The X Factor: Why?
He is not only the sole director of The Museum of X and Dolphins, but also an ex of mine own. What more reason could you need?
Who or what is The Museum of X and Dolphins? With an obscure collection policy at best, The Museum is the brainchild of Dan Arps, elements of the museum forming most of his art practice during this year. A strange collection of bought dolphin memorabilia, plastic objects and knick knacks combined with handmade, often badly made, X shapes, The Museum boasts neither building nor database, popping up instead at art project spaces in New Zealand and Australia. The Museum might easily be the contents of Dans bedroom, a no-go zone of chaos desperately in need of a curator.
The X motif is so intrinsically loaded in both ancient and contemporary mythology, from the cross of redemption to Malcolm X to Charlie Mansons ladies etched with crosses in a LA courtroom. As well as these metaphors of danger and belief, X exists as a fundamental pointer or signifier. Dan has talked of the Xs in his work as taking the role of props, or existing purely to "hold other things up", a pragmatic positioning of his Xs as plinths or scaffolding. His work has long been fascinated with structure, both architectural and metaphorical, particularly the structures of museums and galleries, from their classical or modernist exteriors to the policies which define an institutions activities.
A show at Wellingtons Enjoy project presented a viewing platform, a construction which placed viewers at a particular point in the gallery, from which they could see the view from outside the gallerys windows. A exercise in controlling and focusing an audience, and their gaze, in a given space, this work was reputed to have puzzled Wellington audiences, who were apparently heard to clamor for "more to look at". Viewing platforms have been the site of much controversy in New Zealand during recent years, assuming dangerous qualities after the Cave Creek incident where a class of students fell to their death under the auspices of limited DOC funding. Barriers have also assumed an important architectural role in controlling movements through public space, reducing and defining political and social interaction, particularly within government or civic environs. Public sculpture has long been a compliant prop in such procedure, dividing and diverting public access through open spaces, providing aesthetic distraction from political activity.
Other work by Dan has continued to look at the role of barriers and structures to facilitate viewing, engaging especially with institutional, or museumological critique. In several shows over the last two years Dan has raided the office and storerooms of the gallery itself, dredging up paraphernalia (timber, wastepaper baskets, light fittings) to place amongst his work, blurring a line between administration and presentation. Working in galleries my favorite part of installing any exhibition is when, after removing the debris of the installation, the chip packets, empty drink cans, jackets, packing crates and some newspaper, suddenly a work is revealed, a transformation occurs, the object emerges like a butterfly from its chrysalis. It makes all those long nights and junk food worth it. In Dans work its as though that transformation simply hasnt quite happened yet, as though we have disturbed the artist before that moment occurred, or perhaps, being disorganized, he simply never had time to finish his work. In limbo, the installation awaits that moment, blurred and incomplete. At the opening of Thrash, at the Experimental Art Foundation in Adelaide, some viewers stood awkwardly, drink in hand, trying to figure out if the step ladder and piles of paper and polystyrene balls were meant to be in the show, or if they had simply arrived too early. Ive always thought this tactic in Dans work was somewhere between a major theoretical statement, and a real fear of not actually finishing the work in time.
Dolphins, on the other hand, remain firmly the domain of the New Age, Greenpeace, necklaces, plastic decals, New Zealand tourism, clean green and pure. Dan has talked of dolphins as "blank screens to project desire onto" and of our interaction with them through a lens of the anthropomorphic other, a surrogate human among the animals.
"its the sexual thing with dolphins I was attracted to, they are just big peniss really"
This is certainly a man who knows how to get sexy with plastic. The museums installations sprawl insolently through gallery space, in group shows barely managing to restrain themselves from embracing and seducing other works into their fold. The objects in these installations exude sheer pleasure, enjoying themselves, their materiality and the way they explore the room and each other. Elaborate fetishized connections are constructed from a supermarket array of artifacts, reeking of want and anticipation.
Maybe its me, but I always think of sex when I see these works. Bodies, their occupation of space, and their experience of artworks remain paramount, despite the reduced or abstracted nature of the installations. Designed as artworks to incorporate and delineate the bodys progress through a gallery space, Dan has been known to skulk around galleries narcissistically watching viewers interact with his own work.
"watching people look at my work...I probably get quite a perverse amount of pleasure out of that"
Handyman round the house:
Some artists need studios to work within, others are happy with a table in their bedroom. Some artists need sheds. When we lived at a flat in Gracefield Ave, there was a garage at the front of the house, and Dan spent many happy evenings there hunched in near darkness, surrounded by a mass of rubbish bags, boxes and old furniture, painstakingly gluing tiny pieces of hobbycraft wood together. Laborious, loving craftsmanship is surely the hallmark of a great shed. This work, perhaps his Magnum Opus, a miniature rendition of Tony Smiths 1960s giant sculpture out of balsa wood, is something he has returned to repeatedly between other work, yet has never finished.
With an open door policy on referencing the art history books, particularly those marked M for modernism, Dans work has often drawn elaborate webs, or codes, of connection and meaning between various art world references. The Tony Smith work assumes a poignancy arising from Smiths wish to create his mighty works in steel, but, with only a limited budget, settling instead for plywood. Perhaps Dan, too, secretly wishes to create his work in large-scale metals, but has been reduced to only the spawning chains of the $2 shops. Its this compromise however, and the obsessive, yet conversely almost random, selection of The Museum of X and Dolphins, which to me drives these works. And why wait till someone else puts you in a museum - just make your own.
When not maintaining the Museum of X and Dolphins, Dan Arps is an artist based in Christchurch. For money he works at the Design and Arts College of NZ, and for a hobby he runs the artist run space Black Cube. Sometimes he plays too much Nintendo.
Emma Bugden holds the fort as the General Manager of The Physics Room and is also rumored to be involved with the Black Cube. When not vigorously engaged in arts administration, she likes to maintain her veggie garden and her Barbie collection. Despite recent LOG rumors to the contrary she is still resolutely not an artist.