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.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Running out of time

Darryn George: Rarohiko
Gow Langsford
28 April - 22 May 2010

With this new Gow Langsford exhibition Darryn George carries on with some compositional aspects of the ‘abstract’ wall painting that he presented last December at Te Tuhi. With that work the image (entitled Rehita) could be described as a diagrammatic drawing of a bookcase, with books lying on their sides on its shelves.

George is interested in systems of knowledge and how cultures accumulate and store it. With Rarohiko (the Maori word for computer) there are similarities to the earlier show but the ‘Maori’ red is mostly gone, as is the wide airy flat space. Instead the motifs are stacked on top of each other within a boxlike computer screen and allude to systems of stored files (digital or in cabinets) or to tabs attached to folders.

The alignment of space within each work varies. Sometimes it is conventional perspective, occasionally aerial perspective, now and then orthogonal. The same sized rectangular tabs are stacked vertically, or descend moving to the bottom right, or else they recede. There is a sense of these precisely arranged oblongs being symbols for containers of information.

With the Countdown series there is a focus on ten recited numbers that seems a tribute to McCahon’s 1965 Numerals series, plus a visual tip of the hat to the English Gothic ‘Gang-patch’ lettering of Shane Cotton and perhaps the delicate ink drawings of John Bevan Ford.

As the title states, George here is using a line of small canvases to list their numbers backwards in diminishing denominations. He is not using them to surprise the eye with unexpected placements (as McCahon might do) - only showing them decreasing within a sequenced row. This creates a sense of the apocalyptic.

There is an abstract distancing with this predetermined arrangement, supplemented by a pulse of alternating red and black footers and the alternating arepa/omeka (alpha/omega) names of Jesus from the Book of Revelations. They are ominous whilst also decorative. Furthermore the subtle (though I suspect coincidental) optical mixing of finely linear coloured koru forms in their backgrounds introduces a pleasing chance component – makes the work less icy and more spontaneous.

I think the Rarohiko canvases work better than the more intricate, much smaller Countdown paintings. Their size has more impact, while the varied experiments with a stark compositional layout and the ideas about digital information storage - blended with traditional Maori motifs - are more satisfying and unique.

What is interesting is the tension created by George’s presentation of these two series together. One type seems to be about building a better future through the accumulation of knowledge, and the other is saying that time is running out, that the benefits of using such knowledge may never get the chance to be appreciated. George might be referring to the planet’s ecological demise or he might be thinking of The Second Coming. Perhaps both.

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