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, September 13, 2009

Between Culture and Nature

Stella Brennan: The Middle Landscape
7 September – 3 October 2009

This installation by Stella Brennan features three nylon tents - two of which have videos on large screens playing inside them - surrounded by layers of damp gardening bark. The work references an earlier polystrene ‘igloo’ she installed at RAMP a few years ago. The star though, despite the moving images, sound and sculptural form, is the sweet smell of the chipped bark mulch. Its moist vegetable aroma penetrates everywhere.

The tent with no screen has names ‘carved’ into its internal sides, monikers from different cultures, boys on one side, girls on the other. Could be a reference to Tracy Emin, could be segregated lists of hetero lovers, could be simply non-horny campers who wanted to snooze. Whatever the case, it is more the ragged mode of rendering cut-out letters, its mutilating modus operandi, that is the point. It is creepy and violent, as if the people recorded are victims of some monstrous crime, their names recorded by the perpetrator.

Brennan’s two videos are quite different in mood. One is a loop of an auger drilling into the ground, creating holes for long posts. It seems to refer to the encroaching intrusion of urbanisation into unprotected nature, with perhaps a sexual and violent metaphor thrown in.

The other is a more complicated film about our mediation of the natural world, and processes of cultural bricolage that are part of its indirect comprehension. It uses a carefully crafted written text like some of the films Brennan has shown at Two Rooms. Her installation seems to distract from the film’s multilayered structure which I think would work better presented in isolation.

While that work (and the whole show) leans towards conceptual complexity, the omnipresence of the crushed bark throughout the whole space fits in nicely with Brennan’s examination of our treatment of ‘nature’. It is a cleverly loaded trope (using nature to contain or destroy itself), one that is powerful with its pungent olfactory and tactile associations. It helps link up the tents physically and thematically; pull the initially disparate elements together, introduce an unexpected unity.


Simon said...

john: the names in the tent are those of the last remaining male and female kakapo... and yes, i imagine there is a possible emin reference.

John Hurrell said...

Thanks Simon. God, that is far too wholesome! There are lot of names there, but I guess if that means just those kakapo left on the planet, then the significance changes.

My idea of some multi-ethnic group grope is far more exciting, don't you think? All these heaving bodies crammed into this flimsy little nylon shelter.

To be serious, the way the birds' names are written is a puzzle. There is something disturbing about the method.It's negative in mood, not positive. A bad vibe.