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, 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.

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