Art relies on time and wrestles with it in the same breathe.
Unstuck in Time was a reaction to the Reeves Road flyover that was scheduled to begin construction in 2015, resulting in the temporary closure of Te Tuhi. Looking to continue the gallery programme throughout the closure Te Tuhi curator Bruce Phillips then commissioned a number of offsite projects. With the delay and eventual cancellation of the construction project, Bruce was then charged with additional programming inside Te Tuhi itself.
I never saw any of Unstuck in Time. I’ve only read the book.
When I saw Wunderūmma at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, I was instantly attracted to a moment. A blue and white tablecloth roughly attached to the gallery wall by Simon Denny sat beneath a landscape painting by Teuane Tibbo (the first Samoan painter to exhibit in a dealer gallery). The pairing was a conceptual revelation. The slacker styling of Denny, and the ‘naïve’ instincts of Tibbo formed a dynamic relationship between two unlikely companions. The impact upon me was immediate, one of those rare –almost spiritual – interruptions in a gallery space.
I was sure the published account of Unstuck in Time would hold none of these moments. The published format forgoes the immediacy of an artworks physical presence, instead we are forced to wait, to read consciously, turn pages and absorb.
As is often the case, the book drifted in and out of my daily routine: an essay with breakfast, two for lunch, and one before bed. It’s a lot of art writing after art writing. Though, I can’t get through this book fast enough. Having never been to see any of the performances in person was both a blessing and curse. On one hand, through visual and written aids, I have the luxury of (re)imagining the work and (re)constructing it myself. On the other hand, I have to quickly decipher whether I trust the written depiction of the work. A number of factors come into play: what I know of the writer, where the writer positions their own practice, why they were commissioned to write about that particular work, the writers style and competence and what I know and think already of the artist. It takes diligence not to come to decisions too quickly.
If we stop to really think about how we know what we know about art, how much of it is actually our own opinions determined by seeing. Our knowledge of art whether we consciously acknowledge it or not is often fed to us through literature, reviews, and documentation. 100 years from now these documents will form the tapestry of an historical past. Who knows? EyeContact might be the most expansive record of New Zealand Contemporary art 2010 onwards.
You know it’s a big deal when a New Zealand art publication is produced in hardcover. Unstuck in Time is a great example of how an exhibition can be transcribed in publication form. There is embossing, matt pages, full page images, two coloured stocks and even foiling. Te Tuhi is taking an active role in locating themselves and these artists into art history and the document itself is well thought-out and slick, albeit with a slightly masculine design edge. Our councils and local boards are aggressively moving toward temporary projects in public spaces but they’re approached often with little thought, looking to tick artificial engagement checkboxes. Unstuck in Time however, successfully advocates for a permanence of the temporal.
My daughter reached into my bag one morning while eating her toast and got butter stains on the cover. I don’t know that I found my spiritual moment within Unstuck in Time. But it did remind me how important both writing and publications are to the formation of knowledge in art. Did I need to see Unstuck in Time – I don’t think so.