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.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Malone lives

Daniel Malone: The English Teacher (exhibition)
The Dead Class
(performance - 17 July)
Gambia Castle
18 July - 8 August 2009

Daniel Malone’s performance on Friday evening began with him being dressed in a worker's cloth cap (under which his hair was tucked into a stocking), with shirt, waist-coat, jeans, and shoes - and his face in pale stage make-up. There were six main props: an apple placed on a portable table near the window opposite the entrance to the room; a black, hard–covered photocopy of a Polish translation of Beckett’s Malone Dies on a white shelf; a hexagonal mirror on the opposite wall; and on the floor scattered posters positioned under a solitary light-bulb suspended on a long lead. The audience stood or sat close to the walls.

Standing behind the desk the artist addressed his audience as if he was gong to give a language teaching lesson, and pass around a book to be read aloud. However instead he began to talk of his interaction with the artist Billy Apple, by whose name he was officially known in Poland - as he has a New Zealand passport legally stating that name as his identity.

Elucidating further, Malone spoke of Apple’s contributions to the lighting of the TestStrip space (the same room as Gambia Castle) when it was first established, and then mentioned me by name, mentioning briefly our later conversations when he legally changed his name to Billy Apple. This was as an artwork contributing to the (Sharp and Shiny) fetishism exhibition I curated for the Govett-Brewster in 1997. He then spoke of a performance he did at the Polytechnic in New Plymouth that had similarities with the current work we were then witnessing.

The artist spoke concisely and with purpose, showing his considerable experience as a teacher, yet often interrupting his flow with retractions such as ‘that wasn’t what I meant to say, I should have said ...’ The overall content was a bit like a tentative ongoing newsletter to family and friends, like what some people send out yearly with Christmas cards. He began by telling us about his life in Poland where he now works and lives as ‘Billy Apple.’

Malone’s gallery invitation for this performance contained four informative sentences (reproduced below) that elaborated on four types of object in the gallery space: exhibition posters illustrated with death notices, a Polish translation of Beckett, a coffin shaped mirror, a single light bulb.

A klepsydra is a kind of death notice, a standard format published in Polish newspapers and pasted around appropriate sites - like the apartment building, local church, and workplace - of the deceased.

Malone Umiera is a Warsaw City Library copy of a book written in French by Samuel Beckett in 1951, translated by him into English and published as Malone Dies in 1956.

Portret Trumienny are portraits dating from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of the 17th and 18th centuries that were hexagonal in shape and placed on the head-end of a coffin during elaborate funerals of the time which also included actors playing the part of the deceased and extravagant constructions known as castrum doloris (castles of grief).

The Dead Class, 1975, is the best known play by Tadeusz Kantor, one of Poland’s most esteemed neo-avant-garde artists and most internationally celebrated dramaturge. Malone explained that Kantor’s plays are often illuminated by a single light bulb.

Malone then told us he was happily in love and about to return to Poland in his original ‘Daniel Malone’ identity to marry a Polish woman. This ultimately explained his long sequence of actions in the performance, starting with his moving the table so it was positioned under the coffin-cross-sectioned mirror, taking off his clothes and lying on it for a few minutes in a ‘shroud’ of exhibition ‘death’ posters he had scooped up from the floor.

After getting up and redressing, the artist then discussed the publication Malone Dies, how in Beckett’s play Malone does not in fact expire, and how he (D. M.) borrowed and photocopied the Polish translation using his ‘Apple’ identity.

Using the single light bulb, Malone then moved around the audience with the mirror, showing them the presence of three documents hidden behind the reflective glass - but detectable if illuminated at the right angle. They were his ‘Billy Apple’ library card with photo, a written application to take the book out on loan and out of the country, and an application for photocopying it.

There was a clever layering of parallel tropes in all this, between original and copy, between the two ‘Billy Apples’, between one 'Malone' identity dying and another being born, between Malone’s reflected talking face disappearing and his photographed ‘Apple’ ID variation appearing in the evanescent glass.

To underscore these aspects he removed all superfluous ‘residue’ from The Dead Class performance site – like apple, bulb, bed and posters - leaving just mirror and book to make up The English Teacher exhibition. Other crucial information was still apparent embedded contextually, such as the death notice of the invitation, and Kantor’s play (‘reflecting’ Beckett’s) having its name in Malone’s performance title.

Malone’s skill is to make a series of casually interconnected actions seem ad hoc, almost accidental. It is only when you start analysing his procedures by letting the resulting austere exhibition serve as a memory guide, that the various conceptual strata and cleverly placed, linking poetic threads become apparent.


Daniel Munn said...

Thanks very much John for covering this exhibition; it left me with several questions which I will attempt to answer by adding a few details to your account.

Using a single light bulb, Malone then moved around the audience with the mirror, showing them the presence of three documents hidden behind the reflective glass, "You can see yourselves as well... I thought of that."

As you describe, Malone's exhibit and performance incorporated "cleverly placed, linking poetic threads," and "interconnected actions [which seemed] ad hoc, almost accidental." The constellation of sculptural pieces also included, before the performance, a silken black cloth hung in the form of graduation gown (or reaper’s cloak) over the mirror. The objects, which no doubt play a part in Malone settling in to his new place of residence and teaching position in Poland, set the scene at Gambia Castle. Through his performance he then supplements this setting with elements from other relevant times and places, (Teststrip, the Govett Brewster, etc) which you list. By incorporating these supplements he places the room of the exhibition seamlessly into a larger story. Malone’s process of constructing the exhibit borrows a quality prevalent in social networking (and also tourism and education) in which engagement dictates the direction and nature of the outcome.

Another way in which the performance supplements the exhibition is in identifying accidental elements, unforeseen gaps between Malone's intention and the resulting exhibition. His attempt to bring a copy of the book Malone Umiera to New Zealand which was unsuccessful and lead him to photocopy it. His plans, due to the fact that his Polish teaching visa is expiring, to start a new company and to marry; both of which may offer him a way to stay in Poland. Perhaps also his choice of a small New Zealand Braeburn apple to feature on the teacher’s desk; not one of the luxury grade apples which Billy Apple plans to sell in Dubai, nor a large, shiny Pacific Rose. Like the areas where his white face makeup had rubbed off (or had not been applied) these elements appear to be areas where Malone’s fiction comes head to head with real necessity, failure, and opportunity.

Edward Hanfling recently wrote (in Art New Zealand Winter 2009) of Philip Trusttum's work, "The exhibition had none of his recent paintings of toy trucks, which are undoubtedly too big for the gallery, but even those works, gorgeous though they are, are broken up into smaller, awkwardly abutted segments. Would it not be magnificent to see a simple portrayal, with no trifling interruptions, of a big, dumb truck-a vast, unalloyed sheet of Trusttum colour?" Similarly I think one should ask, could The English Teacher and its accompanying performance be refined, and towards what essence? As Malone’s domain is one of engagement, one way in which it could expand is with unexpected partners, sold out in a new country.

John Hurrell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Hurrell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel Munn said...

Hi John, it seems only my first name appears, sorry for the confusion

Daniel Munn

John Hurrell said...

My God,I certainly got that wrong. Apologies to the two Daniels for any embarassment I might have caused.