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, November 11, 2009

Captain Oates comes to Rangipo

S J Ramir: Journeys
25 October - 14 November, 2009

Kiwiborn Melbourne-based video artist S J Ramir is presenting three short digital loops at ORex – using two plasma screens and one wall projection - and a row of eight framed 6 x 8 inch stills. Ramir is rapidly acquiring an international following. He works in the bleak landscape tradition developed by European filmmakers like Tarkovsky, Sokurov, Bergman and more recently Albert Serra, specialising in lonely figures of indeterminate gender slowly wandering in blizzardlike conditions through a hostile environment. Occasionally a silhouette of a building or quarry machinery looms up, or poles or other people. The mood is constant repetition, frustration and despair. Often filmed in the central North Island.

There is no music behind this emotionally intense but slow moving imagery. Only howling winds, some distant aircraft sounds, and muffled percussive thumping. The blurry colour is a dark greeny black with whispers of umber. The bleary distorted imagery is like that of very old film: constantly flickering, its contours undulating. Though solid, the barren ground ripples like the sea.

These grainy or misty films are clearly about mental states and connect with writers like Handke, Bernhard or Beckett in their sense of withdrawn psychic isolation. Yet they are not savagely excoriating. They deal in a plodding impedance of movement and are Romantic in the way this steadfast determination is accompanied by inner loneliness.

Distinguishing between the three films, The Passage has a solo figure struggled through a misty landscape, encountering the occasional shed. Departure is much more Pointillist, using clouds of tiny vertical bar bars that hover around the blobby figure like blowflies - higher in contrast and more abstract through the loss of middle tones (alluding also to those ghastly human silhouettes of atomised people found in Nagasaki), plus more shots of clouds and wind blowing through open fields. Our Voices Are Mute on the other hand has a line of eight meandering stragglers in a dusty haze, and the occasional little ghostly building glowing within looming dark hills.

This is a sensual atmospheric show, but not the overwhelming experience you'd get with say, Susan Norrie or Daniel Crooks, where the architecture of the space is seriously modified for their presentation. Two of the three Ramir moving images are small, and would be more effective if made more bodily immersive. Even the framed stills seem a little cramped, too much like domestic photos and not sufficiently like movie images. Nevertheless, it is exciting that Orexart has brought Ramir’s work to Auckland. It’s emotional and it's haunting, and it’s well worth a visit.

From top to bottom, the images are from The Passage (2009), Departure (2007), and Our Voices are Mute (2008).

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