Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics RoomLog 3  -  - Writing
Log 3  -  - Writing

Wellington/Christchurch Roundup
Louise Garrett


The emergence out of the winter hibernation in Christchurch was fittingly accompanied by a lively bunch of installations called the Casko series. This was facilitated by David Hatcher and staged at a disused industrial fridge space called The Chiller. The venue was a poky little hovel, aptly claustrophobic and far removed from the white-stained sanctums which customarily legitimate art. The series itself marked an encouraging trend where younger artists are initiating projects outside the confines of government-funded institutions. Of necessity, one could say.

Anyways, during September every Thursday The Chiller became an exceptional spot for sucking on a few Absoluts and checking out the latest offering from the CASKO kids. Unfortunately, it took me a couple of weeks to locate the spot tucked down an alley-way off High Street, and since the fare changed weekly and each show ran for only three days, it was a fleeting and somewhat ephemeral affair.

My version of the play kicked off with the work of photographer Maria Walls. Her installation unfolded in parts as the viewer moved through the idiosyncratic spaces of the gallery. Each part used appropriated images, largely of female nudes drawn from black and white movies. These were variously set to confound the role of the voyeur. The central section, for example, in a space lit by fluorescent lights and sporting formica walls, a series of "pin-ups" were scattered willy-nilly round the place. These were A4 photocopies of computer manipulated images of various female nudes which were gaffer-taped to the wall. This casual presentation, and the burned-out images themselves, eschewed the pin-up as a glossy seductress. Rather, the convention, played out in repetition, was highlighted as a construction which serves the expectation of the viewer/voyeur: an expectation thwarted by these banal and indistinct descriptions of the body. In another room, a small surveillance mirror glared down from the corner of the room as a manic siren removed and replaced her top on a T.V. monitor. Rather than titillation, the atmosphere was somehow fraught as if the viewer had been caught in the act of spying.The silent movie siren was moved back into the realm of the virginal maiden at her toilet, as the ideological frame which supplies us with our brief for viewing shifted into view.

If Walls's installation played on the clinical horror of the Chiller space, Michelle Wise's work drew upon its seedier aspects. On the floor of the meat fridge lay a foul mattress into which water was being pumped which produced a disheartening wet patch. Again, the viewer felt privy to a private interior space which recalled the body itself as an unstable system of seepages as well as a site of desire. It had a lonely and somewhat unseemly aspect of private yearning made shameful by an intruder's, or society's, gaze. In another room a vast sheet cascaded from an extractor fan and fell down towards a drainage hole. This waterfall was accompanied by the sound of trickling water which was in fact produced by the water pumping in the other room, so was occurring in real time. This sensory play allowed a cleansing aspect to emerge. While the white bed linen offered a sense of transcendence, it was a purification rite contained by shame and sacrifice. This containment opened a pathway from the religious to the mental institution, such that aspects of control, repression and coercion were seen to impinge on the fluid and indefinable nature of the (absent) body. Like all of the artists in the series that I managed to get a look at, Wise's installation drew on simple means to transfom the space in order to re-invent our relationship to everyday objects.

The clammy seediness of The Chiller, which Walls's and Wise's installations seemed to hint at, was provocatively laid bare by Vanessa Jack. She managed to deconstruct the space entirely by stripping the walls and cutting out rectangular holes through which the urban landscape outside could be imaged. Underneath the lining on the walls emerged a curious readymade "landscape" of dank growths which were both repellant and beautiful: enough to make your skin crawl but pretty as a willow tree. By allowing the outside space to impinge on the interior, Jack asked us to consider both the banality of the urban landscape, but also the viewer's, or artist's ability to make it to conform to a desired aesthetic, contingent on our personal perspective. On the contrary, both "landscapes" were momentary and existed in a state of flux. The artist could be considered an arcaeologist of sorts, but the ephemeral artwork refused any scientific logic. The evocative series of connections which the show conjured was typical of all the works in this series. Unlike Signs of the times, which is on in Wellington as I write, the smart young things weren't forced into a frame which made them look like frumps.

The CASKO artists, as Vanessa Jack's installation succinctly demonstrated, were allowed an opportunity to energise an urban space and heighten our experience of the everyday, and moreover, to refigure the conventional frame provided for art. On the other hand, Signs of the Times duly demonstrated the strictures placed on artists by the institutional stamp of approval. The show started promisingly enough. To pass through to its innards, the viewer had to negotiate a screen of red PVC strips, like a giant-sized butcher's door, which was a work by Anton Parsons called Jamb (1997). Though one could neatly extrapolate, among other associations, the gallery as a site of commercial transaction from this piece, the tone quickly turned from wit to solipsism (lambs to the slaughter?). This was exclaimed by the hideous pink and orange logo provided by the City Gallery for the show, and the wall panel proclamation (in unreadable but supposedly "funky" font , accompanied by a liberal smattering of e-mail ">>" signs) which spoke of `...a new generation of media savvy artists' who `testify to a new cultural spirit'. Rather patronising and spookily avant-garde I should say. Gavin Hipkins must have known that something was awry: he wisely, if a little reticently, chose to have his enormous photographic work, The Track, unlit. His motif, evidently, was inspired by the Berlin `36 and Munich `72 Olympic Games stadiums: a resolute site for reconnaissance considering the make-up of the show.

It was not as if the works themselves promoted any kind of defining style or approach. However, the artists chosen seemed to fit into the fairly conventional modes of sculpture, painting and photography, and consequently the show, superficially at least, seemed fairly well-mannered. Where, for example, were the video or computer-based works, the performances, the installation work and/or other ephemeral modes...that is, works which offer the possibility of engaging with or challenging the authorising frame of the museum?

Parson's work, reminiscent of the flyscreens used in supermarkets, was unwittingly apt if we take the artists here to be branded or barcoded. This was unfortunate as the show clearly contained interesting work. For example, when I first viewed Jim Speers's series of lightboxes as the installation Cigarettes and Real Estate at the Manawatu Art Gallery in June, they seemed edgy: banal yet compelling, beacons for the listless eye. Perhaps this was because at the Manawatu the works were placed in a darkened gallery of their own, and thus were given space to respire. These are the strongest works this artist has produced, to my mind. But here in the bright lights of Signs of the Times, they were stuck on a wall, jammed next to Kirsty Gregg's cushions (Softening the Blow), and left to perspire as they took on their new, (sychophantic) role as lollies for corporate walls.

It was as if each artist was merely quoted, and signs the works became. But not signs to challenge or evoke but rather transferable objects sanctioned by the corporate frame of the gallery, and this was their signature.

Really, the title of the show said it all, and begged the advice: early `80s retro is soooo 1989. But remember, kids, that old maxim, "it'll look good on ya CV".

Louise Garrett
October 1997



Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics Room