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 2, 2010

Kate Brettkelly-Chalmers adds to the continuing discussion of the Triennial

The 4th Auckland Triennial: Last Ride in a Hot Air Balloon
Various Auckland venues
12 March - 20 June 2010

The 4th Auckland Triennial: Last Ride in a Hot Air Balloon was launched a few weeks ago with a suite of gallery openings, artists’ talks and panel discussions. Curator Natasha Conland’s umbrella theme of risk and adventure engages with a diversity of current art practices. As other Eyecontact reviews already give summary impressions of the whole Triennial, this piece focuses on a group of artists and the talks they gave during the opening weekend.

What characterizes Last Ride in a Hot Air Balloon is the multiplicity of interpretations that can be made of its themes of risk and adventure. Where other triennial or biennial events might develop a rigid curatorial concept, Conland offers a more porous conceptual framework. The twenty-eight artists selected investigate various dynamics of risk-taking, from explicitly looking at our current financial recession to examining the physicality of risky activity or simply exploring various material conditions.

The multifarious nature this Triennial might exasperate those who would like an explicit pairing of artist and curatorial concept. In some instances, such as Martin Boyce’s fantastic sculptural pieces at St Paul St, ideas of risk taking and adventure do not seem appropriate or useful as a means of engaging with the artworks on show. I found that the curatorial premise was most effective where it articulated relationships between different art practices.

During the opening weekend I was particularly fascinated by the relationship between Alicia Frankovich’s sculptures and the films of Mike Parr. Frankovich’s series of sculptural pieces at the New Gallery investigates the form of the human body in relation to everyday materials. In the centre of her space hang two Martini bottles attached to a pump circulating a red coloured liquid. Clearly a reference to body fluid, this booze-bottle water feature humorously hints at the presence of alcohol in our systems. Like her memorable performances at ARTSPACE last year, Frankovich creates potentially risky bodily engagements and reveals that they are not without ethical implications.

At her artist’s talk I was intrigued to hear Frankovich speak of her sculptures as performances. Works such as Lover, a human form vaguely traced in neon tubing hanging from a coat hanger, or Piston, a round ball suspended precariously from the ceiling, do not immediately speak of performative concerns. But the lightness of their construction does suggest an agile physical quality. At her talk we were also reminded that Frankovich was once a competitive gymnast. Indeed, her engagement with the effects of gravity has an athletic flair—these works could topple over at anytime.

Where Frankovich’s ARTSPACE performances were powerfully simple and coherent, these Triennial pieces function more like a series of drawings, experiments that explore the space between sculpture and performance.

Performative parameters were also discussed at Mike Parr’s artist talk. Parr spoke about his significant career as an Australian conceptual and performance artist as he discussed his early works on show at the George Fraser Gallery. This talk even tended toward performance in itself. At one point the artist read out a list of actions for possible works that he’d written in the 1970s. Directives such as ‘Hold your breath under water for as long as possible,’ or ‘Drip blood from your finger onto the lens of a camera...until the lens is filled with blood’ varied from the torturous to the mundane. As Parr finished reading each page of directives he let these papers drop one by one on the ground. Whether this was intentional or not I couldn’t help but associate these discarded pages with the artist’s video One Hundred Breaths being projected in the next room. In this video Parr sucks pieces of paper onto his face until he runs out of air and needs to take a breath. What gives this slightly ferocious work its poignant overtones is that each piece of paper bears a self-portrait of the artist. Parr is elevating his own image with all the air in his body, creating a tangible link between self-image and physical reality.

Alongside Parr and Frankovich, the body’s movements are also explored in Tino Sehgal’s work Instead of allowing something to rise up to your face dancing bruce and dan and other things. Known for his ‘constructed situations’ — choreographed movements or exchanges involving one or many people — Sehgal does not allow any documentation to be made of his work, nor does he use the term ‘performance’ to describe it. At St Paul St a man dressed in casual jeans and a jacket made a very purposeful wriggling movement along the concrete floor of the gallery. His unusual sliding actions had the precision and attentiveness of a professional dancer — someone who is acutely aware of their body.

Derived from Bruce Nauman and Dan Graham videos, Sehgal’s piece has been reenacted in galleries across the globe. Anna Macrae is the New Zealand dancer who facilitated Sehgal’s piece. At a panel discussion on the opening weekend she spoke about the process of developing this work in New Zealand. Macrae, who is currently living in Berlin, happened to be coming back home during the period of the Triennial. Seeking to avoid any unnecessary travel, Sehgal and Conland arranged for her to ‘learn’ the choreography in Berlin and teach it to six professional dancers based in New Zealand, who would in turn reenact it at St Paul St.

Macrae’s remarks at the panel discussion revealed that the scope of Sehgal’s work goes beyond what occurs in the gallery, beyond a single person moving across a concrete floor. It is a constructed situation comprised of a series of incidental actions and connections—small movements across space and time.

Although this Triennial’s themes of risk and adventure may seem tenuously linked to the artworks on show, Last Ride in a Hot Air Balloon does offer a myriad of smaller, intriguing relationships between different art practices. It presents constellations of artists whose share subjects and modes of investigation across gallery spaces. It is a show that requires an attentive approach to viewing—something that is well worth the time.

The images above ascend from Mike Parr's video One Hundred Breaths, shown at his artist's talk at the George Fraser opening.
Then there is Parr's Facts About The Room (1970), and three details from Alicia Frankovich's presentation in The New Gallery.

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