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.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Negotiating institutional space

Infinite Leave to Remain: Richard Frater, Patrick Lundberg, Susie Thomas
St. Paul St Gallery - foyer and outer streetfront window
21 January - 12 February 2010

In this unusually located exhibition utilising ‘dead’ viewing space around and about (and not properly within) St. Paul St Gallery, three artists cleverly explore the theme of control of visual material, the space itself, and ideational ownership. With the huge Gallery One empty, they use its street frontage as a saluting ‘tip of the hat’ to the Window gallery at the Auckland University library, a couple of blocks downtown.

Thomas’s two lightboxes in the foyer next to Gallery Two are legally binding licensing agreements between herself and the institution exhibiting the work, where the material under discussion is the genetic information (DNA data) in two strands of her hair. The contract is elucidated in detail with graphs at the top of the two glowing squares. These drawn images are not identical, and the sequencing of the upper letter groupings also varies, as does the spacing below of the horizontal measuring digits. The work seems a comment on image ownership, deliberately paralleling copyright stipulations where the artist/creator (Licensor) has control of the reproduced image, not the owner or exhibiter (Licensee).

In the window of Gallery One Richard Frater has a creased, unfolded, white sheet pinned by its top corners to the back wall of the shallow space. In front of it he also has a life-size greyish blue photograph of another sheet printed onto a third sheet, attached by magnets to the front glass. The two hanging rectangles sag in their middles, causing baggy wrinkles at their bottom edges that catch the natural light bouncing in off the street. The imposed photographed sheet seen through the thick glass looks wet and sticky, with trapped v-shaped air bubbles bulging under the thin cotton. Inevitably the tonally dramatic front image tends to obscure the much subtler, more delicate piece of fabric behind it that almost dissolves in the reflected glare.

Patrick Lundberg has a pencil drawing on the back wall, presenting eight lead lines (replicable on tracing paper) that look like part of some dotted or continuous cursive script. These slightly ornate (slightly Celtic) glyphs can be interpreted in a number of ways. They can be indexical references to planar borders within the space. On occasion they can be vectors pointing at some quality nearby for directional emphasis. They also can be staked-out declarations that occupy parts of the space, like flags, graffiti or pegs – saying ‘Lundberg was here.’ They even interact with Frater’s loose white sheet, mimicking its lower edge, or going behind the fabric so the line becomes hidden.

This is a shrewd show because the three artists have more in common than you might suppose. The negotiation stated by Thomas is also alluded to in the front window by the two others using that space. Just as her lightboxes have a conversation together as well as with the institution, there is an amusing dialogue between the works of Frater and Lundberg about control of the narrow site and its dominant versus submissive options. This is highlighted by the need for viewer accessibility through the gallery interior as a supplementary countering alternative to only peering through the front glass.

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