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, June 26, 2009

Making visible

Dark Matter: W. D. Hammond, Peter Madden, Andre Tjaberings
Curated by Simon Esling, essay by Anna Parlane
26 June - 24 July 2009

It is extremely interesting to see the sort of stellar line up like the above at a 'research' facility like Window, basically because the exhibtion is so mainstream, and not involved with experimental ideas at all. I would worry if suddenly all Window shows started becoming like dealer gallery venues or municipal gallery spaces, but Esling’s selection, presented with a black back wall (adding to the ambience of the thick tinted glass), seems to be a shrewd ploy to attract a new audience to the site. While I was there writing this, a number of people came over and examined the show – for Window on a Friday night, an unusual occurrence. Even in the entrance of a university library.

And so they should. The gothic theatricality works well. The largest work, a 1995 framed Hammond work on paper of an energetically tangoing couple accompanied a standing huia-man working on his laptop, a horse headed gentleman facing us while looking over a landscape on a pool table , and in the background another birdman in a state of reverie on a settee.

Peter Madden’s work looks superb here too: a glass sphere half full of gold leaf (opulence for its own sake); a ‘bush’ of hundreds of hovering butterflies suspended over a black prostrate skeleton; an amazing futurist portrait of a fissured fragmented face, with birds, fish, buildings, insects, plants and shells all exploding out of it.

The surprise is designer Andre Tjaberings; his two de Chiricolike graphite and wash drawings mix in Magritte and Piranesi to create a surreal, architectural space of crumbling three-dimensional geometry – immersed in billowing smoke. Not so ‘full on’ as his companions, Tjaberings has more delicacy and understatement, a stylistic restraint within his exploration of imaginary space.

Three cheers for Esling for doing this project, and a bouquet of flowers for not including his own work, as some artist-curators do. It is a little odd getting someone else to do the writing but Anna Parlane does a good (but very brief) job in grouping the three artists together under the astronomical title - with its references to invisible but detectable masses that play a crucial role in galaxy formation. Hopefully the project will win Window more visibility and more friends in the wider Auckland art community.

Lonely at the top

Jason Lindsay: i am a mysterious loner who knows how to howl at the moon
18 June - 17 July 2009

Jason Lindsay has had a few shows in Auckland, exhibiting in Rm 103, George Fraser, Window and Enjoy in Wellington, though he is not particularly well known. Judging from these links, his beer sculptures look pretty funny, and the work that he constructed in 2006 for Window was an impressive spatial configuration. His grids of interwoven and suspended linear wooden vectors there look amazing.

This current show at ACFA, again very focussed on the location itself, is a tower of ostensibly Huntly bricks that ascends to the ceiling and up which you can climb via a spiralling path. It is made of thick board and plywood, seems to vaguely allude to Tatlin, and though not skeletal and airy like his earlier more abstract work, is more like a three dimensional theatre prop, facades you can clamber over. The structuring frames are now hidden by a veneer of laminated wood and compressed board.

Lindsay’s tower is a fake brick chimney but it also has a black (paper covered) flue winding round it up to the top, following under the steps. At its base it is locked into a model of a building that could be a crematorium, or perhaps even, a wood chipper. I say that because lying across its roof is a large figure of a dead man – a bit like an Anthony Gormley sculpture – covered in sawdust. So the work has sinister overtones. Good reason to howl at the moon.

There also seems to be something reflexive at work here, with the wood chipper / sawdust references and the fact that compressed chipboard dominates the surface as fake brick. Adding to the hints of atrocity with the crematorium, there is a seat at the top where you can perch to look out over Wellesley St through the window. Maybe it is a cynical view of success and what is necessary to attain it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Friday on his mind

Karl Maughan: Every day is like Sunday
Gow Langsford
23 June - 17 July 2009

This latest show of Karl Maughan’s displays nine works. Naturally they are all of flowers and bushes, impeccably trimmed and radiant in glorious spring weather. Such images tend to look far better at a distance than close up where you get a sense of him working speedily, impatiently placing his marks on flower heads with a machine-like repetition - as if he were a closet Futurist. There is no loving application of pigment here to convey a lyrical plasticity. It is manic, done by rote, and somewhat coarse.

Standing back they are not so raw or nasty, and the sculptural floral geometry Maughan obviously loves emerges. The best work though is not using his usual square or horizontal rectangle but a vertical oblong. Penelope Road has a sense of perspective, pulling the eye towards the centre, and not reinforcing the presence of the picture plane.

The works that generate a little interest are where the non-floral components that provide respite from chromatic bombarding are more carefully thought out. Kumeroa has a shady bending path, Ruawhata some gravely steps on the bottom left, Saddle Road a sweet patch of vivid green lawn in its centre, and Speedy Road, peeking through an array of bobbing flower heads at the top, some luxuriant flat lowlands on the other side of an estuary.

It would be interesting to see what this artist would come up with if he weren’t so frantic in his application, so frenetically obsessed with rendering more and more blooms. While obsession can be good for a career there must come a time when an artist’s audience becomes bored. It is astounding he is not bored himself. Perhaps he is? Maybe that explains the rush, the incessant drive to quickly finish one copse of colour and get on with the next. A purging to get to that quota by the end of the week.

Godkin on Lorne

Four artists
Antoinette Godkin, Level 1, 28 Lorne St.
3 June - 4 July 2009

Antoinette Godkin, in her comparatively exhibiting new space in Lorne St, presents four slightly disparate artists: Ana Horomia, Sue Novell, Esther Leigh and David Morrison.

Ana Horomia’s work is positioned in a corner near the entrance to the gallery. Hundreds of identical Vinyl lozenges (rectangles with curved corners) are arranged in two bands that descend to meet in the central crease. Each band is five lozenges thick and though they are white on the outside, they are painted in four types of fluorescent colour underneath. Each unit is held in space by a Perspex stem so that the tinted lolly colour glows on the white wall, to be seen only indirectly, reflected.

I am not sure about the inverted v-formation in the corner. It seems too understated, and might work better as a block with horizontal bands in the middle of a whole wall. It lacks impact that is memorable.

Sue Novell shows four canvases. Two have thinly painted coloured organic shapes evenly positioned throughout on white fields. They look vaguely landscapey. A third is of fragmented lines and dots - and is more interesting because it is not so regular but denser nearer the top right-hand side. It has a dynamic that creates an intriguing visual tension. Novell’s fourth work mixes line with translucent blobby shape. The interwoven formations have a complexity that holds your interest.

Esther Leigh is the most experienced artist here by far, and it shows. Her Glade and Wade images of papier maché forms and feather boas photographed through sand-blasted glass are remarkably evocative, suggesting underwater ruins or foggy cliff-forms. There are also 2003 works where she is using mirror paint and red ink with repeated layers of cut-through film matt to create abstract pink doorways floating in a beautiful milky haze.

Leigh knows how to make haunting images by controlling light on reflected surface. David Morrison’s square oil paintings have similar concerns and are more minimal compositionally, but somehow the surfaces and scale seem inappropriate. The modulated tones and muted colours end up looking very ordinary. The problem is oil paint is too coarse a medium for his interests. Photographic digital techniques might be more successful.

Overall this is not a memorable show, though Leigh is the star with work that carries on from what she exhibited at Roger Williams a couple of years ago. Her Glade and Wade images are well worth a trip down to Lorne Street.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Interpreting de Lautour

B-Sides & Demos: Tony de Lautour
Softcover catalogue published by The Physics Room
Essay by Mark Williams
50 pp and colour images
Choice of two hand stencilled covers by the artist
April 2009

Earlier this year in late February The Physics Room presented an exhibition of Tony de Lautour’s works on paper, with a few small canvases mixed in. What is interesting is that though he has made many much larger works in recent years (like the Logo and ‘mountain’ hangings and the recent more geometric paintings) that are tidier in style, more fastidiously tighter in finish, this exhibition concentrates on the looser, wilder, brusherly works, many of which are preparatory studies - drawings in paint and pencil.

The important thing about this publication is the superb essay by Mark Williams (an Associate Professor of English at Victoria University) that attempts to analyse de Lautour’s imagery. And whilst I think Williams’ account of the artist’s motifs is a bit reductive - de Lautour works by intuition and not with a consistently maintained sociological or historical logic – he is very clear, with lots of compelling evidence. I just think it is a little simplistic, that’s all.

Williams starts off thinking about Simon During’s discussion of Tony Fomison in the 1994 What shall we Tell Them catalogue that points out Fomison’s recording in the seventies of “the end of a social consensus fashioned in the struggle of the white working class and the progressive middle class to produce a controlled, communitarian society (p.5).” De Lautour, he points out, elaborates further on the white working class’s disillusionment with the counterculture, and its diminishing employment, its anger at its loss of economic security and its growing hostility in the eighties to Asian immigration. As Williams makes clear, in reflecting this de Lautour is a caricaturist who uses ‘slapstick humour’. He is not a Gothic Fomison.

Near the end of his text Williams opines that De Lautour’s “body of work is more honest than that of other Pakeha painters of an era which is now coming to an end as economics supplant culture and creativity.” He praises the “bafflement and anger of his cartoon kiwis and blank but active heads – the white world of those without education, taste, or expectations of financial improvement (p.11).”

I wonder if Williams is correct in seeing de Lautour as making indignant critiques of behalf of the white working class. Bob Dylan once called himself ‘a Song and Dance Man’, referring even to his songs of social protest, and whilst joking he was also serious and correct. He is primarily an entertainer.

The title of de Lautour’s exhibition here alludes to Nick Cave’s triple album box set B-Sides and Rarities, for like Dylan and Cave, de Lautour likes to entertain. His painting practice is often about being mischievous or provocative, works where he is ridiculing sentimental and overused symbols of national identity rather than expressing righteous anger. Of course as with most artists, a range of moods and interests becomes apparent in his images, and often preoccupations contradict.

For example, whilst he has made many paintings that refer to historical images of Maori, within his contemporary referenced works where all the personages are apparently white, Maori are naturally absent. Should that be obvious and assumed, something to be expected? He has often stated the ‘white’ content of his narratives in his titles but his images do not necessarily confirm that. It is possible he is being coy and that he is nervous about ridiculing both Maori and Pakeha.

Looking at his use of heraldic emblems - de Lautour’s Kiwis seem to represent the tangata whenua and Lions the colonial powers - or is that only a pre–Treaty scenario, with everybody becoming a Kiwi and a Lion (subject of the Crown) after 1840? How do we interpret images of Kiwis fighting with Lions, Lions scrapping amongst themselves and Kiwis likewise. Often both Kiwis and Lions indulge in identical behaviour, smashing bottles, shooting up, smoking and drinking, being vandals. Often both wear skull masks or Mickey Mouse ears.

And let’s say ethnicity is an issue. Looking at the other images of male heads in profile, are they always white, these bank tellers, mechanics and others? Can we really tell their genetic heritage by their profile, or lack of moko? Is it safe to assume that they are white, that ‘white’ is truly white, and that such a binary distinction is biologically believable anyway? Perhaps de Lautour is far closer in his attitudes to his ‘Maori’ friend Peter Robinson with his Blood Percentage paintings than we give him credit for?

Terms like ‘White’ or ‘Maori’ in de Lautour’s hands are ciphers or codes that seem to be open. They are like his Revisionist images of New Zealand painted on found landscapes - where maps of the two islands become lakes or chasms that can be filled like vessels. Unexpected meanings slide in. His use of images is not programmatic, despite his occasionally provocative titles.

If one was really determined to come up with another template – as opposed to Williams and maybe even de Lautour himself - if one did in fact insist on an alternative program, one possibility could be that of the criminal classes versus the police. The interest in weapons, prison tattoos, violence and vandalism, the thuggish nature of the thick-necked portraits: all allude to a New Zealand dominated by lawlessness (albeit comical in de Lautour’s hands), with both police and crims being indistinguishable apart from their heraldic components. Yet it is possible I myself am being what I have accused Wiliams of – overly reductive.

These are great issues to think about and this is a useful little book. With it, using Williams’ discussion and the accompanying coloured images, or alternatively perhaps this review with its links to many online gallery pages – you can mull over this artist’s rich array of distinctive paintings.

City keepsakes

For Keeps: Sampling recent acquisitions 2006-2009
Curated by Natasha Conland
New Gallery
18 June - 12 July 2009

In the upstairs part of the New Gallery Conland has prepared a snappily elegant new acquisitions show which looks spare and understated, but where there is a lot more work than you think. Some of it was purchased by AAG, much of it is loaned by the Chartwell Trust, and a few choice items were donated by the artists. The smallest work is a clay, spaghetti and putty concoction by Dan Arps and the largest ones by Michael Parekowhai (a fibreglass sculpture) and John Reynolds (a metallic and chroma spray painting). There are 26 artists here, including the Australian photographer Bill Henson who has a whole room to himself to display eight night-time images.

Here is the line-up: Vyasheslav Akhunov (Uzbekistan), Hany Armanious (Australia), Dan Arps, Nick Austin, Mladen Bizumic, Julian Dashper, Simon Denny, Denise Kum, Alicia Frankovich, Bill Hensen (Australia), Allan McDonald, Daniel Malone, Richard Maloy, Monique Jansen, Annette Messager (France), Dane Mitchell, Ryan Moore, Michael Parekowhai, Margaret Turner Petyarre (Australia), Layla Rudneva-Mackay, Marie Shannon, Sriwhana Spong, John Reynolds, The Estate of L. Budd, Sergey Tichina (Uzbekistan), and Rohan Wealleans. Note the paucity of artists from below the Bombay Hills. Zilch in fact. It is really a regional, not a national, focus. (Mind you Christchurch is the same, but they openly state it - as Collection Policy.)

I don’t think all the individual items are good (the Malone /Kum and Dashper videos pall quickly. They are irritatingly juvenile), but the work is hung really well, with lots of shrewd interconnections between the different projects. Some of the work here looks seductively beautiful in a way that was unapparent when it was first shown in a dealer gallery. For example: Dan Arps’ three works look particularly gorgeous with lots of room around them, especially a translucent pink anorak thrown onto a piece of polystyrene on the floor, and an inverted surfie poster gesturally activated with silver paint and goobers of smeared Blu-tack.

Nick Austin - Arps, Denny and Malone’s Gambia Castle colleague - has a set of delicate paintings of unmatched solo socks rendered with feathery brushstrokes on vertical sections of newspaper. It’s an amusing comment on the vagaries of washing machines and daily wear and tear.

The two collaborating Uzbekistan artists, Vyasheslav Akhunov and Sergey Tichina do well with two videos that were shown in the Turbulence Triennale. One work in particular about meditating or praying while pressing the body in inaccessible corners (high up in precarious ruins, or on top of ancient archways) is very simple, but with a lot of emotional power as bodily gesture.

Bill Henson’s haunting room of images features nocturnal landscapes and bungalows - with naked or semi-clad teenagers sexually experimenting in a darkened park, or riding BMXs. Each image is superbly staged and lit with shimmering pools of light, so that even a bare mud road looks sensational. The skinny, very delicate boys and girls look emotionally uninvolved, almost stunned in their indifferent embraces.

On one gallery wall Allan McDonald has eight images of illuminated opportunity shop ceilings – mainly with fluorescent fittings. They act as a reference for two Simon Denny photographs on the opposite wall of a framed poster he found in a Germany burger bar. It was of the Chrysler and Empire State buildings in New York. The poster was flanked by small neon tubes, so Denny has placed tubes in boxes with his own images in their deep frames, according to the angle of his camera to the original poster.

Of the other two walls of that room one has a set of three photos by Richard Maloy that show him with large plastic bags over his head, of different colours. The blue one resonates nicely with a Sriwhana Spong collage about Nijinsky on the far wall, where she has placed deep blue colour correction filters over a photocopied section of the great dancer’s biography.

What Conland has done with lights and colour as small details in one room she repeats with vertical columns of pencilled numbers in another. Monique Jansen’s gridded graph book with its skeletal rows and columns framing lines of removed squares has a line of scribbled numbers on one page. Similar numbers are found on the ‘blonded’ awning from The Estate of L. Budd, Unity of Appearance, on the opposite wall. With thin paint on its top surface and the original coloured stripes left underneath, it references conflicting interiorities, and the need for a self’s protection from social factors demanding consistency, ‘raining down’ upon them.

Like Budd’s wall projection, Julian Dashper and Rohan Wealleans’ paintings are remarkably evocative. Dashper has seven works in a row on one wall that seem to reference the letters of his own name. Most are linen stretchers stacked in multiples and reversed, but some are plastic records or tondos. Wealleans has only one work, a large white rectangle where the thin outer skin of paint has been cut away and pulled back to reveal chipped away stratified facets of solid white carved pigment, like geometric, crystalline mountain peaks.

It is good to see two Alicia Frankovich photographs from her earlier Starkwhite show presented here: images of a bunch of tomatoes hanging from a ceiling, and a strange rope ladder/hammock from which fabric is falling out at the top. These images were baffling at the time, but after her recent series of performances and talks they make a lot more sense with their references to height, gravity and temporary suspension.

Margaret Turner Petyarre’s work is unusual for Aboriginal dot painting. It looks from a distance like concentric circles made out of spiralling wire netting, but in fact is made up of thousands of small curved lines of ten dots each. These decrease in size from top to bottom and are carefully painted in position. The painting looks surprisingly industrial.

The Hany Armanious wall sculpture is a cast piece of polyurethane that looks like a battered slab of polystyrene, bearing patterned indentations from its past life as protective packing. It looks incongruous hanging on the wall, this chunk of foam plastic waste declaring itself to be art. Perhaps it should be leaning up from the floor.

One of the two main sculptures is a huge Michael Parekowhai dancer in a black leotard lying on the floor in a recovery position. She looks serene as she dominates the small gallery with considerable physical and psychological impact. The other large sculpture in another room is a Peter Robinson polystyrene work of crumbled blocks and flowing cascading chains, a brilliant work in its invention and exploration of a new materiality, and its evocation of lichen or grass covered rocks and hairy animals.

Auckland Art Gallery has a great display here of its new contemporary acquisitions (and I’ve picked out a few samples) but it needs a catalogue of some kind for the public to take home and read. Much of this art also needs skilled explanations in special artist folders to help win the venue new audiences, for the wall labels aren’t sufficient. If ARTSPACE has a reading room, then why not AAG where the need is far more pronounced? They should throw away the junk-filled card and wrapping paper shop downstairs and give the public the educational facility they need.

This is an excellent show, yet oddly it is only up for a month. Make sure you see it.

From top to bottom, the images are by Henson, McDonald, Spong, The Estate of L. Budd, Dashper, Parekowhai and Robinson.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Stacey Morrison comments on

the Peata Larkin review

Smaller better

Harvey Benge: Big work, small worksBath St
6 June - 20 June 2009

The two main parts of this show are a long narrow grid of coloured digital prints on the main bath St. wall - 240 of these butted together in a bank - and round the corner at the back, a suite of six very much smaller works from the series (and book): You won’t be with me tomorrow.

Benge’s small images, the framed photos separated out on one modest wall, are considerably better than the lumbering 8 x 40 grid that is ostensibly a single item. This one work is a dud: its proportions are wrong for the module size used, and it is packed with far too many images – urban shots to do with the sex industry, advertising, sentimental death, architecture and food – taken in Paris, Auckland, Genoa and Hong Kong.

It is all indiscriminate overkill, and apart from the issue of a high proportion of dross, even if these highly saturated images (reds and blues dominate) were all stunning by themselves, crammed into a long horizontal slot they merge into pictorial sludge.

The small vertical works are vastly superior, though Benge is hardly exploring the medium and going beyond conventional magazine fodder. Still he has done the right thing here in picking out quality works (with mystery or intensity) for viewing in isolation, and his ability with composition and scale is made obvious. He should have presented the whole exhibition in this manner.

Bulgarian video

Mariana Vassileva: Lighthouse
9 June - 27 June 2009

Starkwhite are currently showing a suite of four videos from Mariana Vassileva projected on the righthand wall of the big white room downstairs. Vassileva is a Bulgarian who lives in Berlin. She is very aware of music as a means of manipulating mood. Each work has a meticulously paced soundtrack.

An elegant young man dressed in a tuxedo drives to a windy cliff facing the open sea. Standing at the edge, with sensitive hand gestures he starts to conduct an imaginary orchestra playing a concerto by Greig. In his mind daytime turns to night and he sees distant ridge on which is another person beside a car, with a torch, flashing signals in Morse code. The camera pulls back and the night-time signaller and ridge disappears. A strangely haunting work.

Traffic Police
Two traffic officers conduct busy Mexican traffic as if in their own private universes, making long sweeping arm movements and frenetic fluttering hand motions, dancing to an inner music. This comic duo seem hyper-active or on speed, jiggling up and down and rapidly waving. Very entertaining.

A young woman dressed in t-shirt, jeans and sneakers rolls backwards and forwards on the ground in time to the music, lifting her feet occasionally to pass between trees. She rolls a short distance then stops. This work reminds me of a very similar Tino Sehgal performance I saw in the ICA a few years ago, Sehgal also (like Vassileva I think) being interested in dance.

The Milkmaid
A young woman dressed in white dress and bodice pours milk from a ceramic jar into a large bowl on a white table. The milk never stops nor does the bowl overflow.

It's hard to figure out what these works are about exactly - though her images cetainly hold your attention. The first two videos show a preoccupation with signalling, in line with earlier projects Vassileva has done using mirrors. Looking for other connections, the conductor and the ‘grass roller’ have an end to their activities, while the milk pourer and two gesticulating police officers seem within continuums.

Starkwhite here provide a good introduction to this artist, someone whose work another dealer introduced them to recently at an art fair in Hong Kong. The Milkmaid and Lighthouse are elegant videos, while Traffic Police, though humorous, is absorbing due to the sheer energy the two gyrating cops provide.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Elam photography

Still: Carolin Casey, Mhairi-Clare Fitzpatrick, James Lowe, Geoffrey H. Short, Dane Taylor
Curated by Ariane Craig-Smith
George Fraser
28 May - 20 June 2009

There is something totalitarian about finding every gallery you stick your nose in is exhibiting photographs – so I for one will be pleased when the current festival is over. I don’t like any one medium dominating. I like to be surprised.

However the shows I’ve come across so far are very good. This one, curated by the 2007 ARTSPACE curatorial intern Ariane Craig-Smith, is of five senior photography students at Elam, and the theme, as referred to by the title, is film’s influence on photography. In the eighties this approach was widespread with the works of Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons, Richard Prince, Eileen Cowin and others. Sometimes direct quotation was involved. Sometimes it was more quoting a feeling rather than specific imagery.

With this exhibition the approach is wider. Often it is about the directorial setting up for a shot - the still that to the viewer seems to come out of a sequence. It involves hiring people, maybe actors, venues, props, lighting - or as in Geoffrey H. Short’s case, explosive experts.

Also, because of the nature of film as a medium and as a form of entertainment, there is a narrative involved, narrative that often alludes to archetypes and myths which were around thousands of years before cameras were invented. In fact, the nature of narrative and certain patterns of conceptual construction found in the way we use language, are embedded in the properties of thought itself. So much so that according to cognitive scientist (and professor of English) Mark Turner, storytelling forms like parable for example, precede grammar. They don’t come after.

In other words, some filmic conventions of storytelling - and tropes like metaphor - can be seen as truly primal, referring to states that are even before language. I personally find this fascinating because it links some of the theories Len Lye had about certain forms of ‘Old Brain’ tribal image with the philosopher Donald Davidson’s essays on the properties of language and communication. Davidson says the notion of linguistic compentence is misleading, we don't use shared rules, it is more complicated, and Turner's ideas confirm this.

I've digressed. Getting back to the exhibition, Craig-Smith has chosen a surprising range of work, not all of it wall-based. Dane Taylor exhibits a superb little book of snapshots taken all round the world and mixed into its own logic. He has created a sequence where these rough and ready photos – without written explanation – are blended into a new continuum. Every now and then Taylor includes pages of written text describing dreams he has experienced, a clever foil to the quite mundane images (in isolation) he often presents.

Carolin Casey’s three images, compared to some of the other photos, lack glamour. Instead they emphasise the ordinary, even the shabby, and are closer to Harmony Korine than Brian de Palma. In the context of this show they invite you to speculate. Are they similar to some of Ann Shelton’s images in that they are documented scenes of crimes? Have bodies been buried or hidden here? Has unspeakable violence occurred?

Geoffrey H. Short’s three photos of explosions are astounding in their detail. Their acuity takes your breath away: the specks of shattered material suspended in mid air, the gorgeous wrinkly orange patterns in the heart of the fireball. One chromatically muted image is strangely like a painting – an early Hanly for example. Its dark, oddly shaped, smoky forms hovering in the air could have been scrubbed on with an oil-tipped brush.

The works most overtly referencing film come from Mhairi-Clare Fitzpatrick and James Lore. They use models and props. The former are especially important for Fitzpatrick, who sets up scenes where intense anxiety is shown in her female actor/models’ facial expression and body language. Her work is about interiority, the inner self, and alludes to contextual social narratives that impact on that.

In contrast, with James Lowe, the models are male, languid, not stressed, with props more akin to Californian conventions than New Zealand. The drama comes from a compositional staging of architectural elements, rather than psychological factors. Surprisingly there is a hint of the paranormal amongst the carefully staged imagery, with strange mists and odd shafts of theatrical lighting.

Despite the myriad references to film, this exhibition’s title obviously draws attention to the pleasures of the static. A contextualising sequence that you are aware of can be easily ignored if a stationary detail holds your gaze and you enjoy repeatedly returning to it. Even if each of these ‘stills’ had a DVD playing alongside - showing a filmed sequence out of which the photo was sampled – I imagine the presented images would still be compelling. This accomplished exhibition, with its catalogue and informative, lucid essay by Craig-Smith, is well worth a visit during a crisp winter’s lunchtime.

Images from top to bottom:
top three from Dane Taylor’s artist’s book, then single works by Carolin Casey, Geoffrey H. Short, Mhairi-Clare Fitzpatrick and James Lowe

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Interiors, exteriors

Edith Amituanai & Allan McDonald
Anna Miles

4 June - 4 July 2009

Stepping into the space, we see on opposite sides of Anna Miles’ rented room two photographic shows: five interiors within family homes by Amituanai on the left; eighteen exteriors of shop facades by McDonald on the right. Individually I prefer McDonald’s work to Amituanai’s (something about the way she plonks people in the middle of the image upsets me) but here he has far too many photographs. Twice as many as necessary, so Edith Amituanai’s relatively restrained presentation wins hands down.

Her set of photographs comes from two homes. Four images are from the Lai household, a Chin family from Myanmar, where three rooms of their new house are photographed - one of them, the sitting room, twice (family present; family absent). The shot with the Pearl drum kit, played by the eldest boy, allows us to look at the images on the wall and the objects left on the furniture. The house looks recently moved into and relatively unlived in.

Amituanai’s other image has a wide doorway in a domestic space that divides it in two so that the opening looks like a huge mirror. The carpets on the floor, despite not being aligned, seem reflected and so the gap has an unnerving presence as if solid. The image itself has a symmetry with the black leather couches that is offset by the small ebony tribal carvings on the floor and fireplace.

Allan McDonald’s images are smaller and quite different. Because they are presented without a framed edge, their impact is contained within an austere floating rectangle that hovers in front of the gallery wall. That the photograph goes right up to the oblong’s edge brings a severity that helps the frontality of his vistas; it tightens the picture-plane, makes every shape contained there sing.

It also emphasises the delicate sun bleached colours of the weather worn paint on these buildings. Over time the coating has thinned out, become desatuarated, with stains from underneath rising into view. Ornately lettered advertisements from past eras catch our eye, hand rendered people and products high above verandas, columns of stark black and white photographs lining shop windows: these details are from small town, rural New Zealand. They are relics from the past that someone has forgotten to, or cannot afford to, replace.

McDonald’s images work well because of their lack of obstructive framing. They are also brilliantly cropped. The best ones are exciting palpable objects. Not so much windows to the past but coloured panels that are very much alive in the here and now with their own finely tuned, nuanced materiality.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Works on paper

Group show: C6H10O5 4
June 9 – 21 July 2009

This works on paper show has a dozen artists participating and thirty-one items on display. Not all the works are purchasable: two (a Nauman drypoint and a Ryman aquatint) being on loan from private collections. Some of the works, like that of Ellsworth Kelly or Alex Katz, you rarely see in this country.

It is a good looking hang, with strategically positioned grids of prints arrayed amongst the rows of single items on the three mdf walls of the large downstairs space – and punctuated by the occasional lusciously painted block sculpture (on solid cardboard) by Elizabeth Vary.

Almost all of the work here is about tactility of surface; sensual qualities of thinly layered coloured paint or ink within rectangles, parallelograms or line. Two intriguing works by Winston Roeth of concentric circles are between Kenneth Noland and Ugo Rondinone in his use of that form. Impeccably spaced lines (dry tempera in one, soft fluffy pastel on coloured field in another) create their own internal tensions, but are not too big. They are intimate works that draw you in close to study the edges of their taut curved lines.

Taut but organic lines figure prominently in the suite of six 1993 Brice Marden etchings and aquatints (Han Shan Exit), a silvery grey homage to Pollock but even better. They feature a crisp thin wobbly line that is deceptively precise, used to create a superbly dramatic calligraphy that seems loosely wrapped around the human figure.

Callum Innes’s watercolours are like pages in an open book: transluscent layers of thin rectangular colour separately applied side by side and then over both. The dried watercolour pigment has left mottled ripples like those on the surface of a pool, but much much finer, with a delicate slightly cloudy chroma.

A drier stickier sort of surface, less liquid, is found in the aluminium and acrylic works by Stephen Bambury. They are of silver horizontal and vertical rectangles positioned at right angles to each other over a black square. Bambury inventively aligns the silver panels at different angles and alters the proportions of the black corners peeking through the intersecting edges. The surface quality of the silver paint has finely lined striations and smears, not so much scraped as direct application.

This is a good exhibition at Jensen - though perhaps it could have been more adventurous. It is very surface dominant, about seduction of the eye. One wonders about some of the non-painting artists this gallery shows like James Casebere and Tony Oursler and if they ever do preparatory drawings, and if so, on paper other than Arches. A scribbled text can be a drawing, and a brilliant writer like Oursler must make notes, and Casebere makes 3D models that surely he plans. The current display is a bit too much about finished product, whereas the rough and ready, more unpredictable processes of art thinking are immensely interesting too.