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 15, 2009

Fashion/Art as Stalag Nuft Nord

Jacqueline Fraser: The Great Escape (in a Falsetto)
Michael Lett
11 July - 1 August 2009

It’s an unusual approach to exhibition titling to reference a sixties POW Escape film (artist as Steve McQueen?) while your voice is up a few octaves, but as I am often told by friends when my own voice gets a little squeaky, falsetto means you are lying. Your subconscious nervousness uncooperatively constricts your vocal chords.

Why would Fraser tell us she is lying? Let’s say she is a leg-puller. You enter the exhibition space through the layered, heavy brocaded curtains and you find yourself in a dark black box, but blinded by a searchlight from above the entrance to Lett’s office. The walls are painted black and on them are pinned up piecemeal collages. Most use figures taken from fashion and skin mags, plus family snaps, found ones, old images and new - some life size. Plus swathes of plastic, tulle, fur, and reflective shiny paper.

Yet it is all very hard to see. Not at all like the above images from Lett’s website. The gallery is dark and there is a second light near the first very dazzling one - a motorised spot that jerkily sweeps around the paper and fabric-laden walls. It zigzags rapidly so it is hard to focus on any one image. You only get glimpses. However it gives off a faint tangential peripheral light through the side of its lamp. When your eyes adjust, that moving ring helps you gradually take in some of the room’s details. Only some though. Most of the space stays murky - and within it peek out disconnected fragments, textural islands, dislocated tactile sensations - all spaced apart and isolated.

In her last show at Lett there were hints that Fraser was chafing at the hermeticism of the art world. The fashion world too. Feeling claustrophobic and glancing away from them towards the outdoors, the prosaic and the unglamorous. Yet the current installation is highly ambiguous. The Great Escape could be a gesture, one that is not about the artist at all but about the viewer. Perhaps it references the need for art to provide fantasy, a vortex to entice its audience in so they can never withdraw. This Michael Lett show could be a warning. What you think might be an escape could be a fib, a decoy - and might be a ruse, a set-up, a trap.

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