What does a tower of sardine tins on the gallery floor and a man pinning up squares of white cardboard sheets on a gallery wall have in common? It’s all in the title of the show at Pilot Gallery, Hamilton, called, A Convenient Default.
Artist Ammon Ngakuru is author of the silver stack of tins that exhibit a clean metallic appearance (devoid of any wrappings) and is simply entitled, Sardines. At a little over waist height, this singular construction of preserves call immediately to mind Warhol’s ubiquitous soup cans. But the artist is not concerned with any Pop Art points of interest here. Rather this lowly collection of turreted tins references in a comically manner the cheap default food that might be purchased by struggling artists trying to make a precarious living.
The structure of the tins present in their repetitive formation a sculptural shape that takes on the appearance of any stack of cans appearing in a supermarket, and thus become, by default, a work of art.
Joe Prisk, the second artist exhibiting in the show is the man with the cardboard sheets. This is a performance piece, presenting in video the act of the artist pinning small square sheets of cardboard, painted white, up on the wall in rows. There is a methodical process enacted here as the artist pins each one up and then replaces each row in turn with another set of blank sheets to mimic a scrolling process. Repetition is a trope that finds a match with the sardine work, but here in the piece Prisk calls, Results, the primary idea is that of the “default image” related to the sequence of blank squares seen on Google image search prior to viewing the results.
His empty cardboard squares are potential spaces, like blank canvases waiting to be filled with image and or information. It attests to the presence of absence that will become in turn a presence.
That idea of the blank space is repeated in a second work, called Screen where Prisk has constructed a stretcher the size of the gallery window and simply extended a gauze fabric across it so that it becomes a kind of transparent canvas. Placed in the front window it looks out into the street, framing the view. The viewer in turn gets a filtered picture of the life on the other side, a readymade default image that alters as time goes by, as the light changes. Standing up close to the fabric and looking across at a sharp angle, the weave of the material becomes completely opaque and black.
Ngakuru has a maritime interest linked to “flags of convenience” that allow ships to adopt the flag of a particular nation when inside their waters; a subterfuge “undoing narratives of concrete nationhood”. It becomes a kind of convenient default option where visual language is corrupted. His photographic print of a ship being repainted, like a chameleon performance, engages with the slide-rule practice of identity.
In similar fashion Prisk paints a wall of the gallery a delicate grey, almost indistinguishable from the other walls – playing with the notion of “other” but the same. Visual tricks right down the line.