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

Language matters

Two Rooms
11 September - 10 October 2009

Six artists from Australia and New Zealand present a varied language-fixated show in the large downstairs Two Rooms space, demonstrating a wide range of approaches and materials for text manipulation.

Anne Noble’s photograph of her daughter’s Ruby’s imaginative spell for attaining invisible flight are a big surprise and a good laugh: a recipe that could almost come out of Macbeth, carefully written out in pencil in a school notebook. The work looks a little like a Marie Shannon, but less sweet and longer, written on several open pages. As a document it seems authentically private as a genuine fantasy, not constructed to be documented.

The two white neon works from Mary-Louise Browne are gorgeous looking with their snappily elegant letter shapes, and clever references to Alexander Pope (just nine short words make up one long line) or popular parlance (three short words), but their self referentiality makes them cling to the media of Kosuth and the syntactical structures of Weiner. Browne’s method of technical presentation here is unwisely derivative, the sixties conceptualist art historical connotations blocking off access to her genuinely witty content.Perhaps she should have left the original Pope quote (and ten low words oft creep in one dull line) intact?

Rose Nolan’s wall paintings (like those recently seen at Te Tuhi) are a lot better than her two free-hanging Hessian banners shown here, dense with oval perforations through which you apply the language. Their mangy reverse sides make you wish they were on a wall, and the declared sentiments of Less Is More or (the opposite) Less Is Over Rated are hardly earth-shattering - despite the humour of the 'subtracting' holes. Nolan is not in form with these clumsy red and white hangings that double as conceptual filters.

Nolan is Australian, as is Mikala Dwyer who presents a long, blue, river-like carpet that spills down the wall and across the floor. It features phrases in coloured felt letters naming parts of the moon, features discovered by Giovanni Batista Riccoli in the seventeenth century. This list has a poetical flavour not necessarily accentuated by the rolled-out carpet format. Dwyer is famous for her formidable powers of invention with ‘non-art’ materials but here her contribution seems decidedly ordinary.

The exhibition’s highlights are three drawings by English artist Fiona Banner, framed drawings of (or studies for) larger wall texts. They come from Banner intially describing the actions of a stripper she hired so she could verbally describe her. Earlier she had also treated a sexually explicit movie as a source for ‘life model’ descriptions. Her studio writing - made in live peformances - is in short staccato-like phrases, bursts of disconnected factually described body parts, strung out in a ribbon of pencilled language. A bit like Robbe-Grillet in its clinical precision.

One Banner drawing has the written planes make up a corner, the others are frontal spatially - one like a tall heap (an allusion to Smithson?), the other a low rectangle laid over another painted over, much fainter, written oblong. The text is printed, not cursive, and quite scratchy and raw.

Denis O’Connor presents a series of slate Chinese inkwells bearing relief-carved images based on literary texts that he loves. These small paperback-sized, framed annotations are visual footnotes that for him are quite small, and simpler than usual. The intimacy works, drawing you in close, plus there is an added sensual bonus of muted, wax-coated colour which has an extraordinary softness.

Banner and O’Connor are worlds apart, but they (and Noble) make this group exhibition a good visit.

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