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 slippery slopes of political meaning

Peter Robinson - SOLD OUT: works from the 1990s
Gow Langsford
19 August - 12 September 2009

It should be obvious to all that re-examining Peter Robinson’s work from a decade ago brings benefits because of (and not in spite of) the many changes within his practice since. This exhibition of a small group of secondary sales can’t be seen in isolation from much later work like say that at Jar still publicly visible from a footpath in Morningside. Gow Langsford here allow us to speculate why via the Venice Biennial route of quantum physics, Robinson moved towards a more formalist, more material-oriented and experiential practice that is much less language-based - far from the double-edged, post-postcolonial critique of national (or, as in the case of much of this show, global) land sales shown here.

Some might consider Robinson to have ‘sold out’ with his ‘white’ polystyrene chain installations, yet there are connections to his future projects even in this show. Looking at this earlier work from an artist who has made works with swastikas and texts like ‘Pakeha have rights too’ and ‘Boy, am I scarred?’ it provides a semantic filter through which we can observe the ‘Pakeha’ chains ‘unbound’.

We can see the outrageously provocative layering of using black, red and white as both Maori and Nazi colours as part of his critique of commercial avarice to convey maximum uncertainty and personal ambivalence. We can ponder over the drawing in a NFS paintings of a ‘Ratana’ plane that (like a 4 in a ‘For Sale’ sign) could almost be a swastika. Such loaded ambiguities (another is an inverted Italy above a pound symbol) have similarities with the less confrontational blue duck/rabbit forms of his ARTSPACE ACK show, and the solid white polystyrene oval form at Jar, and its sister the linear chain link, that reference IO, the Maori Supreme Being.

The large crate ‘world’ with its empty centre leads to the quantum voids of Venice; the geographic leap from Aotearoa to Germany to later sequences of chains, their different sizes - and Robinson’s rapid shift from local to national to international to cosmic. Part of this is the flipping backwards and forwards between northern and southern hemispheres, the upside down and the upright, the high black and low white interest.

Gow Langsford’s website (and hand-out) provides an excellent interpretative commentary on the five works being resold here. A great opportunity to see these immensely metaphorical works once more.

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