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Bird in Flight at Skinroom

There are a series of very slim and sardonic books doing the rounds at the moment, spoofs put out by those perennial Ladybird Book people. You might remember them from your more tender years coming at you with titles like “The Little Red Hen” and “Treasure Island”.

These latest works have a bit more bite to them, aimed as they are at a slightly more mature and cynical demographic. They present with titles like, “The Vegan,” The Emo”, “The Sexist”, “The Gamer”, “The Vlogger”. The title I possess is called “The Hipster”. It has 52 pages making satiric jabs at targets dying to be jabbed at, subjects that include, scratch cinema, action poets and no-linear campaign provocateurs. Trendy fashion is one of the foci where the text begins: “Neena likes to wear hats made of forklift tyres and coloured balls.” Opposite the text is a Ladybird illustration of Neena smartly done out in said hat.

But my all-time favourite would have to be the go at conceptual art. Opposite an illustration of things that are patently an assortment of Liquorice Allsorts is a text which reads: “It is important to the hipster that things look like other things. Half of these things are hats. The others are small-batch artisan savoury pastries. Can you tell which is which?”

You may well wonder where all this longwinded intro is going?

Turn to Cuban artist, Felix González-Torres and his piles of confection heaped up against gallery walls. Patrons were encouraged to take one sweet each away with them. All of this, we are told, is a “metaphor for the process of dying”, providing perfect grist for the mill for the authors of “Books for Grown-Ups”.

So far, so convoluted.

Turn again to the latest exhibition (Bird in Flight) at Skinroom in Hamilton and the work of two ‘local’ artists, Philip McIIhagga and Karl Bayly.

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This joint show has taken its inspiration, or at least its reference points, from the works of the Cuban. Besides lollies in large numbers on the floor,González-Torres does a mean number in ‘drapery’, involving lightbulbs and extension cords suspended from the ceiling and cascading down like a length of extended curtain to touch the floor.

McIIhagga has used this motif as his starting point. He has left out the lightbulbs and gone straight to the idea of long sheets of semi-transparent fabric which he has draped loosely down over large canvas works that include his usual abstracted notations.

What we get is a kind of dance of the seven veils or its opposite, a sort of burqa art, tantalising enough for the viewer to feel constrained to subversively pull the curtain briefly aside to reveal the hidden treasure lurking beneath. This “art wearing shades” is a clever construct that introduces us to the notion of revelation and concealment, of tease and arousal that is all part of the art game. With titles like, “Cubian Disco” and “Pensacola Taco”, it all adds to the ersatz glitz and cheap shabby glamour associated with the aesthetic practice of hide and seek, disguise, camouflage and disclosure.

Karl Bayly implemented a little González-Torres trick of piling things up on the floor. He purloined sand from some local beach and scattered small mound of it across the gallery floor in Skinroom. To these he added a smattering of small seeds as well as tiny Christmas lights that glowed in the darkened gallery space. Multiple readings may be made of this, but one is the idea that patrons, treading on the floor, would carry the seeds away on the sole of their shoes with the chance of spreading them beyond the confines of the gallery. New life is thus born, literally. This is interaction taken to new levels.

He performed the same trope at the Wallace Gallery, Morrinsville, where a work called, Don’t Panic, also employed the seed manoeuvre. In this work, the central component is a video playing on a loop, presenting in real time, the movement of clouds across a blue sky. Played directed into the corner wall of the gallery, the screen takes the shape of a house with pointed roof and watching the film in such form helps create a Zen-like meditative tone. A gallery window is curtained off with a large blue translucent sheet hung from the ceiling, helping to create a tranquil and contemplative ambience.

The work of both artists are conceptually adventurous and cleverly engaging, a couple of hipsters doing a couple of birds in flight.  

Peter Dornauf

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