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, October 11, 2009

Disturbing light

Roberta Thornley: Idle
Tim Melville Gallery
15 September – 10 October 2009

Roberta Thornley is a recent Elam photography graduate who has been attracting attention because of her skills in manipulating tonal and chromatic contrast. This is her second exhibition, and her eight medium sized photographs catch your eye because their distinctively glowing colour appears to be radiating from deep within the commonplace objects she uses as props - not reflected on their surfaces and originating from outside. The backgrounds are dark and murky so these ghostly but mundane items seem illuminated by their own internal electrical currents – like fish with light-emitting lures dwelling in the cavernous depths of the ocean.

This sense of light that is within makes her use of illumination very different from say Bill Henson and his spot-lighting of skin. She creates something almost supernatural, like Aberhart and Cauchi in its symmetrical composition. Like them her images have a suggestion of animism where inanimate objects acquire souls

Occasionally Thornley gets too close to the theatrical chroma of Brian Brake where a certain sweetness and ordinariness of hue creeps in. Her best work is without figures, narrative or melodrama, celebrating the artificial and non-human where ‘spirit’ now dwells. Judging from her earlier show it seems initially inspired by Boyd Webb’s surrealism and also X-Files.

These photos are rich in unexpected associations: a swimming pool turns into a horizontal neon rectangle hovering above the ground; two stacks of translucent chairs are like an incongruous couple, bending away from each other and about to topple over; partially inflated balloons that are clustered together in a group like fruit, seem to be wrinkled jellyfish or suspended testicles.

The best images are hauntingly simple in the way ordinary objects are transformed into something slightly spooky. Their beauty beguiles but also makes you a pinch nervous. Ominous but very understated.


artfromspace said...

I forget - is X-files a good thing or bad thing, or was it just the people that watch X-files?

John Hurrell said...

Well my point here was neither, just descriptive in that some of the portraits in the first show had a sort of strange intensity related to the faces of aliens (note: no deformities, just a subtle glow) in that programme.

However,I do happen to think the newer stuff is heaps better. But maybe it is still vaguely connected to X-Files nonetheless, even with the glowing objects.

HMS said...

And then there are the intonations to the 'pathology' of Yvonne Todd's subject matter say, and/or the brooding sense of dis-ease or malaise.

John Hurrell said...

Well yes, that's a good observation. Especially for the earlier portraits which also have an intense light, but which are less subtle in their pathology - more overtly 'dis-eased' than say Todd's imagery. They are very obviously 'malaised'.