Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics RoomLog 2 - Orientalism
Log 2 - Orientalism

Auckland Roundup
Robert Hutchinson


It's been galleryrama in Auckland recently. What with Pilot, Spot, Rm 3, Gallery In-Situ, Fiat Lux, Teststrip and Artspace all vying for that lucrative art-kids market.

Where to begin? Sanjay Theodore's show at Fiat Lux was just plain weird. Weird in the way that Oliver Stone can be weird. Imagine if Stone's TV spectacular Wild Palms had been about LA gameshow set designers… Angular figures painted in fluoro paint on Fiat Lux's royal blue walls. It's kinda like how the eighties seem so postmodern; you know, restaurants with black lights and deep-sea fish in tanks...

On the subject of black light, Artspace hosted the Sean Kerr-curated techno show Rapid. Marcus Moore's black light and scaffolding work sat rather pointlessly in a corner of the gallery. Why? It was supposed to have been on the side of the building. Instead it looked like Artspace have been hiring zippies to paint their walls. Rae Culbert's chicano-influenced bicycle (smashed tail lights fitted between the spokes) dealt with technology the way David Cronenburg would deal with Folk Art - as Rae himself would say - Classic. Toby Curnow supplied a web browser work, a computer monitor with coloured stripes displayed in Netscape sitting in a clear perspex box. I don't know why he didn't paint the box white. I mean, Toby was quoted by Julian Dashper as saying the computer screen is the next white cube. Star of the opening night was Daniel Malone, dressed as Santa Claus and armed with a cellphone, he ordered a steady supply of pizza and directed a Street Fighter videogame competition, offering street kids a chance to tag the white cube. As it turns out Malone's work was successful beyond his wildest dreams. His young proteges daubed the stairwell with graffiti and stole the VCR powering the appropriately named concurrent show Maniacs of Disappearance.

New spaces have been popping up all over town. Room 3, just down the hall from my own office, has very quickly established itself as a good place for me to have a drink on Wednesday nights. Two shows have stood out for me, In Tray by Lorna Bailey and B.K. Anderson, reminding me of what my office is (paper) and what I want it to be (an 80s Advertising Agency), and Danny Butt's less to impress, a iconoclastic critique of boutique minimalism. This show aroused considerable comment ranging from Julian Dashper's "The 3 isn't in the exact centre of the door" to George Hubbard's "I did this in `94, and everyone said I was crazy. Now I'm over minimalism, just like I'm over Maaori art."

I missed the over-subscribed Coco Fusco show as did perhaps a hundred angry feminists. As one peeved refusnik put it "You can't advertise "feminist performance art" in The New Zealand Herald and not expect the entire Women's Studies Department to turn up." One thing I did manage to see at Artspace was Christophe Charles' performance. This was described to me as having "not gone anywhere," but I found it particularly soothing after a very stressful day. The School of Music avant-garde ensemble 175 East played after Charles and it reminded me that good old 19th century bohemianism is still alive and well. Still, there was a lot of money in the room, and if we had a Commune in Auckland I wouldn't hedge my bets on which side they would be on.

Another show with a fin de siecle feel was Violet Faigan's Medium length brown hair at Fiat Lux. The dusty, abandoned theatre dressing room feel evoked by Faigan's wigs hanging from the ceiling reminded me of Douglas Wright's Forbidden Memories. Hair tends to lend itself either to the psychoanalytic or to the magical, but I definitely prefer to think of Freud over the curses that could be put on me from leftovers at Rodney Wayne.

Witchcraft was central to Simon Cuming's Faeries wear boots at Teststrip. Well, the kind of witchcraft you get depicted in Jack T. Chick tracts. Simon is almost as well versed in 60s and 70s pop/Satan culture as Mr Chick is. Simon covers all the bases (like Mr Chick). His rotoscopes, called You are getting very sleepy, warn the unsuspecting off hypnotism. The toy metaller in the middle of a log mandala/glow-in-the-dark mushroom ring demonstrates the satanic salute by which satanists recognise one another. Quoting liberally from Black Sabbath movies and Robert Plant interviews he demonises the Germanic tendency to mechanise, we are zer robots.

Teststrip doesn't seem content to let this rich vein of retro work go untapped. A show of photography by Simon Buis (their first dead artist) reminded me that we really did have a sixties. I had been under the impression New Zealand had passed unchanged from 1952 to 1984. But Buis' works could have been liner photos on Hendrix albums. In a way they touched on that not-yet-buried cultural cringe. They were good, as good as anything from America.

Tony Conrad's talk at the Auckland Art Gallery auditorium was in classic American educator style, entertaining, energetic and full morality. One thing I really liked about Conrad's manner was his use of irony. I often think that Americans get an unfair deal, constantly being harangued for `not getting' irony. They do, and they work at it harder than we do. Conrad's video works oozed irony, prompting a psychoanalysis session from the audience, but what really struck me was when he spoke about kids. Conrad's videos brutalise himself/society/TV viewers but his work in the social justice field is about empowering children through TV and video. His tone changed the moment the trope of inner city kids came up. Unlike our vicious English irony Americans have their limits.

I'm not sure what to say about Graham McFelin's show at Teststrip, except perhaps that the man is a genius. More mature than his Fiat Lux show last year (no strategically placed fried eggs this time) but still exploring a realm that I find frightening and fascinating.

Robert Hutchinson



Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics Room