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.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Weird or 'weird'?

Christina Read: The Psychologist’s Bookshelf
26 August - 12 September 2009

At the beginning of a short discussion he has prepared to accompany this exhibition of installed sculpture by Christina Read, Matthew Crookes writes of Foucault’s Madness and Civilization and Will Self’s The Quantity Theory of Insanity, telling us a little bit about them as if these tomes could be connected to Read’s assorted collection of objects in the Newcall space. Apparently she thinks of her sculpture ‘weird’ and he calls them ‘grotesque’, yet in the context of her exhibition’s title they are as ordinary and as normal as you could possibly imagine. They are what you would expect them to be under such a heading. Especially being ‘art.’

That is the interesting thing about this display. The five vitrines bolted to the wall of toys and wee fetish objects; the three brightly coloured, freestanding, organic, papier mache sculptures; the board of hanging soft felt strips and offcuts; the assorted blob or tiddlywink-covered paintings on easels or music stands: they seem to coincidentally fit the research dealing with children’s play and the patterns of creating art – particularly as propounded by Anton Ehrenzweig when developing the Object-Relations theories of Donald Winnicott and Marion Milner – and their illustrious predecessor Melanie Klein. In particular they seem to connect with a manic-oceanic fusion, Ehrenzweig’s second stage dealing with the baby’s illusory oneness with its now separated mother where it feels can control the world. (See Nicola Glover’s very informative online treatise here on the British tradition of psychoanalytic aesthetics.)

All this might be deliberate: according to the Crookes essay she began with her interest in Pop psychology sceptical but became ‘absorbed’. Yet judging from the start of Crooke’s text, she does seem to be having a laugh at psychoanalysis’s expense (following the Foucauldian anti-psychiatry position) – trying desperately to be strange and revealing in all the clichés. This sculpture is cocklike, that one is like poo, here’s one that’s a tit, and oh there goes a womb. However as I’ve said, there is nothing remotely disturbing about any of it. Nothing ‘mad’ for example, though I’m not sure how you could ever accurately represent such a state.

Add to this Read’s psychologist bookshelves of fake, title-less publications, and scrolling electronic lists of self-help book titles, without bodies, and you end up with a sense of mockery, though her poppy colour sense brings a ‘happy’ ambience that perhaps is intended to be inane. It might be flippant but it is not vacant – there is a permeating (but oscillating) logic present, something that in the seriousness of most Newcall projects, contextually makes her work quite distinctive.

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