The old story of the Emperor’s New Clothes can be read in any number of ways; how politicians are easily duped, how mass conformity operates and so on. It can also be viewed as an exemplar of alternative perception, the outsider view. This is how curator James R Ford has chosen to understand the fable, using it as the title and focus for the exhibition currently showing at the Wallace Gallery in Morrinsville.
Given that the role of art, as some see it, is to “strip the veil of familiarity from things”, as poet Shelley once claimed, or to provide an unorthodox perspective, then Ford is in good company and the works in the show certainly provide an oblique angle on a range of subjects.
One of the most arresting of those is a gem of a piece, by Sanjay Theodore, unprepossessing in its form, (it is simply a found bit of paper which has been then photocopied) yet provided with an ironic and satirical setting by having it placed inside an elaborate gold frame. The paper is a notice or circular about the forthcoming sacrifice of a goat, the opening line of the text which reads, “This is to kindly inform all the Residents and Tenants of Orchid Enclave …” Both funny and disturbing by turns, it reminded me of an anecdote, told, I think, by atheist, Daniel Dennett, who on being informed by his Christian friends that they were praying for his recovery (he was seriously ill), his response was, “Thanks, but what about the sacrifice of a goat?”
Dead animals and their significance was a theme explored by Will Coles in his worked entitled, Nothingness. It consisted of a small bronze cast bird, dead and lying on its side with the word “nothingness” inscribed on its body. Shades of Sartre and Heidegger and all the ontological anxieties thrown into relief by modernist thought.
These two contrary works illustrated perfectly in their diametrically opposed worlds something literary critic Terry Eagleton once observed about twenty-first century life: that, “In the conflict between Western capitalism and radical Islam, a paucity of belief squares up to an excess of it.”
The motif of nothing was continued by James R Ford in his own work, a framed document, reminiscent of Billy Apples’s creations, but on a smaller scale, signed and dated and which read: “Using a sheet of paper to make a point about nothing”.
In direct contrast, Scott Eady wanted to make a definite point about something quite political on a piece of white fabric on which had been embroidered the short text – “By the Greedy for the Greedy”. Entitled, Fleece, here was something that left you with nothing if you happened to be the victim.
Something that was nearly nothing but yet quite beautiful, was Justin Morgan’s photograph of a singular shaft of light, triangular in shape, that raked across a set of ordinary kitchen cupboards. It evoked the work of American noir painter, Edward Hopper, in which the play of light and shadow became his particular obsession.
Such arresting forms located in the simple quotidian elements of life was also treated in the work of Ben Pearce with his delicate lines of acrylic paint applied to a small sheet of glass. Called, I Often Miss Beauty All Around Me, the subtle threads of paint provided ample witness to the title. A larger version of the same thing was Matt Avbuckle’s, Black Tux, notations of paint on 16 sheets of hardboard in the abstract expressionist tradition.
Small things that are easily overlooked was the subject of Glen Haywood’s hyper-real imitation of a piece of polystyrene packing material. Made of wood and painted white, it provided the viewer with a double take, as all banal objects treated in such a manner do. Called, E Spot, humourously alluding to the G Spot, it is Haywood’s way of alluding to the secret aesthetic excitement inherent in the most common of objects. That the erogenous zone is not confined to the glories of the vagina makes Haywood perhaps an advocate of the art as aesthetic arousal school of thought.
Arousal of a different kind is associated with the work of James and Eleanor Avery: (Eddie, Old Bob, Dick and Gary). Take Elvis’s 1950’s badass quiff, enlarge and exaggerate it in a plastic black mould and you have a perfect kitsch sculpture that exudes, in comical fashion, all the sexual trembling’s associated with the Rock ‘n Roll era.
From nothing to everything, this emperor of an exhibition is fully clothed with cleverly crafted artistic couture to delight the discerning eye.