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, January 5, 2010

Zoological hide and seek

Rachel Walters: Spoor
Te Tuhi
12 December 2009 - 31 January 2010

It’s in the Project Space that is separate from the main suite of Te Tuhi galleries (closer to the café) that Rachel Walters has a very entertaining installation, one featuring her interest in ceramics and kitsch. Neither of these subjects I find particularly enthralling but with Walters, her essential characteristics are humour and inventiveness. Lots of artists make exhibitions out of found objects resulting in lots of artists being boringly predictable. This show though has an exhilarating freshness. Its static wooden and china objects keep providing surprises.

Most of the chinaware is of animals – cats, elephants and monkeys – and sometimes thin floppy sheets of Super Sculpey are draped over their heads and baked, so they look like ghosts. So entitled Spoor becomes Spook, a telltale track becomes paranormal. Spirit ancestors blend with talismans and totems.

The show has a consistent logic where larger objects are placed over other smaller ones, often making them enigmatic (in the style of Man Ray wrappings) particularly with the obscuring of animal features. Apart from ceramic ‘skins’ being added, a slatted fruit box is put over a speckled grey ceramic elephant, and a decorative rug showing a ferocious tiger covered with black finger and handprints, is tossed over a large wooden screen. Within Te Tuhi’s white space these paired elements are positioned with deliciously perfect precision. Everything is very carefully considered within the three dimensions of the room.

Walters is expert at playing with morphological ambiguities, so that forms can be read in a variety of ways. Two balanced pots leaning on each other (each with two handles that now become legs) look like an advancing pug. A vertical staring monkey/human form with a pot belly becomes a white skittle. A spiky mushroom transmutes into two Parisian cats under an umbrella. Though the totemic images might be seen as tribal and anthropological in reference, the mood is more that of a fifties cartoon with its appealing flippancy and snappy perceptual double-takes.

This is one of those clever exhibitions where the viewer is not bombarded with material but given a carefully organised, pared back selection rich in interpretative possibilities. It should have audiences returning for repeated viewings.

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