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.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Switch on machine; pick an option

Curated by Stephen Cleland
Te Tuhi
25 April - 5 July 2009

The five artists of this show have been selected by Stephen Cleland to elaborate on the similarities between the processes of the human mind and those of machines, and to show some of their common mathematic and mechanical characteristics.

The exhibition takes up most of the gallery yet it is unusually understated – for Te Tuhi anyway. There is plenty of white wall. Heaps. Almost too much. Almost too minimal.

What is interesting is noticing the commonalities between the artworks of these five individuals. How they link up in a ideational circle via certain stylistic qualities: John Lyall’s ten drawings feature linear loops similar to the large blue loops of Simon Morris which are also like the routered lines of D.J.Simpson. Simpson’s use of planar colour and negative space ties in with Rose Nolan’s massive textual mural, and her use of the colour red echoes Sarah Munro’s, who like John Lyall, uses geometrical forms to structure her images.

So, as the title suggests, the artists are like machines for which a variation can be picked out of a range of options. They look at the permutations on tap, and decide. The word ‘effect’ is deliberately loaded – suggesting something trivial or superficial. Chasing an optical buzz, a ‘gee whiz’ component to tickle the audience; a surface layer.

John Lyall’s ten mazelike drawings on drafting film look like something out of Haight Ashbury Zap comix or from a pictograph on a Mayan ruin. He has demonstrated several possibilities. Within these numerals the earlier ‘effects’ are straighter, but as they progress they get curvier and wilder in their flipped back, trippy arabesques. And more fragmented and indecipherable.

With Simon Morris there are many options for his meandering blue line, in terms of how he can cover the wall to make a mural. It can move from left to right only, it can double back on itself, it can overlap earlier loops, its modules can be vertically aligned or horizontal, the density of its patterning can be increased or lessened, and its height up the wall can be varied as desired. What is not flexible is its type of chroma as a ‘blue’, or the number of coats, or the line thickness.

The English artist D.J. Simpson, when he uses a router to cut out the differently thick (and deep) lines from a Formica laminate, often makes the oval or wiggly lines identical. They are like prints, or the results of a repeatable computer programme that controls the blade movement. Only the deeply saturated, glossy, monochromatic colours vary.

In the large gallery where Simon Morris’ blue line painting is located, there is a huge Rose Nolan text work on the opposite wall. Nine gigantic chunky letters that say DIFFICULT are rendered using negative spaces between blocks of bright red. To get the proportions right so that the desired word can be read, Nolan would have to have tested several options in length and height – especially to negotiate around corners and power points to ensure letters remain cohesive. Without them functioning properly the word would be indecipherable.

The two works by Sarah Munro are geometric variations on a theme: the same elements contained within a squashed trapezium (or diamond), and a more stable square. External contours affect internal ones. Altering perimeter shapes changes the three-dimensional edges of the compositions within. The works prod the viewer’s imagination to mentally test other fictional possibilities.

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