Sunday, March 22

interview: zoe crook & aodhan madden (artists)

Photo from the Blue Oyster website
The first time I met artists Zoe Crook and Aodhan Madden was as the Blue Oyster Project Space while they were part way through initial preparations for their Fringe Festival performance piece, “Suspicious Minds”. They had moved the gallery's office to a backroom, covered the entire front window and soon were to set up a whiteboard with a seemingly random list of nouns, which they planned to tick off each day.

The second time I met them, after several days of mulling over our initial conversation, was on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral. Both artists were still dressed in the blue overall and karate pants attire but this time Zoe had a bucket and sponge to clean the steps with. Aodhan held a copy of The Art of War to read to her from while she cleaned. We sat down together to discuss "Suspicious Minds".

Aodhan: I feel like we look like a church ornament with our clothes.

Zoe: We’ve been told we look very religious

Aodhan: What do people mean when they talk about religion? What place does religion hold for people when they are trying to assess something? Today viewing someone as looking religious feels like a person is saying ‘you don’t fit into the normal order therefore there must be some sort of higher cause for you to be doing this or you must be with God. But we’re not in that sense. We’re interested in the divine but not in active way with this project.

Zoe: We don’t want what we’re doing to be definitive ...

Aodhan: ... or programmed in that sense, but there are things that we’ve become interested in through our processes.

Zoe: For a lot of the ideas we’ve had initially and that we’ve had throughout the week our feelings about them have changed. Some ideas we’ve had aren’t relevant anymore. It was the same with organising the Blue Oyster. Our initial conception of how the show was going to be was edited hugely before it opened.

Aodhan: But we’re always doing something, we’re always ‘in it’.

Zoe: The act of being is very much a part of the performance - walking through public space, being in the public eye, interacting in the supposed 'social' of the city.

Aodhan: It's been interesting when we've gone to Glassons and Hallensteins. The shop assistants clearly know we’re something else and that we’re not there to buy the product. This division becomes uneasy. There’s disruption and confusion.

Zoe: We went into these stores and attempted to investigate and understand what it is to be a man or a woman. We had a conversation between us about what symbols were in the store.

What uneasiness was created?

Zoe: The shop assistants didn’t know what to do. Their initial reactions was to find out what we want because then they could help us and make a sale. But we didn’t want to buy anything so we didn’t - in their eyes - belong in the store. They didn’t understand our intentions.

Aodhan: Yesterday we also went to New World and we walked around the store, making random decisions on where to go. If our paths met we had this briefcase that we would change over. People were freaked out. The management thought we might have something to do with the baby milk scandal in New Zealand.

Zoe: Maybe in that same way the Glassons and Hallensteins shop assistants didn’t know how to deal with us. Maybe because they couldn’t put us in a box they resorted to thinking that we might have been there to steal something.

And so you were creating suspicious minds? You were going into spaces with clear constructs on how you should act and by not following these norms but in a  completely harmless way it’s immediately seen as suspicious and negative.

Zoe: It’s corrupting the flow of space.

Aodhan: So much of our show has hopefully been about engendering some kind of suspicion in the viewer or interactor. It’s really interesting what people do with that suspicion.

Zoe: On the street I think people feel that they have more agency to talk to us - like there’s more equal footing - whereas in the shops, the shop assistants decide not to ask us what we’re about. Instead they remove themselves completely and see it as kind of symbolic .   

Oh, everyone is pointing out the vomit on the steps. Maybe I should get onto that. We should properly clean the steps before church tomorrow.

So you’re pretty open minded with your schedule?

Zoe: Yeah, that’s part of it. We feel like it needs certain things that are planned but it also needs to be open in order for us to think about it in that sense.

Aodhan: What we do informs the flyers that we make. For example, one we’re going to make today is “Forever Friday 13th”.

Zoe: It’s constantly elaborating on itself.

Aodhan: That then influences the the things we tick off on the board in the gallery and then that influences the performances. We can‘t determine what we are going to do each day without the day before and the day before that.

Zoe: The more understanding we can have the more pertinent the judgments we can make.

Aodhan: Art just goes on and on and on and on. I feel like our  performance also goes on and on and on and on.

A shorter version of this interview was originally published in Critic.

Wednesday, March 18

draft copy

Patrick Lundberg’s Draft Copy is a connect-the-dots of all sorts: literally in its arrangements of round pins intersected by faint pencil lines and intellectually in the discussions it raises between art objects and the gallery space. This show can be enjoyed by taking a step closer to discover the finer details of painted patterns, and then a step back to examine the interesting, ongoing conversation in the way art objects are made and their visual qualities in contrast to the importance of their context and the ideas behind them.

On entering the Hocken Gallery, however, a distracted viewer, or one with diminishing eyesight, may wonder where the art is at all. A closer inspection of the white surfaces is revealing. Arranged across the walls are small colourful objects like round, stationary insects. These globes of gesso, acrylic, pencil and varnish attached to the wall by hidden pins are arranged in six different installments throughout the gallery, with large spaces between each installment. In one room, for example, there are four creamy-white balls arranged at the intersections of the room’s walls. At first, they are almost indecipherable from the wall. But a closer look reveals small, speckled, colourful details.

The works that Lundberg has created for Draft Copy can be examined as individual art objects that occupy their own space and also as the shape that they create within their arrangement. This and the objects’ visual qualities show that Lundberg has used his time in Dunedin as 2014 Frances Hodgkins Fellow (previous fellows include Ralph Hotere, Jeffrey Harris and Seraphine Pick) to build on previously formed ideas.

While beautiful in themselves, the pin heads’ size is such that the viewer finds herself equally lost in the inbetween and the periphery. Suddenly, the rough white paint covering the walls and the bulk of the lights that illuminate the art from above (both staples of most gallery spaces) become noticeable and part of the work in a way that could never be achieved by framed paintings or stand-alone sculptures. The boundaries of the institutionalised gallery space are brought into question again in an installment where one of the balls, like a dropped yellow lolly, is “lost” on the ground. For several minutes the viewer may consider going downstairs to inform the staff that the exhibition is falling apart. But, be warned, Lundberg is playing with her; forcing her to acknowledge her deeply held, supposedly natural, ideologies about how a gallery “should be”.

With space being one part of the conversation, art’s permanence (or lack thereof) is another. An interest of Lundberg’s, Sol LeWitt was a leader and one of the first artists of the postmodern era and advocated for an idea itself being art. LeWitt believed that the production of work could be delegated to others and still be able to be called his art. Draft Copy’s temporary nature invokes a similar idea. While Lundberg has created the art himself, the balls arrived at the gallery and will leave the gallery with no decided or definite layout. In their perpetual status as “drafts”, the balls are incomplete artworks in that they can always be rearranged; how they interact with the space and the viewer will also change accordingly.

While Lundberg’s final products are beautiful, it is when viewing his work as this idea of a draft or an incomplete process to be completed by the viewer’s interaction with the art that makes Draft Copy exciting; it partly relies on the viewer to make it engaging. This art is about ideas and, as LeWitt said, “The idea itself, even if not made visual, is as much a work of art as any finished product.”

My piece is from Critic - the online version can be found here.

The long version of an interview with Patrick Lundberg conducted by Zane Pocock can be found here.

Wednesday, March 11

dogwood days

Here's another piece for Critic's Art section; this time I wrote about Erica van Zon's "Dogwood Days" at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. The exhibition ends in four days!

W hen my family was moving house yet again, I remember listening to a conversation between two relocators. They were packing my mother’s various objects, which decorated the numerous shelves in the study. While arranging two strangely bent papier-mâché trout and a found piece of burnt driftwood into a nearly full box of similarly arbitrary objects, one relocator exclaimed, “Look at all this shit!” Mildly entertained and frustrated, I felt defensive of the special objects my mother had collected over her lifetime and that I had played with or made stories for throughout mine. This memory and the thoughts it invokes came to mind once again when encountering Erica van Zon’s “Dogwood Days”.

“Dogwood Days” is tucked between Fiona Connor’s movable painting stands and “Mythos”, a collection of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery’s prints; drifting into it is reminiscent of discovering a forgotten box of your treasured objects or, for me, the hoarded items displayed on my mother’s bookshelves. In her show, Erica van Zon has crafted household items and foods, arranging them along a plywood, rectangular display so that viewers can wander around the works and carefully study each item.

The pieces vary from nearly exact imitations of aqua-coloured breeze blocks (that one expert viewer remarked are barely used now because of their structural inadequacy) and dimpled, cut melons to flattened remakes of meat cuts that almost look like props or cut-outs from a children’s book. The textures of the objects are just as varied — from the pale purple and pink fur of the 1970s “View Street Rug” to the clothes and shoes embedded in wax to look like soaking washing. In the texts accompanying the exhibition, the objects are described as “portraits” of the artist’s family members and inspirations as well as “clues of the immaterial” to be gathered and deciphered by the viewers or “pseudo-archaeologists”. In most cases, van Zon has used traditional craft methods in a new way appropriate for a contemporary art gallery. Her varied responses to the works reflect their varied physical characteristics — as the crafted pile of brown and white bread in the show suggests, “Dogwood Days” is a layered experience.

The questions raised by the colourful objects multiple further because of the deliberate way they are displayed. Because the objects are elevated but close to knee level, wandering around the show’s rectangle platform is similar to exploring a design store, but instead of shopping to then physically consume the objects or acquire them for one’s own home, the viewers are purchasing experiences and memories — of home, of parents, of stories. The everyday of the family home is elevated into the realm of art in a surprisingly pleasant encounter. But the encounter is also filled with interesting tensions — as Martin Patrick observes, the show negotiates a plethora of identities and directly contrasting ideas of art/craft, real/configuration, material/conceptual, and now/then.

After attaining a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Auckland in 2008, van Zon has exhibited around New Zealand and overseas. In 2014 the artist spent eight weeks over July and August in Dunedin working on “Dogwood Days” as a Dunedin Public Art Gallery Visiting Artist. Her final body of work for this show incorporates, as Aaron Kreisler describes, her “continued investigation into ‘domestic’ modernism, culinary fetishism, disposable and popular culture” and also pushes her work into new areas. Her work is smart and researched, but is wonderfully accessible. “Dogwood Days” engages a diverse audience and stimulates stories to be shared between child and parent, two friends or just oneself, making the show a welcome invitation to add to a shared cultural knowledge.


Tuesday, March 10

vcr head

My enigmatic friend, Adrian Ng, has created a new persona - the fantastically named Winona Fornever. His first release, "VCR Head", invokes that sad/awe I feel when on sleepless nights I stare and get lost in the deserted streets beyond my window. You can find it here.


Monday, March 9

full moon, hungry sun

Kane Strang has just released the first song for an album he is working on. After several listens, it's hard not to be excited for what's to come!


Tuesday, March 3

visible structures

Here is my text for Critic on the Dunedin Public Art Gallery exhibition "Visible Structures" by Gabriella and Silvana Mangano. The show ends on the 15th of March so make sure you visit the gallery soon (if you can)!

C onfronted by a wall of text that partially blocks Gabriella and Silvana Mangano’s “Visible Structures”, the viewer can experience only a slice of the show from the outside. These glints of colour and light from one of the show’s projected films, mixed with ethereal, overlapping sounds, lure the viewer beyond the first wall into a visual landscape of solid white walls with films flashing and glowing across their surfaces.

Within this new landscape, the viewer is never quite alone with one film. As she faces one of the five walls (none reach the roof of the space) the light and sounds from other screens beckon and interact with each other — surrounding the viewer with a world of repeated and sometimes echoed imagery. By avoiding the use of the four outer walls of the room and, instead, projecting the films on their own walls as objects that stand by themselves and at angles to each other, “Visible Structures” mirrors the works of Fiona Connor, which are exhibited on the same floor. Connor’s works feature paintings by three celebrated New Zealand artists: Colin McCahon, Milan Mrkusich and Toss Woollaston. Each painting has been taken from its “normal” place on a gallery wall and displayed on movable white frames (like those used for portable whiteboards at school). Rejecting tradition, Connor’s works play with and critique the gallery as an institution whose ideas of exhibition formation can seem unchanging. In the Manganos’ works, however, instead of mail addresses and other scrawls marking the paintings’ journeys, the backs of the walls are lit with flashes of the journeys of surrounding films.

On the three smaller walls (one of which has a projection on either side) are films that show parts of a landscape rolling by, often in strange hues of pink or green-blue. Although these films’ contribution to the overall effect of the show is not less important, they are more simplistic, outlines of ideas or “sketches” that manifest themselves more fully in the films shown on the two larger walls. These two larger walls have some of the same imagery featured on the smaller screens spliced with black and white scenes of one of the artists (the collaborating artists are identical twins, which makes it difficult to identify who is performing) interacting with or wandering around an open space that sometimes features towering rock faces or dusty, rocky surfaces. In these glimpses, which are somehow both familiar and otherworldly, the viewer recalls segments of sites seen from the back of a car in between dozing off on summer road trips. 

In these two films, the performer carries a large circular mirror, which sometimes reflects a smooth grey colour, almost creating a hole within the work. The held mirror also segments the artist’s body, creating a link to Joan Jonas’ groundbreaking “Mirror Pieces”, which incorporated mirrors into performance works and fragmented the audience’s perception of her art in shows that were almost Surrealist. The use of the mirror creates a second, alternative perspective by reflecting what the artist sees and creating another gaze within the filmer’s. In other shots, the mirror (held off-screen) is used to reflect a circle of light that wanders across different natural surfaces.

The Melbourne-based artists filmed the work for this show during daily expeditions in the Otago region in a six-week residency as part of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery’s Visiting Artist Programme. Perhaps unintentionally, the deliberate ambiguity of the landscapes they chose to film reflects the feelings of students new to Dunedin who are attempting to form connections with the unfamiliar territory that they find themselves in. Experiencing the Manganos’ works is oddly reassuring; although the strange hues and compositions are initially alien, the rhythmic and repetitive patterns of the work calm the viewer. In contrast to the hustle of a new year, especially for students, “Visible Structures” gives us time to watch, listen, experience and wander in an artificial, dreamy reality.