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, August 30, 2009

The Power or Inefficacy of the Word

Instructional Works
RM (295 K’ Rd)
20 August – 5 September 2009

This is a Fluxus style show (its spirit of dictated sentences is like that of say the works within Yoko Ono’s anthology, Grapefruit) where artists living outside Auckland send in instructions for actions - be they thoughts, object building or bodily movement - to be carried out by other artists and their friends. Fifteen individuals have contributed works that are conceptual in the sense of being held in the mind of their creators, to be then transmitted by typewriter (or word processor) to paper. These are hopefully then internalised by an audience. The typed word is the material here, even though it could be argued it is merely serving as a conduit for pure thought (if there is such a thing).

Thus there is a dematerialised feel to the show. It is deliberately low in sensory or experiential impact, and not really successfully competing with the other art venues grouped around it on Karangahape Road – if compete is what RM wants to do; and it may not. However many of these works don’t need a gallery to exist. The RM website would be a far more effective means of communicating them than having cards pinned to a wall or stacked on a table.

For example, Ian-John Hutchinson’s work involves slips of paper bearing names of murdered journalists or political prisoners. He invites you to recite their names individually for thirty minutes as a form of mantra, and I assume to perhaps later dig out more information about them. Elaine Tin Nyo requests you describe your favourite food and where and when you last enjoyed it. Here we have a collecting of information as well as an exercise in contemplation of taste sensation and memory, and also perhaps an incentive for further research.

Some thoughts have great impact through the mental imagery they generate, or the physical objects that come out of their comprehension. Daniel du Bern’s newspaper carpet glued to the floor gives you a recap over last month’s news as you walk around the space looking around your feet. Markus Degerman has recreated some of RM’s oddly aligned walls as a beautiful freestanding sculpture of plasterboard, wood and paint, while Amit Charan’s project presents a torch powered with Wellington sunlight, with a set of replacement batteries being charged up by the window from Auckland solar conditions for when it is returned.

Perhaps the more a visitor participates in a show like this the more they will get out of it – though that might be a tired platitude. Good art still is dependent on the thinking skills of artists, not their audience - and somehow this project by a group of artists seems lacklustre. There are not many carrots in the artworks to tempt audience participation, to make them want to do more than nibble – to take a big bite and get involved. Nothing here is distinctly memorable, though the Degerman wall sculpture is really intriguing, and the Charan torch clever. Nothing that really stays in the mind, that is hauntingly special and important.

In descending order, the above images are of works by Susie Pratt, Ian-John Hutchinson, Elaine Tin Nyo, Daniel du Bern, Markus Degerman and Amit Charan (2). Photos by Lauren Winstone.


Daniel Munn said...

"Do It" Hans Ulrich Obrist's collection of instructional works

John Hurrell said...

Quite right Daniel. I spotted that after my review, when looking at the Newcall library contribution to the New Artists show at ARTSPACE. It's a Fluxus genre, that approach, isn't it? Might even go back to Dada or Surrealism, the primary of idea but typed out in the form of lucid instructions.

I wonder if the visual aesthetic can ever be erased, even in such a procedure? There is always a layout, a font, a nostalgic model of typewriter. Even an accent if the instructions are spoken.