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.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Kate Brettkelly-Chalmers looks at last week's Week of Goodness

Living Room 2010: A Week of Goodness
Various outdoor sites in Auckland's CBD
9 - 17 April 2010

Public art can be a tricky enterprise. Buoyed by the noble premise of engaging the masses, it can succumb to the pitfalls of pernicious advertising, forcing an unsuspecting public to see stuff that they might not want to. Art in civic spaces boasts a medley of different audiences each with their own motives and opinions when it comes to what we see in our daily commuter walks or sit-in-the-sun lunch breaks. Which is why the Auckland City Council’s Living Room project, an annual weeklong series of performative events that is now in its fifth year, should not be greeted with the kind of apathy or indifference it often engenders.

A Week of Goodness is the title of this year’s Living Room series, curated for the second time by the Council’s public art manager Pontus Kyander. Citing the Surrealist Max Ernst’s 1934 series of collaged books, Une Semaine de Bonte, this programme of performances and film screenings is said to explore notions of ‘giving and kindness’ in civic squares around the central city.

This altruistic theme relates somewhat tenuously to Ernst’s strange and intriguing collages—surreal fantasy scenes the artist constructed from clippings of pulp novel and encyclopedia illustrations. It is also difficult to see a purposeful correlation between these ideas and the Living Room performances themselves, at least the ones I witnessed.

Nevertheless, Kyander’s commitment to developing temporary public art projects and engaging international artists is strongly evident in this year’s programme. The curator has brought together a somewhat chaotic selection of artists and choreographers, both from New Zealand and abroad, to collaborate and produce performances.

Located in the fountains of Freyberg Place, Isobel Dryburgh and artist/dancer Mark Harvey’s project Beige involved a group of people clad in cardboard boxes dancing to a gradually sped up version of Tom Jones’ You Can Leave Your Hat On. The performance was invitingly anarchic—cardboard boxes got delightfully drenched, bits dropped off the dancers’ costumes, and the considerable crowd giggled at Jones’ ominously languid vocals.

Sarah Jane Parton’s audience also responded with tentative chuckles to her piece The Collection III. Parton staged her performance amongst the kauri trees of QEII Square where piles of snow had been dumped either side of a wooden walkway. A group of people dressed as giant fruit played nursery games while two children dutifully recited a sketchy version of Chariots of Fire on their recorders. Nearby, bored teenaged girls wearing 80s ball gown dresses sat on benches listening iPods.

I have a hunch that Parton knew it was school holidays and, while adult audience members tittered somewhat nervously, their kids took charge of the scene relentlessly grabbing handfuls of snow to throw at the giant fruit. Chaos ensued: the giant fruit returned a hail of snowballs, the young musicians giggled into their recorders and the teenaged girls managed to look even more disinterested.

Both Parton and Dryburgh/Harvey’s charmingly kooky works were reminiscent of fringe-festival performances. It was fun to see such playful and quirky activities occurring in ordinarily straight-laced public squares. Nevertheless, these artists and their participants had none of the street-savvy of fringe-festival performers or buskers—they basically didn’t know how to work a crowd.

I was reminded of bands like Auckland’s Golden Axe or Evil Ocean whose seemingly ad-hoc style of makeshift show biz is underpinned by an engagement with their audience. Watching these aimlessly rambling Living Room performances I couldn’t help but wish that at some point Evil Ocean’s Liz Maw would turn up dressed in her God outfit. I wanted a grander kind of theatre and a greater commitment to the drama and incongruity of it all.

Lilibeth Cuenca Rasmussen did not fare much better. After seeing a video of hers in Mash Up at ARTSPACE last year I was excited to attend her performance The Future is already way behind the Present doesn't exist in my Mind…. Having already staged this as a solo piece at several international venues, Cuenca Rasmussen collaborated with performer Charles Koroneho and extended the show to include a large troupe of dancers from Unitec’s School of Performing and Screen Arts.

The result was a full-scale sound and light performance that involved Cuenca Rasmussen singing passages of contemporary feminist prose while dressed in a cleverly designed skin-tight lycra costume. Her hour-long show was a concoction of theatre, female sexuality and slow-paced endurance performance. It drew on an assortment of genres reminding me variously of Grace Jones music videos, brazen Peaches gigs and Warwick Broadhead costumed spectaculars. While this collision of performative tropes might sound quite exciting its unpolished execution ultimately left me somewhat indifferent. I couldn’t help but think of the Smokefree Stage Quest, the annual high school performing arts competition.

Unfortunately, none of the Living Room performances I experienced left an impression that went beyond an initial amused chuckle. For the most part artists treated their allotted civic space as a bare stage on which to present their activities and this inspired a somewhat superficial experience. The sometimes contentious history and current social use of Auckland’s public plazas offers an artistic potential that none of these artists chose to engage with.

Although Cuenca Rasmussen’s gleaming white costumes were notably juxtaposed against the formal plaza of St Patrick’s Square, I didn’t see the need to have these works performed in outdoor public spaces at all—they would have had a comparable effect in a theatre or gallery. Ultimately, an opportunity was missed to develop performances that were richer than the brief fanciful strangeness they engendered.

Nevertheless, the superficial impression I was left with may have been due to the lack of contextual information offered for each artist and performance. I would love to know how Parton’s The Collection III related to her previous ‘Collection’ performances that took place in locations as diverse as Rarotonga and Christchurch. Was her choice of Auckland’s QEII Square significant in relation to these other venues? Did kids throw snow at giant fruit in balmy Rarotonga?

What the Living Room series seriously lacked is the publicity machine employed by One Day Sculpture, the similar series of temporary art projects that took place across the country during 2008 and 2009. The latter’s yearlong series of projects was promoted through a deluge of advertising. From txts and emails to postcards and a fantastically organized website, One Day Sculpture covered as many forms of media as it could to publicize its single day events.

Although the better part of their budget would have been funnelled into this advertising hyperbole (and away from individual art projects), One Day Sculpture successfully garnered a greater public engagement with their projects. The point here is that our conception of ‘public space’ is no longer limited to physical sites. To successfully exist in the wider public realm art projects must also exist in the virtual realm, in web and media based platforms. In this regard, the Living Room series holds onto an overly confined vision of the public sphere that works to the great detriment of both audiences and artists. Hopefully next year they will finally get it right.

Scrolling down, most of the photographs are by Rebekah Robinson. The third and fourth however are by Kate Brettkelly Chalmers.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Andrew Paul Wood goes GalleryGallery-Gallery visiting

SOFA Gallery
until 16 May 2010

Some ideas, like Freddy Kruger, shoulder pads or a dodgy curry, just seem to keep coming back again and again. GalleryGallery is a portable scaled down 2.4x1.6m white cube conceived as a guerrilla (a word that sets my teeth on edge) intervention by Christchurch artist Matt Akehurst. Since March 2009 GalleryGallery has been popping up around the South Island like a mushroom, hosting a number of (mostly student) artists in its mock mini gallery, and even poetry readings and live music performances.

The project has been something of a mixed bag; some engagements have been witty and engaging, while others have seemed little more than half-arsed opportunism. My personal favourite deployment was OpeningOpening at the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts where for opening night it became a bar (and let’s face it, isn’t that the main reason two thirds of people go to gallery openings anyway?) but I have to say that it’s concluding incarnation GalleryGallery-Gallery at Christchurch’s SOFA Gallery left me rather cold.

The gallery space is abruptly curtailed by a nicely joined wall and short flight of stairs. The door leads to GalleryGallery itself, which overlooks the now hermetically blocked off gallery space like a duck hide or a tree house – or perhaps even the Seraglio of the Ottoman sultans. The lights go on... And the lights go off... Like the famous Martin Creed work played at half speed and just as ephemeral. On. Off. On. Off. I think they used to do similar things to prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

To be fair, it is beautifully constructed with a very nice wooden floor, and should Akehurst ever grow weary of being a struggling artist he can always fall back on carpentry, but the idea of ‘guerrilla gallery interventions’ into the white cube is hardly a new one and back in the 1970s when it was fashionable to equate being successful to selling out it was pretty much done to death. Every generation of students seems to feel the need to raise the floor, move the walls around or build partitions. Even the idea of a portable container that can be transported around as an ad hoc venue, whether it be called a pod, a capsule, a kiosk or whatever, has been the staple of Arts Festivals, Biennials and Triennials for decades.

Even back in 2002 when Maurizio Cattelan unleashed The Wrong Gallery on New York, and later Sergei Jensen’s Waiting Room in Berlin, 2006, the concept was getting a little tired. One can also talk about artists like Daniela Brahm, Markus Draper, Anton Henning, and that’s just Germany. It may even ultimately go back to the sort of enclosures Joseph Beuys used to fashion in gallery spaces in order to act like a bit of a side show twat with a coyote. Unless you are a claustrophobe, there is a womb-like security in such odd little hermitages – something we learn the first time we made a tent by throwing a sheet over two chairs as a child.

Of course Akehurst is being ironic – how could it be otherwise – but by stripping it of its collaborative trappings it seems about as much of an experience as the Orana Park giraffe feeding platform without the giraffes. An empty gallery is not really much of a metaphor in a context where Marcel Duchamp had been playing around with similar ideas a century earlier. Meta-meta-art goes off quicker than milk that’s been left out of the fridge overnight.

So, if you know something about the history post-modernist art, you feel a little blasé. If you are a tourist off the street who doesn’t know what the gallery looks like in the first place it is somewhat meaningless. If you don’t know anything about the history of these kinds of interventions, you are not going to get the irony of the references. It feels something of a letdown after an entertaining journey.

Or perhaps it is an appropriately poignant and elegiac retirement of a worn-out warhorse, and I salute it. As one might imagine, in that reduced space opening night was like the Black Hole of Calcutta.

Images courtesy of the artist.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Lydia Chai agrees

with my take on the Sharon Hayes work, while Pauline Dawson disagrees with my reference to Natasha Conland's pregnancy.

The last theme of the Auckland Triennial

Last Ride In A Hot Air Balloon: Part Five - Dialogue
Shigeyuki Kihara, Alex Monteith, Zheng Bo, Shilpa Gupta, Sharon Hayes, Mahmoud Bakhshi
Curated by Natasha Conland
Various Auckland venues
13 March - 20 June 2010

Now we have the last of my five examinations of the various themes from this event: dialogue – kinds of conversation between individuals, cultures, communities, artwork and audiences that reference all sorts of values, such as notions of ‘family’, sexual orientation, sporting competitiveness, even global foreign policies.

Shigeyuki Kihara for the official opening of this event, presented a work that paired musical representatives of two cultures together (Maori Kapa Haka and Japanese drumming), not to make a musical hybrid or blend where difference is covered over, but rather a kind of splicing where separate cultural identities alternate. In this taking of turns there is a good natured competitiveness openly expressed between two eaily identifiable cultures and two quite different forms of musical expression. It is a little like sport, but without clear cut winners; more like a lively discussion where no clear conclusions are reached but where the pleasure is in the chat. At ARTSPACE you can see documentation of six pairings showing the spirited interaction of Chinese, Scottish, Cook Island, Brazilian, Samoan, Hindu, Aboriginal, Maori and Japanese musical/dance performance groups.

Alex Monteith’s massive screen in Shed 6, showing surfies at Stent Road wave break in Taranaki, is not the viscerally engaging work one would expect from her for the type of 'risky' event Conland has organised. Like Mike Parr’s project, it seems a perverse tactic by Conland to deliberately confound expectations of bodily risk. It is an anti-avantgardist gesture where the gallery goer here has no bodily empathy or engagement but instead is a remote and passive spectator watching the many rubbersuited figures calmly glide through or over the water.

The artist’s friends are seen wearing red shirts to replace the individualistic identification colours that are characteristic of competitive surfers. Of course instead of individual rivalries we now have team ones – the ‘art crowd’ versus the ‘life crowd’, for the two communities make a vivid contrast.

Zheng Bo presents an installation at ARTSPACE looking at the official Chinese view of marriage and what it entails. His film depicts life on an imaginary location called Karibu Island where time occurs backwards. The elderly suddenly arrive and gradually ‘advance’ to become babies who finally re-enter their mothers. Nearby are six panels to be examined by gallery visitors and voted on through beans being placed into bowls.

The options displayed for consideration about marriage are not clear in their demarcation. It is not just a matter of whether homosexuals should marry.(That issue is not clearly confronted. The words ‘homosexual’ or ‘heterosexual’ are nowhere to be seen) There are several other issues. These include should marriage be for life or is divorce permissible, is a partnership satisfactory without marriage’s legal sanction, and can arranged marriages work where lovers don’t choose each other? The murkiness seems to be the result of these panels being planned by a committee of heteros, gays and lesbians. The proposed lifestyle options are somewhat convoluted.

Shilpa Gupta’s black ‘cloud’ of 4000 microphones in the New Gallery refers to the Mumbai bombings of 2008 when 171 died. The mikes are clumped together with complex speaker systems hidden within, yet the sound is near inaudible because of various ‘noisier’ works nearby and the echo from the concrete floor. This bad location however accentuates an odd dialogue with her other contribution, a split-flap display board of the type often seen in airports. Such a whirling blurring noticeboard is an intriguing object in its own right. Almost like a living creature, it responds with phrases like YOURMINEOUR DEAD to the sounds of a singing girl’s voice wishing to fly high in the sky, emanating deep from within the adjacent, ominous, knobby black brain.

I found Sharon Hayes’ installation in the New Gallery too shrill and histrionic as a declamatory mode of recorded performance to take her political and personal content seriously – despite her inclusion of worthy texts from Martin Luther King’s denunciation of the Vietnam War and the private letters of lesbian writers like Radclyffe Hall. Her idea of mixing such material with her own correspondence to an ex-lover in order to harangue the US Government about their foreign policy in Iraq would probably succeed better if expressed in print, not spoken verbally. Hayes’ speech comes across as bleating and over agitated, although if shown as a text her appropriated thoughts may indicate the contrary. In the New Gallery her ‘speeches’ are played through five speakers on stands, but here you can see her for yourself on youtube. What do you think? Perhaps I am too easily irritated? I think the work needs distance. It is too personal.

Mahmoud Bakhshi’s work in Shed 6 was only functioning properly for a very short time. Apparently it features adjustable speakers playing recordings of different calls to prayer in Tehran at sunset, each one based on a different chapter of the Qur’an. Visitors were meant to modify the sound by turning the vertical columns around, constantly changing the overall aural mix. It sounds like a fascinating comment on interpretative communities, so for this Triennial its breakdown is highly unfortunate, if not calamitous. Shed 6 badly needs more obvious energy, otherwise it remains a gloomy black hole.

In summing up, this year’s Triennial is not an overwhelming success, though it is definitely more exciting than Turbulence. However the first two, organised by Allan Smith for 2001, and Ngahiraka Mason and Ewen McDonald for 2004, though with less overseas art stars, seem in hindsight to have been more consistent with more sparkle. Maybe AAG got caught out by Natasha Conland’s pregnancy, although the abysmal failure of Shed 6 is balanced by the success of St. Paul St and George Fraser, and some exciting surprises in the New Gallery. ARTSPACE is also worth exploring. Be sure to do that before it closes at the end of this week.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

After K comes L

Chris Lipomi: Interactive Visual History Compression (the Ks)
Featuring work by Mike Kelley, Kieran Kinney, Martin Kippenberger, Alice Könitz, Paul Kos, Michael Krebber, George Kuchar.

Michael Lett
21 April - 15 May 2010

Chris Lipomi is one of those artists interested in the merging of creative identity and blending of artistic content or style. We have here an exhibition that is a sort of voluntary cuckoo-host, where an artist has devised his own show to include several other artists whom he admires, generously inviting them to pop their eggs into his own (gallery) nest. Whilst it could be seen as a shrewd way of clinging to their shirt tails if they are superstars and advancing himself, if the show is exciting enough as a curated project and attracts attention, those guests get introduced to new audiences who perhaps buy work. The other artists appreciate the new contextualisation. They enjoy the support.

Lipomi’s installation at Michael Lett incorporates parallel railway sleepers as seats for looking at videos. It gives us the chance to investigate several artists (all with names beginning with K) mostly not seen here before, mixed in with some fake Kaprows, and Kawaras.There are lots of surprises.

For example, there is a wonderfully verbose, double-sided Mike Kelley poster, The Great Tragedy of the Bill Clinton Administration…(under glass but on a hinge), which attacks America’s fixation on celebrity culture and on sexual desire. As a remedy he recommends that all Hollywood stars be compelled to do medical work in clinics for sexual diseases. Kelley’s poster and a silkscreened, coloured cotton table cloth are blended into a row of imitation Lipomi ‘Kelleys’ in a mash up of artistic identities.

Other works make the presence of ‘authentic’ individuality much clearer. There is a Martin Kippenberger set of nine wooden frames converted with Mylar and black tape into a game of noughts and crosses. To perpetuate his hang dog ‘loser’ image, there is never a winner (i.e. a line of three) in its hanging arrangement.

There is also a riddlelike Paul Kos with a coathanger hanging off the top of a broom handle, balanced by a bell one end and a candle at the other. It seems to be a meditation about thought and action, the activity of sweeping seen as generating ideas - symbolised by the lighting of the candle or the ringing of the bell.

Cologne conceptual painter Michael Krebber once worked for Martin Kippenberger as his assistant, and Kippenberger often used his ideas. He displays here a black and white painting showing an excerpt of a smeared photocopied comic where sections of teenage action are densely overlaid with confusing text. The year later (2008) he showed at Maureen Paley in London, a similar series of images based on French cowboy comics.

Krebber also has a slice of a red windsurfing board on Michael Lett’s wall. The tilted, sawn off parallelogram seems to be a metaphor for the adventurous side of an art career, a journey over the waves where work is fun, a recreational, even escapist, activity. Another interpretation (on an online blog) is that it is created to mock ‘sculpture’s bodily immediacy’. That seems farfetched. The work embraces immediacy – even as a mutilated readymade.

Kieran Kinney contributes a dramatic, completed oil painting. Men Are Back is a send up of the film ‘Men In Black’ and seems an amusing photorealist comment on gender balance in the art sector, saying that the current apparent dominance by women is changing. Maybe that is accurate in Melbourne, the city where Kinney lives, or Australia.

Los Angeles artist Alice Könitz has two tightly geometric, formally elegant, cardboard masks that link to a nearby video where similarly masked actors balance on tree trunks and mumble lines from Genet, Brecht or other playwrights. The masks are great but the video is superfluous.

The videos of New York underground film-maker George Kuchar are less pretentious. He has two low budget, low tech, richly layered works about variable weather patterns and places he visits when travelling. They are structured around what seems to be Kuchar himself playing the bored out-of-towner, either cleaning filthy bathrooms in sleazy motels or gazing anxiously out of grubby windows - pondering the local wildlife or contemplating changing cloud formations. Apparently he used to earn a living painting weather maps for television studios.

This is one of those shows you need to look at in the space, go home and do some Googling or ferreting around with your stack of favourite art mags, and then return for another squiz - with some new contextual background under your belt. There is a lot here to ruminate over - particularly with Kelley, Kos, Krebber, Kuchar and Kinney. It’s an unusual, extremely interesting exhibition.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Process and perception

Sculpture Season 2010
Curated by Melissa Laing
St.Paul St Gallery Three
Anthony Cribb and Agnes So
22 April – 1 May 2010

In this last (sixth) presentation of a series of sculptural projects by mainly recent AUT graduates - organised by Melissa Laing - Agnes So occupies most of Gallery Three’s bunkerish space while Anthony Cribb has a large lidlike tray at the far end, suspended high up near the ceiling. His flat shallow box is held there by wooden struts and slightly spindly legs, and contains a mini-landscape of hillock forms projecting out of a pool of black water. The lumpy forms are made of sand and bitumen.

Cribb’s dark gritty mounds are built with the expectation they’ll soon subside. The saturated sand will shift under the crumbly bitumen and the moving sludge will slowly even out. This impending collapse is exacerbated by small vibrations from the passing Symond Street traffic which continually shake the laden structure. At the end of the month the swampy ‘geology’ should look notably different from what it does now.

Cribb likes to tease his audience though, for the height will prevent many (less tall people) from seeing the tray’s contents. They will have to imagine the details. Because this comparatively (visually) inaccessible component of Cribb’s work is not stable anyway, that makes such reliance on mental fantasies extra perverse – if not sadistically funny. He seems to be mocking elucidated ‘factual description’ and spotlighting the limitations of language.

Agnes So’s items, in contrast to Cribb's elegant raised platform, are Heath Robinsonish and rickety. However, like his they demonstrate an interest in the laws of physics, using the weight of her precariously balanced materials to hold something in place - or taut lines (traversing space) to exert tension. Often she teases with decoys, deliberately misleading her audience. For example many of her physically slight constructions seem to be vertically held up by long lines of glistening nylon that sparkle under the gallery lights. You are meant to see them.

One of these threads goes through a circular hole in an almost teetering board, implying that it exerts an antigravitational tension, but in fact it doesn’t touch the opening's sides. The rectangle’s equilibrium is actually securely maintained by chocks at the base. In another work, a brown cardboard oblong is taped on its edge to a long vertical line of joined balsa sticks that help it balance on the top edge of a wall that partially blocks out the windows. The line of attached sticks runs down to the floor and across it – far longer than necessary to keep the cardboard stable. The horizontal part of the balsa line is superfluous, a deliberate overstatement, as the vertical length – though light - has sufficient weight on its own to do the job.

At the other end of the same top edge of the same long wall a un-nailed baton of timber pinions down a loose photocopy hanging down the side. The image shows a solid mapping pin resting on top of a sheet of paper with its sharp tip almost touching a folded paper crease but not impaling it.

Nearby is a weighed-down, balsa-sticked ‘flag’ with a photograph attached at its top. It looks like a dark hole in its centre until you realise it is a solid grey rock attached to yet another inverted (perhaps the same) flag. So enjoys making reflexive jokes about the work's own construction.

She also presents a short film projected onto a low, small L-shaped wall. It shows a brown plastic rectangular cushion cover that has been squished up into a tight ball and released to slowly unravel. In parts of the film it seems to be speeding up and even inflating and ballooning out with pumped in air - not just relaxing into its natural uncompressed form. Eventually it topples off its stand which happens to be an inverted cardboard carton for a reading lamp, making some sort of pun about ‘lightness’ and instability. The process of a moving body gradually changing as it approaches stasis makes a nice link to Cribb’s project down the other end of the space, and its high placement on a supporting structure.

Laing has made an exceptionally interesting combination pairing these two artists together. While So is about observation and perception and Cripp the duration of time and gradual geological motion, they both delight in examining instability and temporality, mixing their interest with a mischievous humour. Well worth a visit.

Many thanks to the artists for their images.

Andrew Paul Wood tells us about Miranda Parkes' new show in Christchurch.

Miranda Parkes: Cracker,
Jonathan Smart Gallery
April 13 – May 8 2010

Followers of Miranda Parkes’ career may recall that the first of her work to gain notice were the rouched and rumpled canvases that resembled technicolour sheets left bundled rather than folded by a lazy homemaker. They sagged from their stretchers in blatant defiance of the conventions (or clichés) of traditional painting and suggested a space between painting and sculpture, or even an eventual transition to the third dimension.

Then gradually over time the canvases stretched, flattened and tautened in response to some unseen exercise programme instituted by the artist. The Op/Pop Art paintwork remained hard-edged and geometric, but as the current exhibition Cracker reveals, this too has undergone exploratory evolution to become more expressive and biomorphic, and in some cases exploiting Op Art effects even more extensively than earlier work. But what does this signify? What new directions does this body of work suggest about Parkes’ practice?

Although there is a bunched-up work (Tanker in silver orange and blue cheques like some over-the-top Vivienne Westwood fabric print) and a video work (Jetty, filmed at Akaroa on Banks’ Peninsula) in the exhibition, this is primarily a show of grid painting. The individual works have, as a foundation, poured and dropped paint to provide textural interest, and in turn loose grids are built up in translucent layers and gestural strokes of translucent bubblegum colour. These most directly remind of the Byzantine decorative effects of Austrian painting – specifically Gustav Klimt and Friedensreich Hundertwasser. The latter, of course, has very specific inferences for New Zealand, and was deeply influenced by the former.

One large work, Doozer, achieves unity through a dispersed pixilation of small yellow oval motifs throughout the composition. This binds the painting together like egg binds together a cake and the effect is reminiscent of the visual tests for colour blindness. Another protean work, Mozer, coaxes interest from the nooks and crannies of a loosely painted grid. It reminds me slightly of the topological “three colour map problem” in which any pattern overlapping outlines cannot be filled using just three colours without two adjacent zones eventually being filled by the same colour. It is predominantly variants of fleshy pink with windows of tallow on green and purple on red.

A small ceramic work called Zapper – roughly ashtray size and shape – forms the basis of an Op Art grid pattern in red and blue that sets up interesting interference pattern buzz when viewed from a distance. It lacks, however, Op Art’s technocratic aesthetic programme. The ceramic basis lends a homey and eccentric roughness – little patches of insecurity and vulnerability scattered throughout the overall confidence of the handling.

A further work Jiggle Grid interprets the grid as a matrix of irregular, roughly circular blobs of paint on a silver plain, with each blob being carefully worked up as a sub-grid in hard candy colours and patterns. A further grid called Blob Grid consists of a loose, colourful matrix in which circular areas have been cut and rotated. The simplicity of that strategy might at first seem like a liability in a context that favours the conceptually more elaborate, but aesthetically it brings its own formal strength.

Perhaps the most interesting interpretation of the grid is Jetty, with its shaky hand-held digital video projection of a metal grating submerged in rippling water. However I am not entirely certain that this adds much to the paintings. And because the paintings are dispersed through two gallery spaces, and the projection shares room with just two modest sized works, it seems a trifle distracting and even diluting in the overall exhibition context.

In a sense, these polychromatic spiderwebs and mazes represent a flâneur voyage around the painterly plain, wearing strata, trace and art-historical reference openly on their sleeves. The visual impact is at once bold and simultaneous in a visual equivocation of style, media and process. I can’t help thinking that Cracker represents a transitional phase in Parkes’ career. I doubt we will be seeing baggy paintings again for a while.

Images in descending sequence are Tanker, Mozer, Doozer, Jiggle Grid, Blob Grid.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Kate Brettkelly-Chalmers tells us about the last show at Newcall

Richard Bryant
9 - 24 April 2010

An exhibition of paintings by Richard Bryant is the final show for Newcall Gallery, the Auckland artist-run-space located in Grafton’s Newcall Tower. After a short run of two years the gallery’s collective of artists is disbanding and moving onto other projects.

Although it is sad to see Newcall and its fantastically spacious gallery go, the temporary character of many of Auckland’s artist-run-spaces is not a necessarily a bad thing. Apart from the enduring presence of rm (the K’Rd incarnation of what was most recently called rm103), Newcall is very much part of a legacy of short-term galleries that emerge to meet the particular needs of new groups of artists. From Teststrip in K’ Rd/Vulcan Lane to Special in the Britomart precinct, longevity is not the focus of these collectives so much as providing a hub for a deft mixture of critical thought and collegiality. Just as Newcall’s cohort of artists is moving on, other groups will undoubtedly see the need to develop new exhibition prospects.

It is fitting that Newcall’s swan song exhibition is by Bryant, a founding member of fellow artist-initiative A Centre For Art (ACFA). Bryant’s show presents a highly considered collection of intriguing paintings and paper works. Small in scale with muted hues these works draw attention to the subtle nuances of painted surfaces. The artist takes an unassuming and restrained approach to the material pleasures of liquid brush marks, paper crinkles, fabric weaves and various inky washes. These are quietly compelling paintings that encourage time spent peering at the edge of a canvas or pondering simple material traces.

This understated cleverness is also extended to Bryant’s use of basic collaging techniques. He creates frames or margins within paintings by overlaying different rectangular surfaces. The artist’s exhibition invite offers a curious coupling of presumably found images: a painting of a surreal grandiose space is laid over a somewhat dubious massage instruction chart.

Lest we forget that they are paintings Bryant’s peripheral borders subtly refer to the medium’s more historically loaded concerns. Are we looking at an image within a frame or an image of a frame? The canvas surface of one painting is so thin that the ghostly form of its stretcher shows through the weave. Although Bryant’s works don’t overtly engage with the conceptual ins and outs of contemporary painting (as painters like Simon Ingram or Andrew Barber might) a whisper of a painting discourse is apparent.

What I find most interesting about Bryant’s works is the way they are hung. Although they offer an investigation of similar materials and surfaces these paintings carefully avoid being serialised. The artist does not simply present a series of experiments in painterly delights but a selection of distinctly individual works. Bryant hangs his paintings in careful groupings that refer much more to the visual language of installation than they do to painting traditions. He considers the space between individual works in the same way that an artist like Kate Newby might pay careful attention to the space between different sculptural forms.

In the collegial spirit of artist-run-spaces it seems appropriate to acknowledge the similar practices of other Newcall/ACFA members such as Patrick Lundberg, Anya Henis, Richard Frater or John Ward-Knox. These artists have an affinity for materials and engage with historically hefty formal concerns in fresh and interesting ways. Their artist-initiatives encourage a coalescence of ideas and critical thought alongside a kind of chummy art school camaraderie. These galleries are not only offering alternative exhibition opportunities to those of dealers or institutions, they are also offering an alternative ethos, a space of thought where artists might share and debate similar artistic concerns. It is an unabashedly earnest endeavour, but one that has fruitfully sustained these new art practices beyond their art school beginnings.