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, April 17, 2009

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.

1 comment:

JR_H said...

Mmmmm...really?? may have to go see...