Beginning on a personal note, this year's Fiat Lux fundraiser, "In
Art We Trust", has been a validation of the time and energy we have
spent on the gallery over the last three years. The need for a fundraiser
is obviously indicative of the hardship involved in running a contemporary
art space and it is thus a time when support becomes tangible, translated
into dollars and cents. The artists who contribute work, the buyers and
the donations are, more or less, from a group of people who are the staple
core of the artist-run space scene and contemporary art practice at large.
This kind of group show, although not curated around any specific theme,
provides a valuable commonality by generating a sense of community atmosphere.
Thanks to everyone involved for their generosity, you are the wind beneath
"Multiples" at Ivan Anthony was our other seasonal favourite, operating
on a similar modus operandi. Although small works shows are often criticised
for tokenism, as artists are sometimes working outside their oeuvre, they offer
a rare opportunity for those nearing the humble end of the socio-economic scale
to purchase original works. The energy generated by a group exhibition also makes
them an enjoyable starter for the year, an entree that whets one's appetite for
the main programme, dishing up art in palatable bite-size chunks.
Ronnie van Hout takes the cake yet again with 'After McCahon'. This edition of
three small scale models features McCahon himself, reducing the master at work
to an anti-heroic scale. Van Hout's McCahon, an antipodean Pollock, models an
anachronistic formula of the creative genius. Crouched on the studio floor, adorned
with plaid worker's shirt and a cigarette in hand, the model artist has become
the artist's model - your candle burned out long ago, the legend never will.
||Ronnie Van Hout
Pre-Millennial - Signs of the Soon Coming Storm, 1997
Brendon Wilkinson's landscapes on Lion Red bottles were an apt accompaniment
in the adjacent room-Alcoholics Synonymous! A twisted nationalism rears its head
with these 'Frames on the Land'. Sepia toned landscapes and cascading waterfalls
in the vein of Charles Heaphy or the Hudson River school painters are applied
with the quotidian sensibility of a Jasper Johns assemblage. Is this the new
sublime? Wilkinson deals with the age-old clash of high and low culture; landscapes
on beer bottles offer a wry spin on the Drunk Driving campaigns which feature
human roadkill set against scenic provincial backdrops-where is that drink taking
Multiples document the Lilliputian insurgence of a burgeoning school of diorama
artists featuring the likes of van Hout, Wilkinson, Ricky Swallow et als. These
kitset commandos have a 'take no prisoners' approach to artistic canons, as irony
is the new sincerity for the generation(s) of artists after McCahon. The true
artist used to help the world by revealing mystic truths, now the true artists
just help themselves.
This ideology is craftily contained in van Hout's and Mike Stevenson's Pre
Millennial-Signs of the Soon Coming Storm which recently made its Auckland
debut at the New Gallery.
Van Hout's documentation of the government's bureaucratic paper war is a frank
account of the fatuity of making contemporary art in this economic environment.
Income Support Service accounts of his work history, or lack thereof, are an
example of two mutually exclusive worlds colliding. To a community of artists
the employment service are an invasion of the body snatchers, to the layman contemporary
art is often seen as an alien entity which appears to serve no other purpose
than trying to pull the wool over their eyes.
Stevenson fans the flame of this paranoia by uncovering demonic syndicates and
cryptic masonic codes couched in the works of high-capitalist postmodernism.
The conspiratorial preponderance of conceptualism in artistic discourse is interpreted
as a fascist force subjecting the public to its hegemonic yolk. Perhaps this
is why Ronnie's models are small and separate, pieces of an incomplete puzzle,
fractured and cut off like artists or art itself from the majority of world affairs. Islands
in the stream, that is what we are. Nothing in between, how can we be wrong.
In contrast ARTificial Life at Artspace was another reminder of how conceptually
void high-tech work tends to be. Interactive art presupposes an audience prepared
for pro-active engagement-a faulty logic that works in theory but often not in
practice. For example the play station in the main space came off like a failed
video game, with characters you could pose questions to only to acquire indecipherable
answers. Techno work with its attendant involuntary tics and hiccups just doesn'
t provide a convincing workable model of things to come-it certainly falls short
of the scientific fiction of artificial life. Mainstream media offer the more
relevant insights into the perils of technological hubris and its impact on humanity,
see Jurassic Park and The Net. Piccini's multi-monitor seascape
possessed the most resonance but remained reliant on a visceral sense of wonder
embodied in the horizon line's symbolic potentiality. The three pieces exhibited
were caught up in the joy of playing God with visual sophistry, creating a universe
in new media. Take your eyes along for the ride but leave your brain at home, ARTificial
Life was effective but not affecting.
We could be Heroes by A.D. Schierning and Kiri Gillespie at the
George Fraser Gallery was a resolved exhibition from two recent Elam graduates. Holy
Humungous humunculous, Schierning's pan-Asian doe-eyed cartoon ingenue
was inflated to statuesque proportions and punters were invited to see
how they measured up to this impossible paragon of feminine perfection.
In a different take on a parallel theme, Gillespie seemed to be quoting
from the visual dialectics of Frankenthaler and Rothenberg and applying
them to degraded motifs from our nation's visual vernacular. A paean to
the plight of the domestic goddess, or a critique of suburban banality?
Writing for Log Illustrated one can't help but be aware of one's own biases
which are all very in-house as we tend to exclude a large circuit of dealer gallery
activity. Christine Webster's recent photography at Gow Langsford only consolidates
Webster's hallmark cibachrome cliches continue unchanged despite the writing
on the wall. At best her impersonations lie somewhere between 'Whatever happened
to Baby Jane?' and Courtney Love before Versace saved her soul from rock'n'roll.
Webster's large glossies rely on a legacy of old school feminism which penetrated
stereotypes and archetypes from sources like Grimm's fairytales, Angela Carter's The
Bloody Chamber, and Cindy Sherman's defining film stills and prosthetic masquerades.
Unfortunately Webster's dress-ups smack of a flaccid fetishism, as devoid of
life and meaning as the black vacuums her figures inhabit. The fairy tale is
We're here, we're queer, get out of it! The Hero festival's photography exhibition
in the bowels of St Kevin's Arcade was a lively bacchanalian affair (though the
art came close to being completely eclipsed by the seemingly undiminishing supply
of booze). This opening certainly fulfilled the sentiment of Prince's pop anthem
let's party like it's 1999. Ann Shelton and Fiona Amundsen came out tops by judiciously
avoiding stereotypical image ghettos of leather yuppie male nudes and modern
primitive dyke amazons. Their subtlety proves you can achieve a sense of community
without homogeneity. Tales from the farside. As a testament to the debauchery
of the evening a certain party, who will remain nameless, was spied dancing to
the beat of a different drum (au natural) and exposing his principles in protest
of the addition of human DNA to cows' milk. The answer my friend is blowing
in the wind, the answer is blowing in the wind.
Megan Dunn and David Townsend