Inside Outside Upside Down brings together the work of five New Zealand contemporary artists – Kate Newby, Simon Denny, Ruth Buchanan, Fiona Connor and Ronnie van Hout. Housed on the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki’s first floor, the exhibition is made up of work from the gallery’s own collection. Connecting the works is a shared appreciation for the everyday, a conflation of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ within the confines of a gallery.
The exhibition is arranged as a series of five rooms, each dedicated to one of the aforementioned artists. The first room belongs to Ronnie van Hout’s No Exit II (2003), a strange space of sights and sounds. Van Hout’s work explores the boundaries of interior space, applying the simple inversion of bringing the outside in or the inside out.
A small video monitor flickers within the hollows of a van Hout tree trunk, the artist repeatedly fights and argues in a room with his alter egos – Monkey Man and Dog Man. The indication of multiple personalities links to the artist’s focus upon his practice; his insatiable desire to discover more about himself leading to a stasis state in which he never achieves any answers. In the late 1990s, self-portraiture in van Hout’s work fared prominently, approaching it through his use of tropes, doppelgangers and duplicates. Van Hout’s work is a blend of comedy and tragedy, self abandonment and introspection. Van Hout portrays himself through unusual postures of portraiture, his depiction of an artist is weak, frustrated, and seeking ways to improve.
No Exit II is inextricably linked to Jean Paul Sartre’s 1945 No Exit, in which three dead people find themselves caged in a room with one another for eternity. Sartre’s understanding of self-reflection was that others were often what objectified and created a recognisable version of self. Van Hout’s piece is also reminiscent of Samuel Beckett’s later work in which he focuses on the themes of entrapment functioning to observe oneself.
A fascination with otherness is due to society’s’ construction of identities, categorisation and objectification. George Herbert Mead’s Mind Self and Society text expresses how our ongoing interaction with other people and subsequently our self-reflection, is dictated by social exchanges and adjusted accordingly. The social construction of self-identity is a driving force for van Hout’s practice as he deals with the ongoing struggle of who he is and who he should be according to social pressures.
Van Hout with the help of Sartre and Beckett exemplifies how self and other are always in opposition. The notion is that we cannot look at others and escape what we know of ourselves.