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, July 17, 2009

Repression or indulgence?

Clara Chon: Repression Revisited
A Centre For Art
16 July - 1 August 2009

Let’s start by having me set the scene, for this is one of those ‘conceptual’ projects where the imagination is the main material. Chon’s ‘work’ consists of ‘sketches’ for a One Act play called Photoshop Layaz: an ongoing and partly fictitious play in many episodes, written by Tim Coster and Ash Kilmartin.

In the ACFA exhibiting space the props are strictly minimal. Only three.

On one wall there is an unfolded sheet of blank brown paper. A grid of nine sections demarcated by creases. On the floor is a bare foam mattress on a beat up divan frame with castors. It is in a pink cover that matches the pink underpainting around the entrance to the ACFA studio/office. And on the opposite wall is a pinned up painted canvas depicting the back of a head of strawberry blonde hair. No face, neck or shoulders. Could be a wig. Could be a fetishist’s fantasy.

More important than any of these is a transcript of the play on the window ledge that you can help yourself to. It's jumbled. Scenes are printed in random order, Scene Four is split between the action and the description of the set, as is another with no number at all that has two alternative stage directions. And there is no dialogue - only laughter.

The dozen characters (some of which are intact families, romantic couples, and groups within the audience) act out a ‘plot’ which as the title implies, focuses on innuendo, aided by the presence of course of the mattress. Most of them are easily identifiable Auckland artists – visual and sound, or art writers – interacting in various Auckland clubs, bars and restaurants.

What of Chon’s psychoanalytic title? It tells us that these aren’t in fact sketches at all, but the remnants of a play once completed - but now with the embarrassing meaty bits pushed into hiding, leaving only the acceptable shuffled bones of a skeleton. The content pertaining to the handful of props in the ACFA space has been collectively censored. Those meagre props were once part of a larger, more lavish stage production.

Or ignoring that possibility, what if a work could be developed beyond these putative ‘sketches’ - by mentally correcting the sequencing and putting in dialogue? I can’t imagine it being particularly interesting as an ‘unrepressed’ project. Would it be less insular and giggly, less an inhouse clique of pals - all twenty-somethings - absorbed only with themselves?

Not that older generations of artists would be any different. It’s the nature of so much art practice right now to be preoccupied with its own social matrix. Celebrating its own perpetuation. Occasionally also critiquing it.

It is possible Coster, Kilmartin and Chon have a satirical intention - that they are lampooning a certain art coterie, or the idea of repression itself. Hard to say; they could also be boasting. Whatever the case the short transcript is a visually attractive little document, and fun to think about – up to a point. It’s probably not worth an arduous hike up to ACFA solely to retrieve a copy, but if you are going to the Civic or to SKYCITY for a Festival movie, and happen to be passing, you can always drop in.

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