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, December 1, 2009

Evanescent Jenkinson

Megan Jenkinson: Second silence
Two Rooms
26 November - 22 December 2009

It does not seem so long ago (though in fact it is eighteen months) since Megan Jenkinson’s big show of photographs in the whole of Two Rooms. This exhibition extends some of the themes of that display – particularly the lenticular works.

Like that exhibition this one in the upstairs gallery is a bit fragmented, with three sorts of subject matter. One series is a continuation of Atmospheric Optics shown last time, a lenticular interpretation of the Aurora Australis over the Antarctica icescape using treated images of curtain fabric. I find it somewhat gross, too garish and too theatrical.

Similarly for The Spectral series, inspired by the colour theories of Goethe, depicting mystic books and ceremonial tea ware. For me, it is too much like being in a science museum, and seems gimmicky and tacky. Note that I personally have been wearing a hologram watch (of a rose) for the past 25 years, so in principle I like this sort of evanescent image. Of the three Spectral works the standout photograph is an image of a Moorish tea-set (with beautiful gold lettering in Arabic) on an inlaid wooden table. It flashes to dark-blue linear contours over a pale blue field when you move past it.

Jenkinson’s best works using this sort of technology are when she demonstrates restraint, and knocks back the impact of the colour. The Heavens Opened in this way are particularly effective, and although the titles of the four works reference certain Old Master paintings you don’t need that art historical baggage to enjoy them. The effect is akin to the odd experience of seeing distant sheet lightning in broad daylight, when the sun is still exposed and streaming through faraway (non–stormy) clouds.

These cloudscapes have a smoky brown / amber softness, with the delicate sheen of a coppery undercoat. The abrupt silvery change when you pass is more a tonal flash – like the Moorish cups – not a chordal chromatic blast as with The Atmospherics. The optical quality is much closer to pearlescence than say iridescence.

My view is that Jenkinson should stick to this kind of subtlety, using ‘earth’ and not ‘synthetic’ colours. The effect is not ‘in your face’, being more nuanced and closer to our everyday sensations outdoors when we detect light conditions changing quickly within a few seconds. It focusses on the pleasures of observation when contemplating the meteorological, when you are looking out the kitchen window.

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