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, November 3, 2009

Cohesively brilliant

Wayne Youle: Token
Tim Melville
13 October - 7 November 2009

Wayne Youle now having his fourth solo show at Tim Melville’s. Highly regarded for his domestic-sized, inventive wall sculptures and images, he follows in the footsteps of Peter Robinson with an interest in post-colonial politics that is accompanied by a fierce scrutiny of bicultural assumptions. He likes to challenge both ‘Maori’ and ‘Pakeha’ givens, often using advanced industrial technology that is subcontracted - in a similar manner to some other artists, like say Eddie Clemens.

This seems a particularly focussed Youle exhibition , without the wider range of art forms and content-types he has often shown in the past. Here there are eight works: four are DNA sculptures made of snooker balls, two are of screenprinted paper bag ‘ethnicity’ masks – a photograph and a set of paper bags, one is a horizontal cross of large granite scrabble tokens, and the last is a postcard of a ‘Maori maiden’ evenly perforated with holes. Four sorts of image only.

With a suite of snooker ball sculptures for DNA molecular structures, Youle demonstrates his characteristic wit. In his proposed genetic ball and stick models for Maori and mongrel (‘pure’ and ‘impure’) genes, the Maori structures use only red, black and white spheres – the traditional Maori colour scheme. The humour has unexpected layerings with the snooker balls of the ‘mongrel’ gene incorporating European eyeball ‘iris’ hues and circular airplane decals. The Maori DNAs float like little balloons hovering above their shiny black granite plinths, whereas the Mongrel one has no impeding weight, and is fastened to the wall.

Another work, Token Maori is a horizontal cross of black granite scrabble tokens that look like tombstone markers, and seems a pithy comment on Maori literacy levels, scrabble being linked to higher education. The plane shape is perhaps an aside on social mobility. With the granite being linked to death and weight, for economic ‘flight’ tokenism is perhaps seen as counter-productive.

With the I am what you make me photograph of the artist wearing the two types of paper bag, with their screened-on labels of Maori and Pakeha, Youle is commenting on his own changing mind sets over the course of one day, vacillating between the two community positions, and also referring to the preconceptions of the people he encounters. Some Maori will consider him fair skinned and a Pakeha, while many Pakeha will view him as dark and Maori.

This interest in light and dark continues further in his use of a tourist postcard. It depicts a beautiful young Maori woman in traditional attire seated amongst specimens of native bush. Not only is she radiant (as a drawcard for tourists) but the postcard with its grid of circular perforations, is too. It is float-mounted in front of white backing so that reflected light from behind bounces through the holes, making the image ethereal and dazzling. Youle calls it Star Light – Star Bright.

Token is a shrewd, super tight, multi-layered exhibition that has lots of conceptual links between the different artworks and their materials - teasing out the connotations of light versus dark and light versus heavy, and applying these as metaphor to historical socio-economic circumstance. It’s admirable mix of vitality, cohesion and observant commentary make it one of the best shows on in Auckland.


andrew said...

....from my safe comfynimity.

Trite, polemical token gesture, unfettered by lack of skill and/or talent.

John Hurrell said...

You are not making sense. Would this work be fettered by skill or talent?

And if it is trite, who else has been making Maori DNA sculpture?

And if it has a token polemic, token of what?

You are writing gobbledegook.

s. said...

I like Wayne Youle's work. It's as if he is having the realisation dawn on him that he is on to something really, really good, but can't quite yet believe his luck. It's really fun to experience that with him.

John Hurrell said...

Youle, along with Maddie Leach, Lisa Reihana and Daniel Bern, is currently in Chicago for a joint -US show: 'Close Encounters' of 8 artists. It is curated by Bruce E. Philips (NZ) and Chuck Thurow (US) and will open on Sunday at the Hyde Park Art Centre.

andrew said...

Certainly this work is no prisoner to the ability of this artist.

To answer your question "who else is making sculpture about Maori DNA" literally, would be flirting with racism. You mentioned Peter Robinson.

Many Maori artists deal with their whakapapa in some way.

Political art tends to be trite and cliche.

Token of what? a token of visual art; not the real deal.

Artists engaging in a design process where they 'get' an idea and then job it out to a skilled artisan is becoming commonplace. I find this kind of work sterile and trapped; instantly anachronistic.