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.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Cornelia Parker comes to Auckland

Cornelia Parker: No Man’s Land
Two Rooms
11 March - 10 April 2010

Cornelia Parker is highly regarded internationally for her ability to think up projects that unexpectedly startle, usually because of some process of violent transformation that alters a fairly commonplace object so it takes on unexpected shapes. She is also esteemed because of her ability to infuse it with a metaphor via that transmuting process.

This Two Rooms show has four varieties of work from this English artist that bring out these qualities well.

The first is two silver bugles hanging from the gallery ceiling. Once they were identical, now they are very different, for one is flattened and very thin, squashed by some kind of roller or press and arranged parallel to the floor. The other hangs vertically. They are enigmatic because the flat version is not a shadow of the rounded one. They are opposites in alignment as well as morphology.

There is humour because bugles are meant to awaken, to call troops to rise up out of bed and become active. The flattened one, as Monty Python would put it, is ‘extinct’, and ‘one ex-bugle’. Decidedly dead and unplayable, it exudes lifelessness.

The second variety uses rattlesnake venom and its antidote, the former mixed with black ink, the latter with white paint - to make five framed glassed-over paintings hanging on the wall, for with folded paper they end up as Rorschach-style mirrored blobs. The poison is folded and squeezed in the paper first - and then that paper is opened out to dry. Then globs of antidote are painted over the ink, squeezed together and reopened again.

With these ‘pelvic butterflies’ of thin black ink and thick white paint you get different tactile qualities. The deadly ink is runny and softly fluid while the healing squashed paint forms veins and capillaries that look like slices of hardened brain. They become fluttering insects emerging from an autopsy tray.

Magnum bullets provide the raw material for the third sort of image, their individual leads being extruded so that the mineral substance becomes like thin fuse wire. This metal thread is made into varieties of mesh with different sorts of overall shape and width of rectangle. The woven pieces of lead netting are like a snare for death, a lethal web for the unwary that is compacted and crushed in certain areas like a folded, twisted veil. Each of the eight expressive gauzes are crammed between two sheets of glass when framed, so that shadows create a second striking image behind them.

Most of Parker’s exhibition is taken up with three black-dyed tents of double–layered netting, pinioned to the floor with cords and bags filled with lead shot. Originally Red Cross tents used for disaster relief they have become malevolent traps with added camouflaging spirals made from recycled clothing. They are hopeless for providing shelter and would only entangle hapless nosey visitors. With these loose and sinister grids these freestanding constructions cleverly echo the ‘bullet net’ works on the walls and their shadows.

Parker here presents a beautifully hung and wittily selected show, each item having some quality of built-in menace. Hopefully we’ll see more such displays from her here again.

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