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Compilation: Hamilton in June

There is so much art activity going on at the moment in the Waikato that this review, of necessity, has turned into a compilation album.

The Wallace Gallery in Morrinsville has become the hot place to be and be seen, and recently a group show entitled, Between the Lines, show-cased the work of artist, Rose Meyer. Her unique process of mark making involved the use of a device that creates an automatist line Max Ernst would be proud of.

Her trick to producing a random series of lines on paper – a chaos of swarming marks or a bird’s nest of linear configurations that fill up an A3 size page, involves an ingenious methodology.

She built a little ‘tray’ on wheels, punched a hole in the middle through which she fixes a pen. This device is then placed inside an A3 box with matching size paper and then the box is taken for a ride; literally. The back seat of a car is ideal, or, to up the ante, the box is sometimes posted through the mail. The resultant journey with all its twists and turns is seismically tracked and recorded, then mounted for display in the gallery inside the opened box which acts as a framing device.    

This process aptly reflects what Paul Klee’s once said the practice of art was – “Taking a line for a walk.” Meyer’s sprawling marks become the ley lines that document the journey of our lives, like the ancient tracks our ancestors once made.

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Rose Meyer and Justine Giles, Wallace Gallery Morrinsville. Images courtesy of Wallace Gallery Morrinsville.

In the same show, Justine Giles takes marking making with ink and watercolour to photorealist heights so that the simulation of a postcard or page of found text is replicated in such immaculate detail that the distinction between the artefact and art is obliterated. There is nothing here “between the lines”. Reality and simulation are one.   

That same play between the observed world and its copy (two degrees of illusion in Plato’s economy) is reworked in the art of Dean Tercel. He takes a deliberately blurred photograph of his subject and reproduces the image in charcoal on paper; a recasting of something the impressionists were playing with 150 years ago.

Blurred lines appear again in a show at Ramp Gallery that sports a long and involved title: It Sounds Like I Missed Out On A Lot While Standing In The Middle Of The Cloud. Curated by Wallace Gallery director, Justin Morgan, it included one of the last works by Len Lye. Entitled Particles in Space, (1980), it employs his famous scratch markings on celluloid film strip. The effect is played on screen to the accompaniment of upbeat jaunty music. These moving truncated lines and ciphers seemed to dance, weave and bob to the score, coming into and out of existence like light trails left in the dark by the rapid movement of atoms.

A Rothoesque darkness is captured in the same show by Diane Scott in her work, The Curtain, where layers of acrylic and enamel on aluminium, backlit, give the black/blue depth an enigmatic resonance.

While Scott’s work reverberates with Lye on one level, artist James R Ford in Tiddlywink in the Lens echoes Lye at another. His video piece that renders the momentary flung movement of a plastic disc on the screen for a split second, embodies the illusive nature of reality; that which exists “between”.

At Skinroom, the focus is on handmade paper as a medium. Entitled, Mash, a reference to the process of making, artist Chris Singh, in a work called, Periodic Table, sees the paper become a multitude of small canvases that serve as a base for simple graphic lines in black paint – abstract jottings that represent symbolic representations of the elements.

Mason Holloway uses his handmade paper for painting streetscapes that display a sharp sci-fi touch, coloured red, evidencing a strong graphic comic strip design, while Mark Peters does intriguing 3D repetitive jigsaw patterns using thick handmade paper cut to precision with a laser. Alongside these, Delaney Parker plays with the fusion of divergent materials, juxtaposing strips of wood bound together with paper to create a nice frisson between contrary elements.

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Country Womens Institute, Jan Nigro, Aesthete. Image courtesy of Aesthete.

Collage, of course, goes back a long way and it was surprisingly evidenced in the work of Jan Nigro at Aesthete recently in a show of Waikato Women Artists. Her portraits subtlety incorporated found elements, cut from magazines, which she pasted onto her paintings – a ring on a finger, part of a face, etc. One had to look closely to observe the collage itself. The show also featured more contemporary local artists like Zena Elliott with her high-coloured abstract reworking of Maori motifs and Sarah Munro, making a name for herself in New York, with her finely finished and slightly impressionistic figures in interiors.           

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Second Wind, Priscilla McIntosh and Alex John K, OLGA. Images courtesy of Priscilla McIntosh.

A one night stand by Priscilla McIntosh and Alex John K at OLGA, in a show called, Second Wind, saw the former work her portrait magic with a Rita Angus style figure placed in relation to a table along which a portrayal of David Hockney lay, tablecloth-like. Clever. The latter worked up a Peter Snell portrait through a repetitive process of drawing, screen printing and painting. The resultant image was then cut out and pasted on an old antique mirror, complete with chain, to conjure the feel of famous New Zealand sportsmen hung up clubrooms up and down the country. An iconic figure is thus treated in a distinctive retro format that provided both edge and charm simultaneously.  

Peter Dornauf  

Fat Maui: how he broke the internet

In the last week my Facebook feed has been full of critiques about Maui’s representation in the upcoming Disney film Moana, penned by New Zealand’s own Taika Waititi. This will be one in a sea of think pieces which have already started flowing here or here and even here on The Guardian. This was intensified after a meme surfaced comparing Maui to a pig and a hippo. To date it has 1247 shares and 2800 likes and climbing, doing it’s rounds in the Pacific Island community both in New Zealand and world wide.

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Sourced via Facebook

There are various arguments against the Disney depiction of Maui and many stem from comparing the build of Maui the Polynesian demigod (which people are calling obese to the point of perpetuating stereotypes) to real-life buff Pacific actors who play non-Pacific often European heroes such as Samoan The Rock Dwayne Johnson as Hercules or Hawaiian Jason Momoa as Aquaman. Even characters such as King Triton from The Little Mermaid aren’t safe from the crossfire.

The non-Hollywood representation of deities across different cultural landscapes is so diverse. The well recognised Hindu god of Ganesh is typically a man with a round belly, four arms and an elephant head. Caishen, a god of wealth in Chinese mythology is usually depicted with a round cheerful face clothed in red. In our own backyard Polynesians carved representations of their gods, one of them being Tagaloa. Tagaloa has a slightly different role depending on which Polynesian island you come from but generally is short with a large penis. All of these deities are far from the buff Greek and Roman gods.

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Tangaroa (1992), Ani O’neil, Return to Sender, Papakura Art Gallery. Photo courtesy of Louisa Afoa (2013)

Maui is a god found in mythology all across the Pacific; Tonga, Tahiti, Samoa and of corse Hawaii and Aotearoa. He’s often labeled as a ‘trickster’ using his supernatural skills of turning invisible or the ability to change into an animal to sometimes steal things. However his pranks usually aided mankind. I grew up seeing Maui through the illustrations of Peter Gossage. The Gossage Maui is slim and lean, nothing like WrestleMania’s The Rock. His skin is a lot darker, tā moko on his face and his hair is black which is usually tied up high. This image is specific to Māori and even more specific to Gossage.

It never crossed my mind that Disney’s Maui was obese until I went through my Facebook feed and that was the term used to describe this larger than life being. I didn’t see any rolls of fat, but someone who is immensely strong as he swings his large fish hook, flexible as he dances and flips in the air and pretty awesome as he transforms into an eagle.

When people started comparing Disney’s Maui to The Rock and Jason Momoa, they were no longer just talking about the demigod – they were talking about actors in Hollywood. Is The Rock or Jason Momoa really an accurate representation of Pacific people who are spread across a vast array of islands each with their own diverse cultures and beauty standards. Those against Maui’s build are commenting on a hollywood double standard. They would much rather have a muscular sculpted man with long fine hair. But is that not also playing into a fetishised image of the noble savage while simultaneously perpetuating Western beauty ideals?

I get it. Representation is political. If you’re not part of the hegemony the chances of misrepresentation in the media are high. In New Zealand, Pacific people receive tropes such as uneducated, trouble making criminals not to mention overweight and of bad health.

What has also come to light through the various reactions is the prejudices we have against our own weight within our Pacific communities. Lets be real and call out the memes for what they are — fat shaming. Memes that were shared amongst liberal leaders within Auckland’s Pacific community, leaders that supposedly are advocates for ALL islanders against prejudice.

There’s enough pressure on youth to look a certain way. I’m so okay with Maui not represented as a hyper-athletic sexual object. Calling Disney’s Maui a hippo while calling Dwayne Johnson handsome is sending a message that those whose rolls sit outside of western beauty standards should not be visible. Fat shaming is not a catalyst for change. It doesn’t make sense to challenge representation in order to uplift your people when by doing so you’re shaming people within that same community.

Two years ago rapper Fortify took to FB to voice his opinion that fat men shouldn’t perform the haka because it didn’t look good.

“Hate when I see Maori or Islanders dressed up doing haka etc and they are overweight and look like they just came from the bakery! No offence 2 anyone overweight but if you are dressed traditionally and doing a haha at least look the part! Please don’t take this the wrong way but our warriors were fearsome, staunch and muscular not overweight with girl boobs!”

To which he received a lot of clap back. The response everyone had for him was basically that mana has no size and maybe that’s how we should view Maui. Even if he did have large rolls of fat on his body (which he doesn’t) it wouldn’t be able to diminish his spirit. He would still be a powerful demigod.

I’m looking forward to seeing Moana on it’s boxing day New Zealand release, finally my own Disney princess. But judging by popular opinion, my fat brown body will never and should never represent a Pacific goddess. The patriarchal gaze is just too strong.

Louisa Afoa

All is unfair in art and privilege

Header Image: Terror Internationale, installation view, as part of Pacific Real Time. Image courtesy Nikau Hindin

I.

I stood outside The Cloud in the rain for a good ten minutes. I was experiencing equal parts intimidation and trepidation, anticipating that I might not be the usual folk to attend an art fair. I did go to the last Auckland Art Fair in 2013 but I moved in and out rather quickly. Much like a Travel Expo I’d been to previously, I had ambitious ideas but no substantial amount of expendable income. I left only with dashed hopes and picturesque business cards.    

No, I didn’t pay for this ticket.

At the entrance, I presented my crumpled paper ticket to the attendant. Across the way, Karen Walker and Petra Bagust hovered together amongst a booming crowd at the Paul Nache Gallery stand. It was wet outside and windy in, yet they appeared pristine and immaculate. I quickly hurried past a handful of swanky dealer stalls to a place littered with more recognisable faces. The not-for-profit editions stand was immediately more welcoming, consisting of Artspace, Corban Estate Arts Centre, Te Tuhi, Te Uru, McCahon House, ST PAUL St Gallery, Gus Fisher Gallery, Objectspace and Malcolm Smith Gallery. To be fair, it was the cheapest gallery stall, with editions and publications from each gallery’s more prominent artists – still not that cheap. I thought about buying one of the Janet Lilo tote bags in a petty attempt to outsell the more popular Kate Newby totes. Ya know, solidarity for my P.I. sisters kinda thing. Then I realised I was/is/have always been basically broke, so no.

I found a friend or two. We went to the drinks table. We circled the entirety of the fair and picked up a new glass each time the line had gone down. Apparently only one drink was complimentary. When we went to Eve Armstrong’s Trading Tables, the pizza bread server swiftly ignored us and took their plate to a more important looking patron. 

I considered several questions repeatedly when thinking on my response for this show. Should art be for the everywoman? Should art even be for all people? Or is it okay for the different facets of the art market to operate in isolation? Of course it’s quite a hard task for art to do all these things at once, but should the Auckland Art Fair be marketed towards students, emerging artists or those that aren’t concerned with profit? Probably not. An art fair is inherently commercial; aimed at making money and generating funding. I don’t find fault with this in the slightest, particularly as Creative New Zealand funding disappears like a mirage. However, the newly branded fair seems somewhat intent on being more inclusive but in this traditionally capitalist model, how is this to be achieved? 

From a personal standpoint as a barely practicing artist with a sensitive disposition, the concept of an art fair is alien to me. The idea of commodifying anything that (ideally) comes from an often vulnerable instinctual place is tricky business. Sure it happens a lot and there is always this struggle between commercial gain and artistic integrity but as I said maybe this place is not for people like me – people with no money and very little privilege. I actually liked some artworks and I support some of the galleries – purely in spirit, of course. But who cares what I think is pretty?

(I did quite like the Mike Heyne’s New of the Uruguay Round (2016) video works for CIRCUIT located at the back end of The Cloud, next to the toilets.)    

Pacific Real Time, Quishile Caran, 'Fijianx', 2016

Quishile Charan, Fijianx, as part of Pacific Real Time, 2016. Image courtesy of Sophie Wallace

II.

Prior to the Auckland Art Fair, two Boosted campaigns were launched by independent curator Francis McWhannell for two emerging artist projects under the non-commercial Pacific Real Time initiative.  Both campaigns requested $1000 to have stalls at the Auckland Art Fair amongst some very hungry gallery sharks and potentially wealthy benefactors. “Pacific Real Time…uses contemporary art to explore what it means to be a Pacific artist or art professional in a globalised world, particularly one which has been dominated by northern hemisphere mores, morals and institutions.”

One of those campaigns featured solo artist Quishile Charan with a work titled Fijianx.  ‘Quishile Charan is a young Indo-Fijian artist currently studying at the University of Auckland’s Elam School of Fine Arts. Fijianx is very physically present in the space, extending well over the fixed walls of the interior space.  The seven plinths are covered in haldi (turmeric). Fijian prayer coconuts are situated at the top of each plinth. Not hard to miss, yet when I went to the fair a second time, it again seemed unassuming and overlooked. Charan, as an artist, is quite outspoken and indeed she is very vocal about issues of displacement, whitewashing and political corruption. Did nobody see the irony in the inclusion of this work in a traditionally Eurocentric predominantly white-privileged industry? The inclusion of the work did indicate a glimmer of hope that people might be developing a social conscience.  This was definitely a wildcard.   

Auckland-based collective Terror Internationale (formerly known as Terror Management) is a group of young artists based in Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland. ‘They run their own space, Halloween Gallery, above Joy Bong restaurant on K’ Rd, where they recently held the first exhibition in Aotearoa of work from Bernadette Corporation. Art obsesses them. And they want art to obsess you too.’ I initially judged this group a bit harshly. Their charcoal stained fingers pressed firmly on the pulse. Terror Internationale even created their own stall. I’m trying to cast my mind back to specific artworks but I recall a derelict couch, some shelving, an excessively large gothy t-shirt – basically a student apartment. I might be missing something, I didn’t notice any underlying deep social commentary but that’s not a necessity. If I did feel any real negatives about the work it is that it feels exclusive like an insider joke. It’s hard for outsiders/the public to access.

Jokes and deep-seated resentment aside, I did come away from the Karangahape Road Halloween gallery space somewhat inspired. These artists have created works that feel very fresh yet self-indulgent. As a group, they come across as quite confident and they know exactly what they are doing and exactly what the New Zealand art industry needs – an injection of personality. There is no doubt in my mind though that the artists of Terror Internationale will be the Michael Lett’s, Simon Denny’s and Sarah Hopkinson’s of the future. This stall, although aesthetically different from many at the fair, absolutely belonged there.     

If anything puzzled me, it was the inclusion of these two artist entities under the same project discussing ‘Pacific’ arts. The perplexing use of the word ‘Pacific’ seems off to me, as if its implied that being located in the geographic Pacific region is an indicator of what it means to be ‘Pacific’…Thankfully though, both Boosted funds reached their goals, but what would it signify about arts supporters if Terror Internationale’s work was selected and Quishile Charan’s socio-political focused work was not? Having said all that, the inclusion of not-for-profit galleries and non-commercial projects was definitely a strong and welcomed move.        

III.

There were several unrepresented emerging practitioners included in this fair, occupying spaces that would have cost others approximately $8-10k to buy. The open plan of the fair did not mirror the open social intermingling that the organisers were (I am making an assumption here) hoping to encourage. Segmenting each gallery with a space that is equal to its local ranking and/or financial contribution creates further hierarchy. Pitting dealer galleries against emerging artists for space…is perhaps a tad unfair? It’s refreshing though to see young emerging artists with strong voices advocating for themselves.   

My suggestion for the next installment of the art fair is to really evaluate the use of space. Get rid of standard white walls – they create literal and metaphoric division. Galleries might actually have to think more creatively about what they are to present. Like a giant community jumbo sale, maybe a bit of anonymity or leveling of the playing field might encourage more diversified social interaction. Change the title from Auckland Art Fair to Auckland Art Basel for immediate critical gravitas. I mean, if this is to be an actual critical and commercial success, which would ideally raise international interest, the fair needs to actually think about being more than just a trading centre for Aotearoa’s most marketable.

All in all…better than last time.

Natasha Matila-Smith

Credit avaseymour67 Instagram

Image courtesy of AVASEYMOUR67 via Instagram

The Absent Sense at RAMP Gallery

Somewhere out in the universe decaying stars that have morphed into deep black holes are converging and churning up space and time in a terrible cataclysmic process.. If an astronaut happened to be floating by in the vicinity, they would hear, (if still alive at that point) the sound the collision made. The sound might be a ringing or groaning, or screaming at a pitch high or low enough to reverberate throughout the eons of spacetime, for all time, eventually reaching us here on the planet. It might take a billion years but by the time it did reach us it would be so faint as to be ‘impossible‘ to hear.

But machines are being built 4 square kilometres across, somewhere in America to pick up this sound and allow us to eavesdrop on these soft discordant cosmic notes.

We call that, science.

In New Zealand we put sensitive microphones down among the grapes to hear them fermenting. Or at least Kent Macpherson does, Master of Arts graduate in Music from Wintec.  

This is not an exercise in listening to the Music of the Spheres but rather a chance for an audience to hear the “hidden symphonies” located in the process whereby the grape morphs into wine.

This is called, art.

The Absent Sense is an exhibition showing at Ramp Gallery, Hamilton – a “special audio installation” devised by Macpherson in which he recorded over a 48 hour period the “sound” of wines in their first fermenting stages.

Inside the gallery a kind of stage setting has been constructed where the viewer, or more importantly the listener, is enveloped in surround sound accompanied by partitions of wine stained white cloth, draped curtain-like to provide a structural spatial device to encounter the music in. This setting was provided for by designer Dean Dunne. 

What one hears is a continuous cacophony of gurgling, farting, bubbling, thumping, popping, dripping, slushing, oozing, dribbling sounds; nature at her fecund best. This is the lush, teeming fructifying noise of the earth concocting a brew that will eventually come, in its end form, to tickle the palette of the connoisseur. It is the sound of the making of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling at Felton Road winery in Bannockburn, Central Otago, at $63 a bottle, courtesy of winemaker, Blair Walters.

Accompanying the slosh and splashing ooze one hears from a dozen speakers placed round the small gallery is a video representation of the sound played out graphically on screen that presents as a glacial formation growing and dancing before our eyes.

These “sound documentaries” are an attempt to alert us to the subtle nuances otherwise muted in the world around us. One is reminded of the work of American composer and music theorist, John Cage, and his famous 4’33 in its bid to attune the ear to sounds heard but not heard.

From macrocosm to microcosm via art and science, we are confronted with an enlargement of sensual experience and Kent Macpherson with his sonic art brings the world of the absent sense closer to our attention. 

Peter Dornauf

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Images courtesy of RAMP Gallery

Mother’s Ruin goes to Bedrock

This is an on-going series that investigates Bella Horlor’s new role as a young mother. An artist and poet, Horlor shares the banal quandaries that exist between artistic and maternal labour.


I hauled the baby from the warmth of the car. I’m sorry girl but I’m not missing this one. I fumble with my keys, and lock the car before I remember that breast milk is a natural sedative and actually that might be my best bet here. So into the front seat she goes, on the boob looking up at me with a slight frown. I haven’t been to an art show since becoming a mother. Mainly because they often tend to be right around our bedtime, and honestly when I found out I was having a baby, I lost plenty of friends who were more comfortable to just leave me to it. That’s been fine, but not for this one.

This one was Bedrock, a show at a Studio One Toi Tū by Charlotte Benoit. Charlotte and I were in the same year at Elam, on the first day of class I spotted her and thought, “I’m going to be friends with her.” As such I’ve always been privy to the conversation around her work. One year before, before a tiny hand grabbed my finger, before the poo explosions, before the drooling teething and the anxiety over whether or not I’m a good enough person to create life, I had entered Charlotte’s garage and witnessed a series of experimentations using concrete on stretched canvas and various spray paint effects. 

It wasn’t clean, it wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t pleasant, but by god it was interesting. 

Bedrock was stuffed into one of the most challenging spaces, the hallway. The baby in my arms pointed wildly to the colours, a glaring tribute simultaneously to road works and Hanna Barbera cartoons. There was Fred Flintstones tunic, some ambiguous road markings, shapes that resembled maybe bananas, shrubbery, or flying birds and generally made your imagination feel like a five year old in front of Sunday cartoons. The paint resembles a bad makeup job. The colours reek of the MAC counter colours that only a partying 19 year old can pull off and it’s applied just as liberally. 

My little girl squirms in my arms, she’s lunges for a carved wooden chain hanging from the bottom of a work. I realise she’s dying to chew it, but the texture of the wood is already chiselled. She makes several shrieks, and people give me obligatory apologetic smiles. She’s at that seriously fun stage of being able to walk but not understanding “No.” Parking lots have become adrenaline filled death traps of my worst nightmares. I put her down for a second and she belines for the work that’s hinged to the wall, swinging out dangerously on a carved wooden arm. Club Tropicana. She stares up with a toddlers gaping mouth. She grins.

There is something eerie about seeing something so heavy levitating on the white of the wall, but my girl understands the humour. She flirts with gravity constantly. 

Bedrock is completely without a metallic element. Metal would be too hard, too smooth and perfect. It’s deliberately just whittled wood and brittle slapped on concrete. They are an elemental poetry balanced together, drinking the free alcohol, arms swung over one another, propped up and grateful for one another. Both a bit of a mess. Think Donald Judd if he drank too much gin and cried about a boy not calling back.

We are women who sometimes slurp our soup on our shirts, or trip over and knock our teeth out on the pavement. We are women who smoke when we’ve had too much to drink, we eat cake for comfort, we are women who rarely iron. We don’t care much but we care hugely. We are real women who have our own little peculiarities and hilarious neurosis. This work is that. It’s female, loveable, clumsy, playful and unapologetic. 

My little girl enjoyed her first art show enormously, she ate several crackers and her first piece of Camembert. 

Bella Nina Horlor

Image: Woopsie and Club Tropicana, Charlotte Benoit, Bedrock, Studio One Toi TūPhoto courtesy of artsdiary.co.nz 

The Makers at YES Collective

The YES Collective is leaving K-Road, but not by choice. Rents are rising, leases have been abruptly cancelled, artists and artisans are being pushed out to make way for the shiny, the new, the very expensive. These are, of course, the final steps in a gentrification process that seems as inevitable as the tide – a process that actually began decades ago. Nonetheless, around K-Road, ‘gentrification’ is once again the word on everyone’s lips.

So, YES has to go and, what better way to leave than with a show (or two).  If it helps to recoup the losses and pay off the debts incurred by running the space, then so much the better.

Since 2014, the YES Collective have operated their K-Road loft as a “catalytic space”, open to all creatives. Projects, exhibitions and other artistic endeavours run by the collective have tried earnestly to be inclusive, provocative and forward thinking.

A one-night-only event, The Makers was the penultimate of four final YES Collective experiences. The previous two involved a pot-luck dinner, games evening and a sound and video show.  By contrast, The Makers was a much more traditional, gallery-style object exhibition. The space is well suited for such a showing. The smooth wood and clear walls don’t distract from the works. There is even a little plant life to keep the “white-cube” feeling away. Live music (and later on a live DJ) added to the atmosphere of that night, and as for the works themselves: the tagline “Hand-crafted and exquisitely made” was on point.

I do have to admit, there was less range than expected from a show with such a broad title. Glass dominated the event, with enough variation between the artists to prevent deja-vu. Besides, the works were beautiful. A particularly fantastic, tongue-in-cheek piece by Matthew Hall involved a tiny replica of a deep fry basket, clear glass oozing through the gaps in the mesh, eerie and fluid and inherently humorous. A collection of other candy-striped bits and pieces were strewn casually about the space, sitting amongst all the other works in playful contrast.

So far, so good, and it was easy to get lost dissecting the delicately handmade aspects of these works. Kate Mitchell’s work in particular is always gorgeously tactile and process-driven. The act of making is laid bare. Her single piece – a frosted pink, cast glass lacy bra – was one of those ‘how on earth’ moments, where you have to seriously refrain yourself from picking the fragile work up for a closer inspection.

The most emotionally loaded set of works was also one of the few non-sculptural, non-glass pieces, by Kate Rutecki. A duo of inked birds on paper, hanging from the ceiling, caught roughly in superfine nets knotted with silver thread. Struggle was implicit in the work, evoking oppression and loss of freedom, but it was the craftsmanship that made it hard to look away.

I think I was expecting something less slick, less shiny, less sellable from the overall experience. When a term like gentrification is used to promote a final set of shows, a final fundraiser, it’s implied that these shows will in some way address that said term. Craft work in particular has such a unique ability to engage with its message and audience, it’s a shame that many of the works here were largely passive. I suppose I simply expected too much from The Makers.

Arielle Walker

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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this is the cup of your heart at The Dowse

Marie Shannon has been following me. I met her in Auckland last year, she is still there. She was, until recently, in a window outside Vicbooks, a faint cello accompanying the smokers gathered on Kelburn Parade. She is, most resolutely, at my place of work and over the last four months I have learned to speak along with her.

In What I Am Looking At, Shannon details the labour that follows a death. She lists, mostly: things that need naming, things that need putting away, photographs, artworks, clothing. It’s all flat affect, all restraint, except it also isn’t. It’s a dissociation from the scene of trauma, a channeling of energy into tracing the lines of a life, where it has been, what it has done and seen, what it has made. Or else it’s catharsis, or the promise that lists won’t ever threaten to contain a life. Lists are finite and neat by nature. Lives spill outwards, sometimes they find themselves unwilling or unable to be spoken of or recalled. Or else it’s simply that the work of the living doesn’t stop.

Most recently, I met Marie Shannon at The Dowse. Three of the artist’s videos are included in their exhibition this is the cup of your heart, curated by Alice Tappenden. Shannon’s work is accompanied by contributions from Erena Baker, Kim Brice, Andrea Daly, Ruby Joy Eade, Emil McAvoy, Joanna Margaret Paul, and an unidentified maker of a 19th century memorial portrait. The show show is about the stickiness of things, lives, feelings as much as it is about loss. It’s a slow exhibition. One that requires not just looking from one thing to another, but allowing objects the time to beckon in the direction of lost or leaving loves, and the time for objects to come up against, or inspect, or ruin themselves in front of whatever blockages, ruptures, or ellipses that arise on the path back to them.

I spent a lot of last year writing about mourning, but I wasn’t really longing after anything in particular. I was thinking about mourning as a way of writing history. One way I learned to think about mourning was as a part of the body. Something gets stuck, binds itself to the body. Maria Torok and Nicolas Abraham describe it as ‘incorporation,’ by way of substitutes, fetishised objects, things saturated with meaning or resonance. Jewellery needs the body. It shapes itself around and into the body, and when exhibited, it invites the ghost of bodies. It feels like it’s ready to be plucked by someone and put to use. Andrea Daly’s soapstone pendants seem like a strange literalisation of incorporation. They’re big, and unruly, and demand to be held. Grooves carved for hips, or for shoulders, holes for fingers to sink into.

‘The body takes on the weight and the weight takes on the body,’ Daly writes. They open the show, depending on what path you take, and they give form to the kinds of losses that take place elsewhere – a bulky, unrelenting form, but a form that forces itself to fit.

Elsewhere the body is, or is soon to be, absent. It seems just out of reach in Kim Brice’s brooches. Subjects are cropped from old postcards, some embracing, some turning themselves away from the camera, some lounging, arms thrown back, all pictured in some vague, unreachable time and place. Brice’s works foreground erotic attachment in a way most of the other works in the show don’t (or at least not on a surface level). Or maybe I’m a pervert. Desire, erotic or otherwise, recoils from specificity. Lauren Berlant writes in Desire/Love, and I always come back to Lauren Berlant, ‘the object [of desire] is not a thing, but a cluster of fantasmic investments in a scene that represents itself as offering some traction.’ Erotic attachment wants what is there as much as what isn’t. The fracturing of images allows the filling in of blanks. Violence against an image allows for repair at the level of fantasy.

Desire wants people close, but not too close. Too much closeness overwhelms. I keep writing about Ruby Joy Eade’s work and I keep running out of ways to say I love it. Eade works with abundance. She works with clusters, with investments, and with things that gain momentum and lose track of themselves. She finds unfinished aphorisms, cries for help, attempts to adjust and regulate behaviour from relationship message boards. Here, they are pressed into porcelain and laid out across two tables. In isolation, they open themselves to meaning, they allow themselves to be read generally or specifically. But often Eade’s work is about isolation’s relationship with the whole, and the whole buckles and gives way under a multiplicity of voices and addresses. The internet makes you lonely as much as it restores you because you don’t know what to do with it. Affects surge and you don’t know where they are supposed to go, or why they have landed on or near you. Eade lets some of them rest for a little while. White, imperfect, and still.

The title of the show comes from a poem written by Joanna Margaret Paul shortly after the death of her daughter Isabel. Paul’s work ends, or begins the show, or both, again, depending on the path you might take. This is a slow show because the show overwhelms. It needs stops and starts, it needs controlled breathing and a moment to catch yourself. The speaker of poem, which is presented in one of Paul’s notebooks, begs for closeness, it begs for a world big enough to contain loss, and it doesn’t find the world inadequate so much as it finds it unfinished. ‘Hold Imogen // hold her life // hold her life in the mountain.’ Ending, and beginning, with Paul feels right. Her work is small, but not neat. Not just compact, but also quiet and humble and deeply upsetting, which is a contradiction, but this is a show about living in contradictions.

Simon Gennard

Pure Guava at Skinroom

“Skinroom” is an apt name given to a new gallery recently opened in Hamilton, in the suburb of Frankton. The place had a former life as a tattoo parlour and now it’s given over to art of a different kind – no hearts with daggers plunged into them or dusky maidens in various stages of undress by moonlit beaches. Nothing as clichéd as that, though such could be employed these days at the ‘high’ art end, if treated with irony and the knowing smile.

Director of the new gallery, Geoff Clarke (Wintec tutor and art theoretician) might want to dispute the above assertion and claim that the vernacular should be accepted on its own terms without any snooty placement of quotation marks.

None are employed in this latest exhibition called “Pure Guava”. And yet with a title like that I sense a delicious irony lurking somewhere in the shrubbery. I can feel the quotation marks coming on.

And yet, perhaps we should take this drink straight because the overall sense of the show from the five artists involved is one of humility of product, or certainly humility of means.

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Orange Cluster, Chelsea Pascoe, 2015, pigment and polyurethane on tissue paper, various dimensions. 

First up is Chelsea Pascoe with her pigments on tissue paper smothered in polyurethane. A new sense of subtly as well as compositional complexity has emerged in her work which engages with a fresh pictorial delicacy. Pink and White Composition includes refined grid formats while the splotches of colour inform the space in controlled yet spontaneous ways. The salute to abstraction has given these new delicately stained tissues a novel edge.

On large sheets of paper, one of them taking up a whole stretch of the gallery wall, Caro Fotofili has crowded together a million dots of paint. These immediately recall the motifs used by indigenous Aboriginal Australian artists, but there the comparison ends. These delicate watercolour creations weave undulating forms within clusters that move surreptitiously through the painting like eddies and elusive waves. One title, Slithy Toves, references the opening lines of Lewis Carroll’s, Jabberwocky, and its companion piece with its equally surreal title, Haunting for the Snark, hails from the same author and is a tour de force of painterly work. Five meters long, it calls on planetary forms and biomorphic configurations among a universe of white dots.

Grunge is on show in the form of Abee Jensen’s early Bill Hammond look-alike in monochrome black, all spiky and aggressive, painted on the side of a sliding door still possessed of its rollers. But the artist’s work entitled, Satisfactory, is much more than the name implies. A predominately large black painting on canvas, it is full of wild, bold and explosive energy with hints of colour among the slashing brush stroke, recalling the best of Willem de Kooning.

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Earth Telephone & Double Happy, Philip McIllhagga, 2016, enamel of ply, 2x24x240mm..

Philip Mcllhagga has shifted from his huge mural-like hangings to very diminutive works on ply board, but they carry the same hybrid notations that revel in the oeuvre of Pop meets abstract. His circles, grids, dots, zig-zags, saw-tooth formations and labyrinthine concentric rings pack the same kind of punch and raw vital energy crammed inside a small space where control and abandon vie for supremacy. 18 works in total are given the name, Glossolalia by Proxi. The spirit has moved Mcllhagga and, hallelujah; he has spoken in tongues by the power of the ‘Lord’. This divine gibberish needs interpretation, of course, and since the artist is using the language of art history practice, he speaks by proxy, requiring some theological unpacking.

Rachel Peary’s acrylic biomorphic monochromatic forms on large plastic sheets also have their precursors that come out somewhere between Arshile Gorky and André Masson. Their abstract independence on unassuming transparent materials provides them with a new adamant, singular force.

Great show, never mind the quotation marks.

Peter Dornauf