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