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.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The International Arts Festival at The New Dowse: Bill Viola

Bill Viola: The Messenger
The New Dowse
20 February – 4 July 2010

Floating deep within the choppy blue water we can see what looks like the deathly white corpse of a drowned man. Its sunken form is fragmented by the agitated surface of the wind-raked water as it divides up, its separated parts tenuously linked by wobbly ropes of pale fluid flesh. Slowly it seems to elongate and rise up, but then it stabilises, and hesitates - only to gradually descend once more.

Then the stationary jelly-like form has a change of mind: it ascends to the surface, only to reveal a naked man very much alive. We hear him gasping for breath – but not at all stressed - as he bobs up and down in the rippling azure sea, filling his lungs with oxygen. Then with a thin line of bubbles pouring out of one nostril, he gradually descends once more - to hover as a small amoeboid blob about fifteen feet down. The process continues four times before it starts repeating the original cycle once more.

We see this film on a single screen in a very dark room with two benches. The screen is tall and the seats not close – while the image itself is ambiguous, mostly appearing to be belly up, but other times face down and headless. This disturbing confusion between life and death is accentuated by the refracted dappled light which makes a healthy-looking body look bleached of blood and anaemic when submerged.

The lack of panic on the filmed man’s face references a near drowning experience Viola once had as a boy, where he was close to death but obliviously peaceful and serene. A quick-witted uncle fished him out, saving his life.

The Messenger thus oscillates in its mood, for more than calm, the actor has a hint of a twinkle in his eye, yet the tone of his pale submerged body is stridently alarming. There is something oddly subversive about this hypnotically beguiling 1996 work that denies the permanence of death: a mocking mysticism that seems to espouse the concept of reincarnation but which in its very realistic symbolism, I personally find very creepy indeed.

Mark Amery tells us about Jeremy Diggle’s current show at the NZ Film Archive

Jeremy Diggle: Narvik's Complaint,
NZ Film Archive, Wellington
26 February until 1 April 2010

One of the sadder characteristics of film-based contemporary art has been its lack of attention often to the dramaturgy of storytelling, and the viewing structure provided for its reading in the physical gallery space. It's been noteworthy that the strongest exhibitions of video art in Wellington for me in recent years (rather than single works) have been from '70s pioneers in this field. Darcy Lange at Adam Art Gallery, and Phil Dadson, Gray Nicol and now recent British immigrant Jeremy Diggle at the Film Archive. These are artists who seem to understand their work has to be articulated within a space as a whole readable construct. Not just whacked into a DVD player playing into a monitor on a plinth, or on the floor. Art students would do well to spend more time examining presentation and structure - the actual mechanics of introducing something to a viewer - and less on writing that seeks to explain the work's theoretical underpinning.

This is the great strength of Jeremy Diggle's installation Narvik's Complaint. Structurally it's as fascinating in its complexion as a strong painting, drawing you into an engaged exploration through text and image with self portraiture disturbed by shifting space and time. Head of the School of Fine Arts at Massey (and previously briefly at ELAM), while Diggle's practice extends over thirty years this is I believe his first New Zealand exhibition.

Diggle has a particular interest in viewing mechanisms. I wrote the following for a feature on him for magazine Massey Research last year (available in full online at the 'profile' page of, which provides as good an introduction to his work as I could rewrite:

"An image capture of Diggle’s art practice and research areas at any one time suggests a rich and fractured - nay eccentric - content, reflective of Diggle’s interest in experimenting with visual language in order to create complex narratives. The hypertext structure of the online world suits him well; his adventurous, inquisitive mind ensures his world is one under perpetual reconstruction.

"From reenacting the Apollo 11 moonwalk to studying the painting techniques of Vermeer, Diggle’s work as an artist and researcher defies easy classification. “I suppose I’m deeply anarchic,” he comments to me at one point. Yet on consideration there are very strong threads through both his art and research work. Diggle’s international reputation rests with being at the vanguard of using new technologies, from video in the 1970s to holography and multimedia. Ultimately however he says he is most interested in how we tell stories or construct narratives."

Narvik's Complaint contains a blog component and there's a youtube clip of its central altar-like video work. But an understanding of the work's full dynamics really only comes from visiting the gallery.

Taking the principles of the Large Hadron Collider as its base, it explores what would happen if your 2010 self could engage in internal conversation - in a kind of collision through memory - with your younger self. In blog and exhibition Diggle sets up a conversation through an often baffling collage of text and photographic fragments between himself now and himself in London as a young artist in the mid 1970s.

The Large Hadron Collider lies in a 27 kilometer long tunnel beneath the French and Swiss border. It is the world's largest high energy particle accelerator, with thousands of magnets being used to collide protons at phenomenal speed to try and answer unsolved fundamental questions of physics in terms of the structure of space and time. Shut down several times since it began a few years ago it resumed operation just this month. Perversely, Diggle has stopped and restarted his project to realign with this. Narvik's Complaint is essentially about the impossibility of being in two different places at once - what scientists are trying to achieve with the LHC.

Entering the gallery you are greeted by a computer monitor flashing you back in time somewhere between Diggle's then and now. On screen is a facial icon make out of a floppy disc drive slit for a mouth and two monitor screens for shades (Diggle breaks reverence with humour at regular intervals). The artist's dim reflection can be seen in the screens, resembling some raptured inventor, and ghost in the machine. Below the face a textual interchange is going on, typed out character by character in a range of idiosyncratic fonts, colours and caps (a kind of theatrical duologue). Like a cut-up hypertext collage of quips, quotes, notes, asides and journal entires across time it makes no clear linear sense. Shuffling forwards and backwards in time, it's reminiscent of some '70s-'80s sci-fi film prediction of future communication.

From here you move towards the central work on the back wall along a corridor of four groups of five small portrait shaped screens - suggesting a shifting of time, the collider tunnel, the panel presentation of narrative scenes in a church, and an airplane's passenger windows. This sense of physical travel is echoed by the occasional use of images of the sky flying above the cloudline within the frames.

These digital photo frames shuffle as slideshow overlaid images and text. The core images are a 360 degree recording of Diggle's present living space, featuring numerous props and mementoes, such as a model of a house and an arm. These speak symbolically to his glimpsed past. Overlaid as screens are details and sections of images from the 1970s. Spread over twenty shifting screens Diggle sifts through layers that express a sense of inbetweenness ("halfway between tomorrow and yesterday" reads one text), dissolving together sheets of memory.

The central moving image work (the youtube clip) at first appears to be an abstract diagrammatic representation of the dimensional shifts of the Large Hadron Collider, through slowly shunting Mondrian-like vertical and horizontal lines. It's like some odd Rorschach test machine squeezing fluid, fleshy muscular masses. On closer observation however it shows the artist's mouth in slow motion throwing up coffee and spit, the fluid transferring from his mouth on one side of the graph through the air and back into his mouth on the other. The work rather neatly visually represents the movement and interaction of the corporeal and mechanical with physics that Diggle is exploring.

The text read on entering the exhibition is also used in the blog, and overlays the other images in the show. Yet from this I find it impossible to weave any kind of textual structure or narrative together. This is the work's weakness, yet isn't exactly surprising given Narvik's Complaint is about working towards impossibilities and the inevitable failing of communication across time. There's something of the adventurous and humourist spirit of our own Len Lye in this. The Film Archive blurb for Narvik's Complaint speaks in Hollywood film synopsis language of a compelling narrative Diggle can never deliver on: "the artist travels through time and space to warn his 1976 self against potentially perilous life choices - but will young Jeremy listen? And should he?"

Diggle's work is the antithesis of such straight-as-an-arrow storytelling. The work is principally an exploration of how far you can push the mechanics of storytelling over space and time rather than an exercise in good storytelling. And while some may feel with this work they're being dragged back into postmodernism's self-referential layering, it should be noted much self-portraiture of the last century have shattered clear narration and representational depiction in favor of existential fragmentation.

What is universal and ultimately moving about Narvik's Complaint is its expression of how in our heads our past and present are in a state of constant collision. How, as we move forward we are also constantly looking back through a shattered prism of memories and scrappy recollections. We are as trapped by our past as we are empowered by it.

Images courtesy of the artist.

Bringing It All Back Home: Part Two

Francis Upritchard: Save Yourself
New Zealand at the 2009 Venice Biennale
Te Papa Tongarewa
26 February - 15 August 2010

Francis Upritchard’s Te Papa version of Venice’s Save Yourself accentuates a mindset extremely different from that provided by the Judy Millar installation. Her presentation celebrates inwardness, contemplating the interiority of The Self whilst fixating on acquiring an awareness of the parameters of the body. Her self-absorbed figures - with their slow solitary dance routines - explore tactility, various haptic sensations from the tips of various appendages (penises, metacarpals and metatarsals) and the covering surfaces of skin itself.

One sage lies on his back masturbating, others tap their palms with forefingers, explore the sensations of velvet cushions with their toes, blow across the narrow openings of vases, or gently move their limbs through the air, testing proprioceptive awareness of arm and leg placement and balance. Round shouldered, pot bellied and bow legged, the eyes of these unglamorous but perhaps wise introverts seem unseeing, except for one seated monk in sunglasses studying a palm held close to his eye.

Inner worlds, solipsistic mental states that caress the felt outside edges of each sentient creature’s living carcass, dominate. Even Upritchard’s silently balancing individuals, with decorative patterns painted delicately on their skin, seem unmotivated by the desire to appear attractive. Instead there is a need to activate the epidermal layer as neural sensation – the pleasure of cutaneous body surface, and the weight of thin fabric on the nape of the neck and the head and shoulders. Ornamentation here is paradoxically driven by reasons anti-social. For the dancer’s private delight only.

The interest in surface seems to be a metaphor also for an epistemological search, the desire for a reliable foundation for knowledge - not only for each person’s own grappling with experience but also all existence. The beautifully veneered, long wooden tables on which Upritchard’s figures stand seem to be a calculated trope for the world of material substance that sustains them both mentally and physically.

One figure, by itself on the last of the three tables, even mimics the painted branches of a truncated tree-trunk near which it stands, suggesting a family connection. This is the only occasion where one of these inner-body fixated, solo dancers acknowledges a presence beyond itself - an odd, amusing exception.

This is the best, most focussed Upritchard show I’ve seen, one that works better than the Venetian version with its inclusion of a Christ figure, many mirrors and a distracting 'Given' painted ceiling. Its inward ‘mental’ space is a perfect contrast to Millar’s architectural domination. To have these two very different artists together side by side is a better combination than I – for one – ever could have imagined.

Bringing It All Back Home: Part One

Judy Millar: Giraffe - Bottle - Gun
New Zealand at the 2009 Venice Biennale
Te Papa Tongarewa
26 February – 15 August 2010

Most people in New Zealand’s art world snort when you mention the galleries of Te Papa, namely the long skinny corridor on Level Five that has ended up partially replacing the many varied spaces of the old National Gallery. How odd then that for this show, involving the bringing home of the two exhibitions representing this country last year in Venice, that that same narrow space looks apt, even superior, to the original Italian venues.

Even though the ceiling is tilted, the projects have been placed in – what best can be described as - modernist ‘shoe boxes’, long rectangular rooms: divided into three with an artist at each end and in the middle, an account of the history of Aotearoa New Zealand exhibitions in Venice.

Te Papa’s austere white spaces, with their direct straight planes and ‘clean’ lines, are completely devoid of baroque ornamentation, undulating surface, religious ambience and competing Italian artists. They are much much simpler than the Venetian interiors. And it works beautifully.

In their psychological impact on the viewer the two shows are direct opposites. Therefore, instead of making point-by-point comparisons, I'll discuss Upritchard's contribution in Part Two.

Millar’s Giraffe - Bottle - Gun is overwhelming in its scale. It doesn’t aggressively and confusingly compete with the architectural interior of the venue as it did in Venice, forcing the viewer to move close to the outer walls, but is focussed instead on Millar’s huge sculptural objects that are covered with photographically enlarged, dramatic paint marks. These undermine the solidity of the forms’ surfaces. The massive baroque-inflected arabesque lines have on occasion dissolving edges, a quality you don’t get with paint but do with enlarged photocopies.

This display draws out Millar’s debt to Richard Serra, especially the huge central cylinder that curls within itself and is raised up and gently tilted to one side. Its curved surfaces dominate the room, and provide an intriguing foil for the leaning and overlapping rectangular and trapezoid forms, and of course the various ‘giraffes’, ‘bottles’ and ‘guns’ – the unusual right-angled shape Millar has invented with its distinctive concave, inner edge.

There is a strong sense of the sublime here, for the puny size of the viewer is accentuated. It is extroverted work that sucks the visitor’s attention away from themselves and out into the flame or water-like parallel lines, layered clusters of specks and exploding angular scrapes dwelling on the stretched skin surfaces.

What is impressive is the stunning physicality of Millar’s presentation. It shows what a great idea her use of digitally enlarged paint marks has turned out to be when mixed with architectural intervention. However her inclusion of four conventional ‘subtractive’ paintings on paper, and framed under glass, is a backward step. They are admittedly gorgeous but ruin the effect of the bigger digital components, and should have been omitted. They don’t fit in at all well into the space.

It is extremely rare to have an installation as immersive as this in Te Papa, one that is also optically painterly and bodily sculptural. It is not perfect – the four works on paper prevent that – but it is easily the most significant achievement of Millar’s career so far.

The above images are not in situ but made from preparatory models.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hi readers. I'm going down to Wellington for three days, to look at a bunch of things. Back shortly.

History seeking reconnoitres and sorties

William Hsu and Nick Spratt: A lot or a little might be said but in the end there will be something to pass on
4 February - 20 February 2010

This is one of those projects which eschews displayed objects on a gallery wall or floor in favour of verbally transmitted information discovered through fastidious research. It showcases historical narratives that revolve around the communities located near to the Newton gallery site and uses social occasions to generate conversation that might be added to the growing pool of knowledge.

To this end Hsu and Spratt organised series of events, each of which involved a retelling of some aspect of the Newcall site’s local history.

The first was a picnic that replaced an orthodox gallery opening, held in a small triangular park, Glenside Reserve South, very close to the gallery. The park is a site most Aucklanders would be unaware of. It is surrounded on two sides by two high-rise apartment blocks. Spratt and Hsu sent out a letter to the residents asking them to come down and share sandwiches, and to place a pot plant in the centre of their private, but easily seen, balconies. Some of the recipients were indeed sufficiently intrigued by the strange missive to put out a plant and join in the soirée. Photographs of that picnic can be seen above.

The next event was a dinner held in the nearby St. David church hall for Newcall artists and friends, where Spratt and Hsu elaborated on their research, briefed some of the Newcall artists on their explanations to visitors to the empty gallery during the show, and where food prepared by various Basque cooking societies was served.

The connection to the latter activity became more apparent in the third event, a cycle tour that left another nearby park, Basque Road Reserve, and – looking at garden sites - moved along a cycle track besides the North Western Motorway, through Kingsland and out towards Mount Albert. Basque Park was famous for its Community Garden, an activity that became an inspiration for other smaller horticultural activities in the greater Auckland region.

Event number 4 was another picnic, on the top of the car park built on the corner of Khyber Pass Road and Burleigh Street. Apparently one community group used to meet monthly at Glenside Reserve South, park their cars here and bring doughnuts – so doughnuts and ginger beer were delicacies provided for the dozen guests (like myself) who turned up. Hsu and Spratt spoke at length of the social contributions made by the different church communities in the locality, such as St. David, St. Benedict’s, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the City Mission.

Apparently there is one more event planned in this series, even though the gallery is now about to have a new exhibition installed. The space has served its purpose, as a kind of hub from which investigative sorties can emerge.

This sort of project, with its keen interest in local history, is related to other performances I’ve attended - like those by Louise Menzies, or Raised by Wolves – that have been also driven by historical research. It’s a genre that here has a relational component added where it is less a lecture and more a bit of a friendly chat over food. It was a lecture but without the distance between performers and audience. An informal talk within a group rather than at it.

Myself, I’m not that big on history, except if I happen to be hooked by a film or novel some friend has pressed upon me. I’m not big on food preparation either, but if an artist like William offers me a crunchy sugar-coated doughnut and there's some lemon juice I can taste that reminds me, say, of my father’s pancakes, then there is a bodily experience I can remember, and - as a comparative newcomer to Auckland who lives in neighbouring Kingsland - also an opportunity to grasp some of the design and historical context of buildings and landscaping I walk past nearly every day.

Paula Booker assails yours truly

for some 'ugly claims' I made about Raised by Wolves

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Jodie Dalgleish has some observations about the new hang at the DPAG

Beloved: works from the Collection of Dunedin Public Art Gallery
12 December 2009 - 30 October 2011

The Dunedin Public Art Gallery is presenting Beloved, a major exhibition of key historic and contemporary works from its permanent collection and a more fully comprehensive book of the same name. Occupying almost all of the galleries on the ground floor, the exhibition, which is preceded by Christchurch Art Gallery’s Brought to Light: A New View of the Collection, extends a European and American history of radical permanent collection ‘rehangs’. Such a history began at least at the beginning of the millennium with MoMA and the Musée d’Orsay – a history which Karsten Schubert, writer of a history of the ‘museum concept’, has associated with a social and curatorial appetite for novelty.

As clearly stated by the gallery in their introductory exhibition label, Beloved sets out to be ‘contemporary’ in its presentation. As also explained, it highlights a ‘cross-section of works’, according to a ‘series of themes’ and aesthetic choices, on the background of a ‘vibrant set of colours’. Behind decal covered glass doors, a lively red semi-circular gallery collects a small and eclectic group that play on the title. This leads down a few stairs to a large blue gallery dedicated to ‘New Sensations’ and centered on Reuben Paterson’s fan-blown and shimmering bill-board sized work When the Sun Rises and the Shadows Flee (2005). It also leads to a ramp that initiates the theme of ‘Spiritualised’ art works. Around these are galleries dedicated to ‘Sense and Sensibility’ (a bright raspberry pink), ‘Far away so close’ (a pastoral green), ‘Glory Box’ (a vivid yellow), and ‘Proud Flesh’ (a dramatic black). The presentation tends towards over the top, or, as stated by the gallery, it is ‘opulent in its treatment’.

While radical in its approach, Beloved does not set out to shed new light on art history or challenge the assumptions and values of the canon. It is essentially a thematic, rather than historic presentation of key works. Exhibitions such as this have attracted criticism over the last decade or so, for, as stated by Schubert, they take a work out of its cultural and historic context and potentially put it into an interpretive vacuum in which it becomes impossible to gauge the artist’s original intentions. This seems a relevant, but harsh, criticism. Despite its sometimes baffling curatorial connections, Beloved succeeds in drawing attention to each work in an unashamedly visceral way. It highlights the almost hedonist pleasure of seeing iconic works in reality, up close.

Because of its ability to highlight individual works, the experience of the exhibition is likely to be personal. In my case it was in the gallery of ‘New Sensations’ that a group comprising Monet’s La Debacle (1880), Gretchen Albrecht’s Cardinal (1981) and Matthew Smith’s Mixed Roses in Two Jugs (c.1935) made an impression. At first, I stood staring, stumped by the unlikely collection of Monet’s Impressionism, Albrecht’s contemporary staining and her ‘hemisphere’ that echoes her interest in ecclesiastical renaissance painting and architecture, and Smith’s fauvist still life. Then I enjoyed seeing each of the three so starkly. I was taken with the wonderfully free and rich colour of Smith’s painting, especially his use of red and blue - noticeable alongside the same colours made uncompromising by Albrecht. Unexpectedly, given that Cardinal is one of my most beloved works, it was my experience of the Smith that I enjoyed most. More disappointing is the placement of another favourite, Milan Mrkusich’s Construction On Red (1982), with Jeffrey Harris’ Family (1981) and Arthur Boyds’ paint-laden Nebuchadnezzar Running in the Rain. The reasons I could not grasp.

One of the most intriguing themes is that of ‘Proud Flesh’, a celebration of the human body in its many incarnations. Set off by the blackness of the gallery space, a frieze of Christine Webster’s Black Carnival (1993) and Frank Brangwyn’s recently restored Unloading the Catch (1916-17) plays with the idea of flesh-as-spectacle: Webster’s erotic yet somehow-familiar characters and Brangwyn’s display of shirtless men muscling baskets of fish. Such an unexpected and even wicked pairing calls to mind a particularly fitting word – ‘ballsy’. Tony Fomison’s Mug Shot (1971), which I have always associated with his ability to grant those ‘outside’ of society with a kind of mythopoeic grandeur, also relates well to this theme while Fiona Pardington’s Choker (1993) with its troubling yet delicate depiction of necklace-like marks on a woman’s throat is highlighted – as is Heather Straka’s Repeat After Me…Amanda No 4 (2008), a welcome newcomer.

‘Sense and Sensibility’ is interesting for the way it engages historic and contemporary portraits of men and women in a kind of power play. It also includes furniture that might have graced the drawing rooms of certain subjects. Particularly striking is the way in which Thomas Gainsborough’s large portrait of Charlotte, Countess Talbot (c.1784) faces off Robin White’s Sam Hunt at the Portobello Pub (1978). Also a nice touch, Julia Morison’s Fair and Gay goes Lent Away (2005), with its Rococo sensibility and delicate layering of textures, appears above an eighteenth century (but not Rococo) sideboard and knife stand, notable for their luster, delicacy of design, and inlay. As well as highlighting the texture and design of Morison’s work, the furniture also succeeds in highlighting the sumptuous fabric and frills of the dandelion-blowing beauty of Charles Edward Perugini’s He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not. Amongst a group of works by men, including William Orpen in Après le Bain (1929) and Henry La Thangue in Self Portrait (1890), Yvonne Todd’s large colour photograph Founding CEO (2008) makes a jarring comment on what might be a ‘typical’ male subject.

The ‘Far Away so Close’ gallery is more straightforward in the way it depicts nature and the city. Perhaps most notable is Petrus van der Velden’s recently restored A Waterfall in the Otira Gorge (1891) which, appearing in the centre of this gallery’s main wall, is given a long line of sight from the gallery of ‘New Sensations’ and through that of ‘Sense and Sensibility’. It is clearly an icon of New Zealand art. Also recently and expertly restored, Jan van Goyen’s Beach Scene is freed from layers of yellowed varnish. Its thinly painted cloudy sky had to be significantly and painstakingly reconstructed, and it now glows in a landscape with various dark figures going about their work. Other works highlighted by this theme include Andre Derain’s Un Paysage (c. 1930-40), Stanley Spencer’s Melville Garden Village near Belfast (1951), Lucien Pissaro’s Le Moulin de Poulfenc à Riec (1910) and Laurence Lowry’s Lancashire Industrial Scene (1928).

Perhaps the most comprehensible part of the exhibition is the ‘spiritualised’ section where The Bosom of Abraham, the kowhai-covered neon lightboxes by Michael Parekowhai seem to lead inevitably to Colin McCahon’s The Five Wounds of Christ (1977-78). Around the latter are clustered treasures such as Jacopo Del Casentino’s Two Wings from A Triptych (c. 1340-50) – the oldest painting in the Dunedin Public Art Gallery’s collection - Zanobi Machiavelli’s Madonna and Child (1452-53), The Nativity by Pieter Fransz de Grebber (1600-1652) and Madonna and Child Enthroned by Garofalo (1481–1559). Yet as an overarching concept or metaphor for the entire exhibition, the most fitting is probably the small gallery identified as a ‘Glory Box’. In this room objects are ‘gathered together to attract and intrigue viewers’, assembled for their ‘aesthetic appeal’ across time and stylistic periods. Here shine some of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery’s finest watercolours, works by Rita Angus, William Matthew Hodgkins, Frances Hodgkins and Paul Signac, as well as prints by Rembrandt, Titian, Dϋrer, and Della Bella.

Everybody should try and see Beloved to encounter works that have long established the Dunedin Public Art Gallery’s collection as one of the most important in the country. After doing so, they can decide whether or not the exhibition pushes the boundaries of the rehang too far - and then post their thoughts on this site.

Images in descending order.
1.) A woman in the pink ‘sense and sensibility’ gallery in front of Lionel Bawden’s Untitled 2003. Coloured Staedtler pencils, epoxy resin and linseed oil. Collection Dunedin Public Art Gallery.
2.) Jan van Goyen, Beach Scene. Oil on panel. Collection Dunedin Public Art Gallery
3.) A woman and a man in the ‘new sensations’ gallery in front of Reuben Paterson’s When the Sun Rises and the Shadows Flee 2005. Acrylic, shimmer discs on board, industrial fan and nine pairs of electroplated shoes
4.) Frank Brangwyn, Unloading the Catch: Fish Porters with Baskets of Fish 1916-1917. Oil on canvas. Collection Dunedin Public Art Gallery
5.) A man sitting in the green ‘far away so close’ gallery in front of Petrus van der Velden’s A Waterfall in the Otira Gorge 1891. Oil on canvas. Collection Dunedin Public Art Gallery

Monday, February 22, 2010

Stephen Cleland has put together a new show for Te Tuhi. Here is a review from

Kate Brettkelly-Chalmers. (I've some thoughts of my own I hope to post next week.)

Unpacking My Library: Dan Arps, Xin Cheng, Bill Culbert, The Estate of L. Budd, Peter Madden, Daniel Malone, Elizabeth McAlpine, Neil Pardington, Ann Shelton.
Curated by Stephen Cleland.
Te Tuhi Centre for the Arts
13 February – 11 April, 2010

There’s something quite amusing about staging an exhibition that looks at collecting during the height of Auckland’s humid summer. Anyone who has watched a treasured artwork or book expand and warp with moisture during these months understands the difficulties of preserving a collection here. Nevertheless, the latest group show at Te Tuhi Centre for the Arts Unpacking My Library brings together artists who contemplate the trials and pleasures of collecting; of keeping objects and ephemera that one can’t quite let go of.

The stage for this exhibition is duly set with Neil Pardington’s large-scale photographs of museum storage rooms and equipment. Much like nocturnal creatures, artworks and museum objects have another, somewhat unseen life away from exhibition spaces and studios. Pardington documents this air-conditioned world of careful packaging and specialised storage devices, looking at the storerooms of collections held by New Zealand institutions including Te Papa Tongarewa and the Hocken Library. A ‘behind the scenes’ look is always fascinating, especially when the means of collecting become just as curios as the collection itself, but the themes of this exhibition gain greater traction in other artist’s work.

The entire Estate of L. Budd, deceased member of the et al. collective, is stored in one gallery and reminds us that the packaged life of an artwork often outlasts that of the artist who created it. The coils of bureaucracy are relished in this gallery-turned-storage-room where viewers might peer through tediously detailed (and probably meticulous) catalogue records and carefully crated artworks. The white paint of several of the Estate’s ‘blonded’ objects, presumably dating from the 1990s when L. Budd was said to be active, can be seen through their bubble-wrap enclosures.

Not surprisingly, the relationship between the et al. collective and the Estate of L. Budd is not articulated. Rather than aiding clarity, the Estate’s bureaucratic mechanisms — its intimidating sheafs of records and methods of categorisation — seem to perpetuate an ongoing ambiguity. It is the very promise of perpetuity that is at stake here. Not only does an art practice gain an ongoing presence in a carefully preserved collection, so does its means of organisation. The prescient and troubling character of L. Budd’s Estate lies where its systems step away from their formative functions and start to take on lives of their own.

These concerns are nicely echoed in Daniel Malone’s wall work in Te Tuhi’s largest gallery, Black Market Next to My Name: From Warsaw, From Memory. It acts as a postscript listing all the items the artist can remember including in his fantastic show at Gambia Castle in 2007. This pseudo-catalogue, a graffiti scripted list covering the breadth of one wall, is pretty tame compared to the chaotic undertaking of Malone’s 2007 work which saw him install a massive collection of possessions in Gambia Castle’s five rooms. Individual objects on the list seem banal, but in their collected grouping cigarette packets, plastic bags, records or knitted jumpers became fascinating; a documentation of a life of unfettered accumulation.

Rumour has it that some of the objects appearing in Malone’s 2007 show didn’t even belong to the artist (it’s understandable: who doesn’t have a book or beach towel belonging to someone else at their house?). It does, however, provide problems for institutional cataloguers who need to record and account for every part of an artwork. The acquisition of Black Market Next to My Name in its entirety by the Chartwell Trust/Auckland Art Gallery adds another intriguing layer to this work; an amplification of its absurd qualities.

Unpacking My Library is a show that allows these and many other perceptive connections to be made between artists’ work. Nevertheless, within the terms of the curatorial theme, the most interesting work for me was Dan Arps’ installation of found and remodelled objects. Arps showed a collection of small sculptures carefully presented on and around defunct pieces of furniture. Originating somewhere between an office and a bedroom this collection of shelves, chairs and other fixtures retain layers of dust and other signs of disuse.

Arps’ precise placement of individual pieces gives a prop-like appearance to this installation: a stagey minimalism of found objects. But props for what? These sculptures, both forlorn and comical, imply a personal narrative but evade a clear-cut story. I immediately recognised a set of drawers from my childhood covered in scuffed and torn Garbage Pail Kids stickers from the 1980s (they were a bad-taste parody of the saccharine Cabbage Patch Kids dolls). Arps’ work invokes a kind of nostalgia that is heavily laced with abjection—a grimy element that undermines any sense of sentimentality.

Unpacking My Library operates at a similarly nostalgic distance. Aside from the marvel of Ann Shelton’s digital documentation of the Fredrick Butler Archive, most of the works in this show have a distinctly analogue character. It feels all the more distant given the presence of digitised archives and collections in our daily lives. Years worth of email correspondence, blogs publically cataloguing their subjects’ daily movements and masses of snapshot photos available through social networking sites like Facebook offer an instantaneous form of collection and archival preservation. Instead of this continual murmur of information and images, curator Stephen Cleland creates a highly considered, quiet and controlled environment. The usually bustling gallery has windows shaded, doors closed and the sticky Pacific air brought to a temperate level. It is as though Te Tuhi, a non-collecting gallery, has temporarily tried on the shoes of a stately institution offering viewers a dry and studious relief from the humidity outside.

The images, in descending order, show works by Pardington (2), The Estate of L. Budd, Malone, Arps, Shelton, Culbert, and McAlpine (on the lefthand wall).

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Here is a review of a 'sound related' exhibition at The Physics Room by Andrea Bell in Christchurch

Marco Fusinato, Bruce Russell & Adam Willetts: Towards a Cinema of Pure Means
Curated by Bruce Russell
The Physics Room, Christchurch
27 January – 28 February 2010

Bruce Russell will be known to many as a member of internationally renowned noise band Dead C, and A Handful of Dust, as well as head of labels Xpressway and Corpus Hermeticum. He is also a practicing visual artist and regular music writer. The release of a collection of his writings Left-handed blows: writing on sound, 1993–2009 through Clouds Publishing was loosely coincided with this exhibition.

Melbourne based Marco Fusinato is also an internationally renowned art/noise practitioner, and more recently known as a curator of experimental music through his involvement in shows such as 21:100:100 One Hundred Sound Works by One Hundred Artists from the 21st Century last year at Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne.

Adam Willetts too, has exhibited nationally and internationally, and performs regularly in Christchurch. He has been experimenting with hi-tech and DIY electronics since the late 90s.

In the exhibition’s accompanying essay, curator Bruce Russell was careful to point out that this was “not a ‘sound art show’” but rather an “assemblage of cultural production related to sound.” Russell was also careful to delineate the arbitrary distinctions we make between different artistic media, and between sound and music. Those that came expecting to hear sound art pieces may have been disappointed. Rather than presenting the kind of work that the three artists are best known for, the show largely figured of works that emerge around these practices.

The exhibition spanned both of The Physics Room’s galleries. Russell’s two video works were, in the foyer: A report on the construction of situations (1957) of single-instrument improvisations staged in a shop window; and in the screening gallery: Runway, a PowerPoint presentation of Russell’s photos set to a Dead C score - which easily sustained audiences. On the far wall of the main gallery, Russell installed a range of album covers and sleeve work relating to his, and other Xpressway and Corpus Hermeticum releases. Next to this a tape player mounted to a plinth played a loop of loose tape-ribbon.

Alongside these, Fusinato’s Mass Black Implosion (for Anestis Logotheits) consisted of a series of five works on paper in the form of framed ink drawings on musical scores. A homage to Greek composer Anestis Logotheits, these sound pictures complimented Russell’s design work and situated them within a wider genealogy of avant garde composers. However, given Fusinato’s reputation as a leading experimental musician, they were a little underwhelming.

Willetts’ contribution, 34 Day Solo for Solarbotic Guitar consisted of a miniature solar powered robot, inside a clear plastic globe, atop saucer, balanced precariously on the strings of an amplified Dan Electro guitar. Every movement led to an amplified vibration that reverberated throughout the gallery; a playful (and highly technical) work.

Overall Towards a Cinema of Pure Means succeeded as a document of the creative practices of some of New Zealand and Australia’s leading experimental musicians. Yet I couldn’t help but feel it compromised the very media it stood to represent, displaying on the one hand - a survey of Christchurch based sound art, and on the other - a visual art exhibition by sound artists.

Images from top to bottom:

Installation panorama. Image courtesy of the artists and The Physics Room. Photo: Mark Gore.

Russell...a wager on the passing of time... 2009, (and two details) mixed media installation of mass produced sound artefacts and tape loop. Image courtesy of the artist and The Physics Room. Photo: Mark Gore.

Marco Fusinato Mass Black Implosion (Agglomeration, Anestis Logothetis) 2007, ink on archival facsimile of score. Image courtesy of the artist, Hamish McKay Gallery and The Physics Room. Photo: Mark Gore.

Adam Willetts 34 Day Solo for Solarbotic Guitar 2010, mixed media. Image courtesy of the artist and The Physics Room. Photo: Mark Gore.