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.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Oi, hop it, skedaddle!

Kate Newby: Get off my garden
Sue Crockford
6 October - 31 October 2009

It has a clever title this exhibition: sounds like Newby is yelling at some stray dog that’s treading on her vegie patch. And so, apart from a set of six ceramics in the back office, all the works (in Crockford’s or in nearby carparks) are about the delineation of private space or the protection of property - as exemplified by walls or fences.

Plus there are formal links (through colour and plane) to Newby’s last Gambia Castle show – which though also referencing the public/private distinction, was nowhere as pristine as this one. For this Crockford presentation is stunningly austere. A big surprise in its minimalist ethos. Let me give you some detail.

The works that initially catch your eye are two added walls (a small one of concrete blocks, the other larger of plywood sheets) placed at diagonally opposite ends of the main exhibiting space to create narrow doorways. Running down the main white mdf wall by the window, directly below a beam in the ceiling, is also a column of single bricks, a vertical slightly wonky line, with the occasional droopy succulent hanging out of its mortar joins. There is nothing on the spacious, polished parquet floor.

Near the big window and beyond the concrete block wall in the smaller back room, Newby has placed a large, pollen yellow, woollen carpet. It is deliberately not tight-fitting, but sits on the floor casually with a couple of inches to spare on one side.

Within this exhibiting space, two photographs sit on opposite walls - on each side of the rug. One, with a young woman bent over a low concrete wall, could refer to the concrete block installation nearby. The other of the artist lying on the road, sprawled beside her fallen bike, has her prone shape repeated by a drawing in red wine spilled onto the carpet.

Outside the Endeans building Newby’s two public carpark works, horizontal ‘paintings’ of coloured concrete slabs or spread out mortar, are both quite close. They have various crystals, rocks and coloured stones set in, and are sited close to footpaths. The Customs St. East one, in the Wilson Parking Lot, can only be seen through the wire-netting fence it is butted up against, for it is placed on top of a high wall and so can only be examined from above.

The other carpark item, made of orange mortar, is placed at the bottom of a high wall – the side of a building – regularly used by taggers. In fact two such artists were busy with their project while I was looking at Newby’s piece – this being mid-afternoon Tuesday in Shortland St. - and had started underpainting with black enamel spray above her work.

So what does all this add up to, these two types of site, their properties showcased by her inclusion of three photographs taken on public streets, and Crockford’s very private venue in a building that has a surveillance camera above its admission-by-application door?

First of all, the ‘street’ works have quite a high chance of being damaged, though that factor (their potentially transitional nature) seems to worry the artist if her exhibition title is anything to go by. Impossible to steal and left alone for pedestrians to accidentally come upon, the 'gardens' probably will baffle as decorative objects. Crystals are after all an unorthodox ingredient. You usually only see them in science museums.

Secondly, in the Crockford gallery space, Newby loves to present ‘damaged goods’. One of the ceramic pieces (a ‘Patti Smith’ plate) is cracked in half, and the gorgeous carpet is ‘ruined’ by the ‘spilt’ wine. She likes to mix coincidence and calculation together so eventually they become indistinguishable. And in the public space, chance actions by other people seem to serve her purposes too.

Thirdly, with the walls there is an inventive playfulness in Newby’s choice of materials and her formal manipulation of them. The column of bricks turns out to be an unexpected third added wall with properties that dawn on you gradually, a horizontal wall attached to a vertical one, projecting out from it.

Lastly, due to the above context the woollen carpet takes on a new meaning, for it becomes a constraining metaphorical wall, a barrier of social decorum that the artist is indifferent to. The poured wine becomes bloodlike, the result of a seemingly ‘wounding’ act that in contaminating the sunshine yellow field, is privately conceived but public in its consequences. Though in fact a drawing, one that is incredibly careful in its meticulous carelessness, it is also defiantly existential as an action that is capable of shock.

This is a remarkably cohesive, multi-layered exhibition that provides many nuances to ponder over. Downtown carparks included. Don’t miss it.

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