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.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

An excremental vision

Richard Maloy: Nothing, nothing, something
Sue Crockford
30 June – 18 July 2009

Allan Smith, in the excellent series of notes he provides for this show, points out Freud’s comment that “dirtiness of any kind seems to us incompatible with civilisation.” Its relevance is because the exhibition consists of ten colour photographs of white toilet paper. In pristine condition, fresh off the roll, the tissue is unnervingly delicately beautiful.It has a faint hint of pink, barely perceptible rippled patterns, and different textures that distinguish recto from verso. Set on a field of grey, each life-sized documented portion is not quite the perfect square. The torn feathery serrated edges are detectable on the sides.

In the infantile stage of anal eroticism within Freud’s wider theory of human sexuality, the child attaches symbolic meaning to faeces, something that is the equivalent of its own child or creation and which can be used (amongst other things) for narcissistic pleasure in play or to obtain love as a gift.

If Maloy exhibited real toilet paper (not photographs) it might be as if he wants us to inspect it – and perhaps show disappointment at the paucity of offering. Compared to his earlier photographic and video projects involving clay and butter, there are no sticky substances on show. Instead this work is impeccably tasteful in its fastidious presentation. The humour is that the brand is Home Brand, the cheapest such tissue available, and it is great for decor.

The show is also remarkable for the clarity and logic of its layout. Four walls used for four kinds of photograph: one piece of serrated paper within one image on the first; two variations of two pieces (joined and separated) on the second; three versions of three portions for the third; four versions of four for the last. It’s a well conceived installation which prods you into working out which possible permutations he has ignored.

Because intimate bodily functions are such an emotional and personal subject, any material or product associated with them is difficult to neutralise. Just because something is physically absent it doesn't mean it is forgotten. It is hard to ignore the paper's purpose and treat it as a beautiful substance recorded on film.

Maloy's methodology is akin to that of Marie Shannon and the composed images to those of John Nixon, Julian Dashper or Stephen Bambury. And his use of mid-tone grey in the background and framing links these objects to the sprinkler pipes on the ceiling and the charcoal fittings of the windows. Crockford’s gallery looks really sharp.

This installation is ingenious, entertaining, and rarefied visually. The above images don’t really capture the subtle warmth of the colour. Essential viewing.

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