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.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Shin exhibition

Jeena Shin: Fractus
Two Rooms
16 October - 14 November 2009

Upstairs in the narrower and smaller of the two Two Rooms galleries, Jeena Shin presents a long thin painting extending horizontally along the main wall. At first glance black, it really consists of variations of dark grey, a ribbon of folding and unravelling tangrams - made up of differently toned triangles - that skirts the edges of a skinny poised oblong that could be an elegant hovering beam, a recessed slot, or an ebony rectangular sash – even a silken belt.

The tumbling pyramids within it are small on the far left, rapidly increasing in size (while becoming flatter) towards the middle and then decreasing a little over to the right. The spatial properties of these crisply delineated geometric forms are designed to flicker and twist, yet they also depend very much on the changing hourly light, darkening and deepening as the day progresses.

Despite the elegance of the narrow composition that overall is perfectly positioned on the long wall, the fact that Shin has used five hardboard panels creates a problem, for they should align perfectly butted together - but they don’t (though it is hard to tell from the above photograph). The edges aren’t flush. This makes you wish she had painted it directly onto the wall as in the recent Adam show, or currently in the ARTSPACE stairwell. It would look sensational: a long black strip embedded into the Two Rooms architecture.

There are two dilemmas here: Firstly the panels are not perfectly identical in measurement. It is not as if they are and have been hung poorly. It is the height discrepancy in one which though small, in this kind of pristine practice is a serious disaster. Secondly, maybe panels with a palpable thickness are the wrong option. Perhaps Shin should have painted on metal sheets that hardly project out from the surface of the wall at all. Or as I’ve said, worked on the wall directly. The gallery can still sell such a project adapted for other walls and other sites, if salability is an issue.

Yet for all that, this flawed work is still worth seeing. For this artist, Fractus 2009 is unusual because of the range of shape sizes within its unravelling concertina strip, and the way the dark negative shapes on its upper and lower edges interact with similarly angular ones in the centre. Plus there are also unexpected surprises in the detail, such as series of spikey star-shapes on the left-hand side, and a flattening of less solid forms on the right. Oddly the coal coloured, crystalline forms get localised within the stratalike horizontal structure, as if some sort of bizarrely twisting, geological process is slowly at work. A lot to think about.


artfromspace said...

Aside from the minor irritant of a mis-matched panel, I particularly enjoyed the fact that Shin produced this mural-type work on canvas, rather than the usual approach of putting murals for public gallery on the wall and more saleable dealer works on canvas. Arriving at the gallery, it was a pleasant surprise to find a large object to comtemplate. And the canvas causes this object to sit on the wall in an interesting way that I think gives it extra zing.

Perhaps due to the immaculate proportions in relation to the room, or the black-white dynamic, as you say, it sits ambiguously as if to hover over or recede into the wall. There is a nice touch here where Shin has confused the edge by painting just a little over the lip, rather than masking off the entire side to leave it white or trying to conceal it by painting it out, both of which can exagerate rather than eliminate the tension between painting as surface and painting as object. Shin's softening of the edge causes the work to float, giving it a strange relationship to the wall, as does the varying scale of the triangular forms you have observed, which add a sense of depth and perspective, bringing a curious sense of illusionistic space into her work, which I haven't noticed so much before. Dividing the work into five panels simply establishes futher tension between the painterly or real space and adds further dynamics. A successful experiment, I would say.


artfromspace said...

Actually, having just been back to view the work in daylight, I should note the work is on board, not canvas. So it seems the board is painted black with a backing frame painted white. Same effect though.

John Hurrell said...

Andrew you are far too generous, especially when you claim that having five panels 'simply establishes futher tension between the painterly or real space and adds further dynamics.' That's laughable. Would you say the same for seven or ten panels? No, obviously it should be one panel or not at all. That is, directly on the wall.

Shin has often painted on panels before, at Two Rooms and at Roger Williams, and as single pamel works those were successful.The sort of space she is dealing with clearly functions only if it remains unbroken.

Unknown said...

I tend to disagree with that after viewing the work for an hour or more, while photographing it in situ the other day.
It occurred to me that one reason the painting operates so beautifully in that usually very difficult room, is precisely because of the interval created in the work by the use of separate panels.
And more specifically, to my eye the proportion of the panels is close to that of the skylights, of which if I am not mistaken - there are five.

John Hurrell said...

Thanks Jennifer, that's valuable information. Good to know.

HMS said...

Perhaps the thing that I enjoyed most about this exhibition was the confidence of having a one-work show. As already noted the proportions of the work in respect of the architectural space that it occupies are clearly well thought out, mapped out and articulated by the artist.

This confidence I speculate is partly derived from producing a concerted body of wall drawings over the past few years (Prospect at City Gallery Wellington and Te Tuhi also deserve a mention here.) So the wall drawings inform this new work, rather than compete with it.

Given the emphasis on surface preparation that is often implicit in Shin's works, I think that the percieved 'imperfection' in surface is actually a point of reassurance. In the effort to make everything 'perfect', these elements that are not-entirely smoothed-out-of-existence become generative, as demonstrated at the very least by the comments that it has attracted.

This exhibtion for these two reasons demonstrates as artist in stride.

John Hurrell said...

I'm not convinced. I think her directly-on-the-wall works are much superior. The proportions of the black bar were fantastic in terms of the Two Rooms wall,I agree, though I'm not persuaded by Jennifer's idea that the sky-light played any role in the design or numbering of the unfortunate panels.

Personally I think your claim that her 'imperfection' provides a 'point of reassurance' and that Jeena is 'in her stride' is just nonsensical. You are arguing that unintended technical disasters improve an artwork. Phawr!

Good to have this work still being thought about - and argued over.

HMS said...

Jeena Shin has long history of painting on board, for instance the square-format folding paper works that date back to "The Fold" at Ivan Anthony Gallery 1999.

It is simlistic to argue that the wall drawings are superior, it ignores the interlinking between the different media that is central to Shin's working methods. It ignores the process by which an idea can shift and mutate from one medium to the next: from collaged and painted paper, to painting, to wall drawing and back again.

It seems to me that the thrust of Shin's current work is towards fractel geometry - a form of maths that has a foundation in chaos theory.

Thus my observation about a *perceived* 'imperfection' being generative is not unfounded. Nor is the observation about the relationship between media being mutable, rather than competitive.

Regardless, my challenge is really, "Where and when did the expectation arise that Shin's works *should* be 'perfect'?"

John Hurrell said...

A gaspingly superb reply HMS. Really interesting. And I agree for the small internal imperfections between the 5 panels (and within them) but not the mismatches on the outer edge, the contour of the bar shape. They are too distracting against the white wall.

The thickness of the panels worries me too, because despite all the perpetuated process you mention, that aspect seems arbitary. That is why direct application of paint to wall is better - there is no thickness of support to intellectually justify.