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, October 15, 2009

Go on, take a nibble...

Dan Arps: Shallow Relief
Gambia Castle
I October - 17 October 2009

Dan Arps is a sculptor and installation artist well known within this country’s art community, a regular exhibitor here and in Australia whose name often polarises regular gallery goers: not for any objectionable personal defects but simply because his shows agitate audiences. They often get furiously indignant.

This exhibition is probably no different, though it does seem a little repetitive. It is very similar to his last Gambia show, with its corner of pinned up web-page threads, a sculpture with glowing ‘lightning’ ball, a recorded you-tube video - and one re-exhibited polystyrene-and-cardboard sandwich board. This time though there appears to be less going on.

Yet what we find here is still classic Arps. The space is occupied with what appears to be abandoned detritus. There is a pervading sense of delirium, all sorts of peculiar things thrown around, most being fake ready-mades that look like rubbish. Amongst it we can discern some shapeless sculptures made from various mixed up resins, putties, fillers and paints, so that their baked bases look like lumpy mounds of burnt poo, and paintings (or bookcases) smeared with flecks of what seems to be stringy snot. Plus the occasional film prop on the floor - like a chopped up, severed hand - or a sculpture shown last time in the same space. Calculated to provoke.

Although a sculptor, Arps is really in his aesthetic a descendent of painter Cy Twombly. Like a mad scientist in a laboratory using his formula of calculated perversity (always do the opposite of the norm), he seeks out inventive ways of devising marks or substance juxtapositions that are deliberately puzzling or ugly. This is in order to spring them onto a world that will not only eventually embrace them for their novel method of manufacture, but also admire them for their radical beauty. They don’t stay repulsive or confusing for long.

Interspersed within this shambolic array of ‘repellent’ sculptures and paintings are scrawled, partially legible texts and images that comment on various addictions or consumerist obsessions. These range from cars to drugs to computer chat rooms. They all provide the ‘shallow relief’ of the title. Various repeated symbols abound. The prism is one, through a videoed magic trick of a hollow, glass pyramid where a pretty girl materialises, or through symbols for wealth or the occult, or negative versions in split flags of a demonic dragon. A wiggling worm on a hook is another. Predators like ferocious wolves are one more.

If you put these two aspects together – the strange and nutty methods of using materials and the critique of addictive consumerist compulsions – then you get a prism's unity that comes with a chromatic split. In it Arps seems to laughing at the artworld and its desire for novelty. He plays this little game that attracts an audience that can’t help itself (for it likes to be shocked), but his propensity for ‘inventiveness’ is just another worm on the hook.

Or is there another parallel dimension, maybe the reverse? Is notoriety and attention itself the bait, and he himself the sucker who craves it?

There is one scribbled text here that declares the words ‘Dirty Sandwich’. Does this refer to the re-exhibited sandwich board? Or is it about what Arps is offering his gallery visitor, something edible but dangerous - something harmful that will only satisfy briefly before the desire for more returns? Or is it you and me (the artist’s audience) who is offering it to him, and he is chewing off the corner?

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