Then and Now, Here and Nowhere – Exhibition Review

By John Fuller

Then and Now, Here and Nowhere – Adam Art Gallery, Victoria University Campus, Kelburn.

3 February – 12 April 2015

Artists: Gavin Hipkins, Peter Trevelyan, Shaun Waugh, Kates Woods and Brent Wong

The Adam Gallery is my favourite place for contemplating art in Wellington. Somehow, it works for me on a number of levels. The Adam flatters average art and makes great art shine. Perhaps that is what a well designed gallery is supposed to do. The current exhibitions (all three) are packed full of great art, so go and take a look, I can’t say much more than that.

This review will focus on “Then and now, Here and Nowhere”. The exhibition only features a few works, and plays on an interesting strategy of locating pieces from different artists and different generations side by side, challenging the viewer to think about what may have changed and what remains constant. Brent Wong’s arresting surrealist pieces from the late 60’s sit surprisingly comfortably with Kate Wood’s very contemporary and rather hypnotic video work, or her 3D photographic studies, which exist slightly awkwardly I feel, somewhere between kitsch and the sublime. Both artists attempt to fool around with the mind of the viewer, spark the imagination, question reality. Both do this successfully and both complement one another, despite the generational rift.

Gavin Hipkins and Shaun Waugh use photography to play similar games. Hipkins large work, “The Model (1999), is a dynamic series of small photographs featuring mathematical multi-faceted objects from the Victoria University Mathematics Department. The work can be reconfigured each time it is installed. It dominates the entire double level wall inside the Adam entry foyer and could arguably be called sculpture. Waugh plays with surrealism, but exploits digital technology to replace paint and brush. Again both these artists sit comfortably beside Wong in spite of time.

Arguably the odd one out in this picture is Peter Trevelyan. His sculptural piece is not typical of other work I have seen before. It plays on the notion of concealment, secret hiding places, in this case a cut out book amongst other books on a table. Of course the concealed compartment contains a small and delicate lattice type structure he is so well known for. For me, and I may be missing something here, this work does not sit well with Wong, but then again that may be the whole idea.

How have times changed? Artists have creative tools in 2015 that Brent Wong would not have even been able to imagine in 1969, yet he was able to create a surreal world with his paint, a world that shares so much with the work of these contemporary artists. It makes one wonder what he could do with an iMac and a digital camera.

Image. The Keeper. Brent Wong. (1969-75), oil on board

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Public Nap Series 2015 – Art Review

By Matty Smith

PARK(ing) Day bills itself as an “annual open-source global event”, and aims “to generate critical debate around how public space is created and allocated” by allowing groups to transform metered parking spaces for one day. This was the context for Emotion Time’s Public Nap Series 2015, which took a park on Cuba Street, and invited people to take a nap in public, amidst city offices, and heavy pedestrian traffic. Personally, having worked four years in a CBD office, and having felt exhausted a lot of that time, I could not help reading it as a fun and friendly challenge to the typical New Zealand construction of “the workday” and “work ethic”. People very seldom work in the conditions that are best for them, or healthiest, but only those that return the best profit within (sometimes without of) legal boundaries. I’ve always been rather jealous of countries where a nap during the course of the work day is the norm, and I have fond memories of Tongan shopkeepers dozing casually in the midday sun.

The aesthetic of the work was dryly humorous, with the artists wearing lab coats in a form of quasi-scientific slapstick. Everything from the linen they used to their shoes was white, evoking cheesy imagery of sleeping on a cloud. The aesthetic of the work was careful, and made the bed look inviting and… …clean. Which, in a context where you’re asking lots of members of the public to climb into the same bed, seems a very important reading to give off. At one point late in the show, members of a collective from a nearby PARK(ing) Space staged a strange intervention, juxtaposing the white aesthetic against a bright, messy bed in which a Maori woman held up a tino rangatiratanga flag. The gesture was clearly meant as a humorous poke, not a scathing critique, but it fell a bit flat in that – aside from the fact that all members of Emotion Time happen to present as white – there had been no suggestion of a racialised reading in their work. Despite lab coats and white sheets, there wasn’t even an unintentional hint of KKK garments or any form of white supremacy or privilege. In fact, the gesture itself read as somewhat racist, casting Maoridom as bright and bold, and whiteness as sterile. Evenso it was an interesting intervention – interesting to see an artwork forced into a new (if tenuous) reading by another collective – and talking later with Emotion Time members I had the sense they were philosophical and good-humoured about it.

Photo: Louise Rutledge

‘Brief Encounters’ by Ben Shapiro – Film Review

By William Hadwen

Ben Shapiro’s documentary Brief Encounters, released October 2012, follows Gregory Crewdson’s photographic process during the making of his 8 year long series Beneath The Roses. Predominantly set in small-town American suburbia of western Massachusetts, he observes and presents a very unique cinematic photographic style, showing scenes of romanticised, ficticious, almost fantastical moments of contemplation and urban decay.

The film is very affecting, narrated primarily by interviews with the artist and also various writers and people who Crewdson works with to create this sublime imagery. A psychological tension festers in worlds that are seemingly real, searching for a moment – a perfect moment, with real characters who he has generally found locally. The viewing experience is enhanced by a very simple and mesmerising piano soundtrack.

Crewdson talks a lot about his own life within his work, drawing from past experience and observation. His father was a psychoanalyst with his practice in a room under the family home – young Gregory was not allowed in and it was always a place of ambiguity, curiosity and mystery. A fascination for what lies beneath really does come through in his work.

Each image is narrative based but without plot or character development, simply providing a tableau with real characters and an atmosphere accentuated with smoke machines and an excess of carefully considered lighting – it is up to the viewer to figure out the details for themselves and become immersed in the image. A very presonal narrative to anyone who takes the time to work it out.

The images in this series project a sense of social dilapidation, people and places perpetually aging, consumed with neglect and incompleteness. Depressingly fluorescent in their desperate dependence on the flawed American Dream.

With regard to his influences, Crewdson seems rather taken by scenarios that are initially inviting but with emerging unsettling and sinister potentialities, such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and photographic works by Dianne Arbus. He is also known for directly referencing old movies such as Psycho –the hotel room used in one of Crewdson’s images, Untitled (Birth), looks very similar to that used in the film – there really are these layers, depths of understanding to his works that can reveal themselves over time. The Psycho reference really gives the image a disturbing atmosphere that I only suspected as a worst case scenario.

There is a real sense of ambiguity within his imagery, a blurring of reality and fiction.

a gallery Presents: Blind/Hate – Publication review

By Judith Yeh

‘a gallery’ opened in February 2011 at 393 Princes Street, Dunedin, and closed in September 2012. Strategically placed south of the centre of town nestled between tattoo studios, sex shops and a needle exchange. What was integral in the selection of the gallery space was that it would be able to be viewed from the street through the street level floor to ceiling windows. This would allow the artists showing to be exposed not only to viewers visiting the gallery, but also those walking past, as a gallery was to represent artists that did not fit within the commercial gallery context or the so called experimental project space’s.

Inspired by sealed collectables like Garbage Pail Kids and kid robot, each copy of the publication ‘Hated, The Rise and Fall of a gallery’ comes sealed in a black envelope with an unique, original artwork by one of nine artists that showed at a gallery.

This project is produced to fundraise for the exhibition ‘a gallery Presents: Sure to Rise’ in Wellington 2014, which features artwork by the same artists featured in the publication. The little 50gram black parcel is filled with a mixture of love, hate, and surprises; with a limited number of 100 copies. When I open the seal of this black mysterious package, so full of anticipation, like a kid who opens the little Kinder Surprise capsule – the first surprise I encounter is that it’s a spray-painted Courier Post cardboard envelope. I can hardly imagine the laboriousness of spray-painting a hundred envelopes, yet the look is surely effective. In contrast to the all black packaging, the publication itself has a blank all white cover. Not a chance for one to judge a book by its cover.

The publication reminisces the exhibitions, openings, art, reviews, parties, after-parties, and after-after parties that a gallery had put on over its twenty glorious months; with photographs provided by various friends to a gallery. What I find the most amazing and impressive thing about this project is that: as it serves as a fundraiser, it means that it would be produced under a very strict budget. And possibly relied heavily on donation, sponsors and friends. But the publication was so well put together, which makes one forgets the bills one could of paid with a hundred dollars. For a gallery, well worth it.

http://agallerypresents.com/page/2/

Window Studio – Art Review

By Matty Smith

When artist Anne LaFond founded Window Studio, in Brooklyn New York, she commented that she was worried “whether I would feel comfortable painting essentially in a fishbowl, with the people passing in the street able to look in and see what I was working on.” Nor was she certain people would be interested, and yet as she chronicles on her window-studio.com blog, members of the public took a definite interest in her project, and commissioned portraits from her. Since its beginnings in 2012, the project appears to have gathered more funding and support, with community art programmes running regularly now. Public art is not a new phenomenon by any means, but it is interesting considering how rarely we see artists in more traditional media working in the public, exposing their process to a wider audience, and inviting them to take part.

Ever since I encountered this project in 2013 it has made an impact on me. It seems natural and right to me for art to be so unpretentious, communal, and candid – I always find it is working people outside the Fine Art establishment who have the most perceptive and least ideologically-warped observations about art. Often I feel that post-war criticisms of “mass culture” and “authoritarian personalities” have made artists reluctant to reach out to the working class in anything except an imperious and accusatory mode. LaFond’s project treats the people in its immediate community (I am not certain that Window Studio is in the same area as LaFond herself lives) as important, worth chronicling, and worth reaching out to.

I suppose, in a sense, this marks for me an interest in “outsider art”, and yet LaFond clearly is not an outsider. She trained at the New York Academy of Art, and paints expressively and well. She has given Window Studio’s conceptual framework a great deal of thought, and is critically engaged with problems in Fine Art academia. I begin to wonder about that term – “outsider” – applied even to the untrained who participate in LaFond’s project, and frame it so much. Perhaps I would prefer a term that suggests bringing people in, rather than excluding them – something like “gateway art”. Ultimately that’s what I love about the project, is that it opens art up, and speaks plain and clear, to working class people who may seldom have opportunities for a creative voice, or access to the cloistered, insular galleries of the Fine Art industry.

Len Lye’s Kaleidoscope – Exhibition Review

By William Hadwen

I came to look at the way things moved by trying to feel their movement in my body, in my muscles, in my bones.” – Len Lye

LenLye2Len Lye’s 2 March – 26 May, 2013 Wellington City Gallery show, Kaleidoscope, featured a selection of both kinetic works and abstract films. The kinetic sculptures were of varyng scale – metal forms, animated with movement, subtly manipulated by discreet hidden mechanics – cycling thorugh varying unexpected forms and rhythms. The abstract films (synchronised to music) were scratched, painted and worked directly onto the film stock. The projector looped several different film works. The curator of the show, Paul Brobbel decided to have the gallery walls painted black with coloured spotlights to illuminate the works, which really helped the lighting give the works a real atmosphere and presence.

The sculptures were fairly unassuming, industrial-looking objects while at rest between cycles of meticulously choreographed, effortless natural movement.

Throughout the exhibition, some of the works were quiet and contemplative in contrast to others, which were more frenzied and demanded engagement, either by their physical sound, paired soundtrack or energetic motion. Swinging, crashing, whirring and warping, the various works would take on a life of their own, each completely different, with opposing movements and sounds. My personal favourite of the kinetic sculptures was Zebra, 1965, (2009 reconstruction) which was simply a striped vertical metal rod when inactive, but took on a body of its own once it began its dance. Similar to The Water Whirler on the Wellington waterfront, only Zebra spun into various bodily or vase-like shapes as it gracefully distorted under the weight of its own momentum.

Balance, motion, timers and meticulous choreography for repetitive performances. The exhibition presented a fascination between movement and light, showing how they can be worked together to take on new form, allowing the subject of the work to embody a fluidity as the integral lighting described other potential ghostly shapes and forms – giving the object a bodily apparition of motion with a personality and character. These were aspects which became apparent in both Len Lye’s film work and sculptures as they took on similar movements and rhythms, rising and falling and taking on unpredictable qualities.

The Artist’s Body – Publication Review

By Jordana Bragg

The Artist’s Body first published in 2000, reprinted in paperback 2006 and abridged, revised and updated 2012, is a comprehensive catalogue of canonical works of performance art, spanning an entire century (1900-2000).

The publication’s cover features a glossy full colour reproduction of Tracey Emin’s Exorcism of the Last Painting I Ever Made, (1996) and opens up into a full colour two page spread of Yasumasa Morimura’s Portrait (Futago), (1988).

Provided within the introductory stages of the publication is an outline of it’s contents, with clear use of headings, sub headings and page numbers, outlining that which follows will be:

A Preface by curator Tracey Warr (page 10)

A Survey by curator Amelia Jones (page 16)

Works (listed in alphabetical order under each subheading)

Painting Bodies (page 49)

Gesturing Bodies (page 70)

Ritualistic and Transgressive Bodies (page 92)

Body Boundaries (page 114)

Performing Identity (page 134)

Absent Bodies (page 162)

Extended and Prosthetic Bodies (page 178)

Appendices

Artist’s Biographies (page 190)

Bibliography (page 199)

Index (page 202)

Acknowledgements (page 204)

By way of introduction the Preface (by Tracey Warr) and Survey (by Amelia Jones) serve as two poignant introductory essay’s, with Tracey Warr discussing the wider implications of canonised performance pieces/art and Amelia Jones discussing such implications in direct relation to the publication.

The largest portion of the publication is afforded to the Works section, which is divided into subsections such as Body Boundaries, Performing Identity, Absent Bodies et cetera, with each subsection beginning with a brief introductory statement, offering a useful insight prior to engaging with the text available alongside images of each work.

The Appendices section offers brief artist biographies, a bibliography list, an index and acknowledgments of those included in the publication. The Appendices section, as it outlines clearly basic information of each artist/artwork was, (along with the cover image of Tracey Emin’s Exorcism of the Last Painting I Ever Made, (1996) the defining factor in my decision to purchase The Artist’s Body. I would recommend this publication to anyone with an interest in all those performance works that are constantly referenced and misquoted at art gallery openings, with a disclaimer that The Artist’s Body offers a useful, yet very specific, (potentially exclusionary) scope.