Au. Murray Eskdale and Tara Douglas (with Ben Webb).
5th September – 18th September. Mint Gallery.
Au is a selection of new photographic works by Murray Eskdale and Tara Douglas. Both are Dunedin based artists who have presented their individual bodies of work on opposite sides of the gallery in a very conventional and accessible manner. A photographic installation by Webb exists in between these works on the floor. Although consistently overlooked, one felt most drawn to this work.
Eskdale presented a highly cohesive series of urban landscapes taken in Shanghai. These works were inherently reflective, both in subject matter and the clever way in which these works occupied the space. This is not merely in terms of interaction with these works within the gallery, but also the space outside the gallery; the surrounding environment. Offering a documentarian approach to an unfamiliar space and a mediation perhaps upon globalisation, these images lacked a nuanced socio-cultural understanding of both site and photography. Pertinent, as photography is embedded with what it reveals, something inherently ‘cultural’.
Witnessing Douglas and Eskdale’s works simultaneously is awkward and comes across orientalist. There is something inherently offensive about these so-called ‘Japanese inspired’ works by Douglas, as the wall text suggests. It was ironic that one could see the reflection of the chinese restaurant ‘The Asian’ in each of these works. It reiterated the juxtaposition of whiteness as embodied by the artists on display, and their misguided reference to the so called ‘other’. Douglas’ photographic strategy lacks depth or any aesthetic consideration whatsoever. Her photographs only serve to contrast with Eskdales. They lack any coherent or reflexive use of being ‘Japanese inspired’; rendering them simply offensive.
The show lacked clear curation and the space itself harboured the stench of business ‘suits’ looking to buy ‘art’, who unbeknowingly stood on a work by Ben Webb. This quiet work was a ripped photograph with an array of pieces neatly stacked up on top of one another, situated beside an arrangement of an orchid and cherry blossom. Webb’s placement worked in complete opposition to the more pronounced work of Eskdale and Douglas, which were obviously intended to be the commercial offerings of the exhibition. This work, which was not mentioned as being a part of the show at any point other than vaguely on the facebook event, was the most subversive, especially given the very austere appearance of the white wall behind it. This white wall unfortunately blocks the window space of the gallery and was covered in a selection of unsymmetrical and poorly pinned down ‘exhibition texts’. This ‘feature’ has always seemed garish and in this context enabled one to realise the extent of the curator’s ill use of space.
Elements of Au reflected a careful mediation on modes of display and created a slick output of work. However, the lack of curation, the unappealing use of space and the inclusion of ‘Sierra Cafe’ inspired work by Douglas all left one with a palpable feeling of underwhelment.
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