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, February 13, 2010

Witty group exhibition

'I try to help them give form to the many options available to them.'
Group show: James Deutsher (Au), Kel Glaister (Au), Simon Glaister (NZ), Michael Stevenson (NZ/Germany)
Curated by Daniel Munn
11 February - 20 February 2010

Last August Daniel Munn had an exhibition (performance and installation) at Newcall, accompanied by a film by Sean Grattan - and now he is doing something quite different, wearing the hat of a curator and presenting a four person exhibition in the small ACFA space on the second floor of the Elliott St Apartments.

The lovely title of this show declares his purpose: the role of co-ordinator to implement the artists’ intentions so they become manifest – though it is strange. The heading sheds no light on the different practices as such – more unabashedly showcasing the activities of the organiser. What is clear though from the work is that Munn has considerable talent as a curator. This is an excellent show of conceptual sculpture, work that is rich in poetic /semantic resonances that mentally engages the viewer long after they have visited ACFA.

The two Glaister artists (one Kiwi, the other Australian) apparently are not related. Kel is a master of understatement, one who provides the seed of an idea that gets under your skin and grows. Her two dice lying on a window sill have had their faces sanded so that the number dots have been removed. These tiny white plastic cubes are not perfect in their planar alignment, being slightly crooked with bent edges. They look a little like blocks of pool table chalk used for rubbing on cue tips.

With no numbers they speak of function being stripped and chance becoming paradoxically more embedded than ever. They are now ultra mysterious, super enigmatic – more open to circumstantial interpretation. The ‘vandalism’ has freed them from purpose.

Her other contribution, Sitting on a power sander, is a beautifully dressed, thick, pale plank lying on the floor with a circular indentation between its parallel edges. The soft dishlike hollow gives the narrow wooden sculpture – by virtue of its suggestive title – a sense of the intimate and bodily. It seems to reference rectal pleasures. Here the means of production, via a clever albeit vulgar heading, wittily encloses the form of the final object in an unexpectedly provocative, but nevertheless visually resolved, interpretation.

There are also two works by Simon Glaister. One is a densely worded grey poster in a stack, from which you can help yourself. You can read its text if you click on the middle image above. It is about paying the artist half the profit if you intend to sell it, but its wording is a little convoluted and clunky.

That textual struggle and clumsiness is even more evident in Glaister’s wall work, a set of loan agreements where he lends a hundred dollars to various borrowers, at 15 per cent yearly interest, to be paid back in five years. The time and place of each negotiation (often in public spaces) is scribbled in biro over the lefthand corner of each laserprinted contract, and each is signed by both parties with added blue fingerprints from the borrowers. There is also an extra contract cleverly offering Glaister’s services to any gallery visitor in urgent need of a hundred dollar bill.

Some of the garbled wording here is unintendedly funny, though Glaister might be satirising legalese, as in this description of the security needed as collateral: any materials, substances, and feelings with which the borrower associates their personal and specific notion of home not owned by any other party.

Despite their laborious wording, Glaister’s agreements look interesting on the ACFA wall with their embossed paper (entitled ‘Money For Nothing’), formal typeface and smudgy blue inks. The work holds your attention as you try to decipher it. You also wonder that as five years is a long time, he might find it harder to get his money back (and profits) than he realises. Perhaps the recipients really are getting money for nothing and that is Glaister’s point – and a source of the work’s fascination. That speculation.

Berlin-based New Zealander Michael Stevenson has another language work, accompanied by an image of a book cover. His text tells the story of a Spanish stone carver and hermit who lived on the coat of Galicia. Manfred (‘Man’) Gnädinger had his work, garden and dwelling destroyed in November 2002 by the catastrophic oil spill from the sunken tanker Prestige, and he apparently died of depression within weeks. A collection of books from his personal library called The Library of Man has been exhibited in Antwerp and Stevenson is obviously moved by the tragic story. The tale is not a fabrication like his fictitious video covers of the mid-nineties, but well known – and the point obviously is the vulnerability of all people to eco disasters, even artists living in isolation.

Melbourne artist James Deutsher has a humorous low-tech homage to famous Japanese designer Shiro Kuramata (1934 -1991), referencing a boxlike chair he made of laminated glass sheets. Deutsher’s sculpture is made of sheets of translucent corrugated plastic stuck to the sides of a low metal stool. Like Stevenson’s contribution, the work links to a particular person’s life story and resonates against the two Glaister artists, the ambiguous confusion of their relationship, and the personal and more speculative nature of their contributions. The exhibition thematically links up, with the ‘sander’ work connecting (via bottoms) to the chair and the dice connecting (via coincidence) to the oil disaster text. A clever, beautifully constructed show.

In descending order, the images are of artworks by Kel Glaister (2), Simon Glaister, Michael Stevenson and James Deutsher. Thanks for the installation shots, Daniel Munn.


Simon said...

readers: for anyone interested in deciding for themselves the intention, content, and quality of my contributions to daniel's show feel free to visit the following links: (re the contract piece) and (re the poster which is actually one of four).

john: in the future you may find your life as a critic considerably richer if you begin with the assumption that - in the absence of significant evidence to the contrary - what you see before you is neither random or accidental but the result of carefull deliberation on the part of the authored artist.

John Hurrell said...

This is a curated group exhibition, Simon. It is not the same thing as, for example, a solo show or larger group exhibition, for work is recontextualised within a new setting - and severed from the old. However whatever the case, I did not say or think your work was other than deliberate.

I was aware of the City Art Rooms link of course. So what is the point (courtesy of a set of four posters) that you think I've missed?