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.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Interesting lens - cool interiors

Ann Shelton: room room
Gus Fisher
8 May - 20 June 2009

These twelve images are of bedrooms in the women’s wing in the Phoenix Building, run by the Salvation Army as part of the Drugs and Alcohol Rehabilitation Facility on Rotoroa Island in Hauraki Gulf. This hospital closed down in 2005, and shortly after the artist made the images. Her project was first shown at City Gallery last year.

In the Gus Fisher’s small gallery, Shelton’s photographs are presented as circular coloured images set onto white vertical rectangles, six positioned on each of two opposite walls. The circular format, based on a Claude (as in Claude Lorraine) looking glass, bends the lines so that even cupboard doors become warped, making everything convex. They look like enlarged peepholes positioned on doors in a hotel corridor. In the space they look a little crammed.

These domiciles are in themselves impersonal and characterless (they have an anonymity that induces despair) but photographed this way they could almost be described as ‘sweet’ or ‘pretty’. At first glance they take on an austere but tawdry modernist glamour. You have to look closely to see the hideous peeled wallpaper, stained mattresses, paper thin curtains or holes in the walls.

In having no human subject matter these rooms become refined in a pastelly, bathroom-décor sort of way. The lens also makes the spaces seem much bigger. Planes expand. The air stretches. They take on a perverse elegance.

Yet there is also a clinical ambience about this show. This is pristine, somewhat icy photography – with little warmth. The blemishes and scunge you find on close inspection help lessen that, but their ‘human factor’ only draws you in so far. You don’t get totally immersed. Though these interiors are interesting because of the distortions, you still get held at arm’s length. These images are too chilly, too depressing and (over time) too bland to get really close to.

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