a very large pot plant raised up high. There are other things too in the space. On one wall is a computer abstracted aerial photo, on another are some delicate pen and ink cartoons and a watercolour, on a low stool is a glowing red, plastic pyramid lamp (apparently alluding to a Gary Numan LP sleeve), and a black sixties ‘sci-fi’ amp and speakers (all curved pyramids) can be seen on the window ledge, playing soft music from a (now) antiquated i-pod. There are lots of formal interconnections between the understated drawings, pyramidal objects and stacked-up sculpture.

The tall plant (I think it’s an azalea) in the complex vertical sculpture is in a long, white, triangular slab pot. It has several elegantly braided, narrow trunks. The projecting platforms and structures, horizontally lined with thick brown cardboard, hold three types of object. One is an open LCD ‘book’ showing a loop of the artist (I’m guessing here, never met him) blowing cobwebs off the braided plant trunks. Another is a very small revolving turntable on which is a delicately dotted, plastic airlines ‘glass’ - filled with sparkling mineral water. A third, high up, is an orange globe of the world on a stand - though not actually ‘on’ a stand but hovering in mid-air, held in space by unseen magnets. The ball and ‘stand’ are positioned out above the leaves.

To enjoy this installation, you don’t need an underlying narrative; it works so well formally with many interconnecting parallel levels. The show has an appealing airy, linear quality that repudiates weighty density - a lightness of touch. Yet there clearly is a theme behind this arrangement of various elements – that of global and ecological issues. The images on the walls, the aerated water in the turning glass, the hovering globe, the tree, the image of its being cared for – all focus on planetary concerns. It is conventional subject matter for sure but it is done with considerable inventiveness and panache. This is a classy presentation that succeeds in spite of its theme, and not because of it.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A question of Faith

Boris Dornbusch: In all applications: in all departments
Te Tuhi
7 March - 12 April 2009 (This show is over now.)

Boris Dornbusch is one of those artists who seems to regularly think in terms of tropes, especially when he is working with moving image that he is presenting in an installation. The DVD is presented in a sort of austere theatrical setting, a few props that comment on the content of the film. Recent works at Starkwhite and Room 103 confirm this.

For the Te Tuhi show, the DVD was projected over a floating helium balloon hovering in front of a wall. It showed somebody from a seventies American TV show I would term a ‘faith healer’ more than a magician, somebody with allegedly paranormal powers who can push or pull people (or objects) through space with invisible forces radiating from his fingertips.

In one scene he is attempting to lift a ‘patient’ lying on a bed, by running his hands over his sides and above, without touching. Trying to get him to float weightlessly, like the balloon onto which much of the image is projected.

In another scene the standing patient is seemingly pushed and pulled backwards and forwards without physical contact. Though his eyes are shut, the patient seems to be coordinating his leaning with the movements of the ‘doctor’ behind and in front of him.

So what is Dornbusch up to here? Is he commenting of the degree of faith in our lives, our gullibility perhaps? Is he being rude about the artworld that he himself is part of, like you or me? Is he saying don’t believe all you are told or shown, or is he saying the exact opposite, that isn’t this great, it’s gotta be good for you?

The balloon indicates scepticism I think. It establishes the presence of irony. It could also have a metaphysical intent, like perhaps the broken window in Room 103’s installation, alluding (like Magritte) to a world of illusion with a false veneer that is suddenly exposed.

Lots of interpretative layers.

(Image courtesy of Starkwhite and the artist)

Priapic phantoms

Sean Kerr: Ghost in the Machine
April 8 -24 April 2009

It’s a great title Kerr has come up with, this reference to Arthur Koestler and Gilbert Ryle, and tying the whole philosophical package into sex on the smuttiest of levels. I love artists (and audiences just like me) who refuse to grow up. To realise its infantile virtues is to grasp the whole point of art as play.

Let me elaborate a little. The show features a massive pink ‘sleeping bag’ that lies flat on the floor - but when you enter the space it slowly fills up with air like a wobbly but tumescent penis. There is an electric eye on a camera aimed across the floor that the visitor’s movements triggers. It also switches on something on a table that looks like an agitated, erect willie under a sheet, wiggling back and forth in anticipation of lord knows what.

So on one level Kerr is clearly alluding to Vito Acconci’s Seedbed, his (oops I nearly said ‘seminal’) masturbation performance. On another he is being cute, pretending the table work is about comic book ghosts like Spooky or Casper, and having a pathetic whimpering ‘boo’ occasionally come out of a hidden speaker. Yet the main ‘pink torpedo’ sculpture is definitely threatening, despite its early Woody Allen overtones. It is more than a schlong. It is also a rather nasty finger (with nail), giving the viewer ‘the bird’. There’s lotsa aggro in the air.

I like to see an artist admit he hates his audience, and tell them so. Yet even beyond such love-hate ambivalences (after all he is trying to make them laugh) the tumescence theme is intriguing as a comment on dualism. It spot-lights that simple, apparently causal connection between thinking Thought A, and generating Bodily Response B that all growing boys love to discover. It also suggests a Central State Materialist argument that all spirit (or in this case, desire) is matter.

This is the best show I’ve ever seen from Kerr. I don’t say that because I’m pathetically infantile and am easily entertained by the basest of 'body humour' (yup, it's true), but because the show's well organised and has a structure that is simple, one that is loaded with complicated, contradictory resonances that you are likely to remember and think about for a long time.