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As the march of time propels us towards the cusp of the 21st century, it is increasingly difficult to turn on the TV or open a magazine without being reminded of the psychic toll the millennial changeover is exacting on our collective consciousness. From shows such as The X-files to recent films like Deep Impact and Armageddon, recent cultural production has seen the slow push towards the new millennium transformed into somewhat of a frantic scramble. Not surprisingly artists haven't wasted any time diving into the milieu, casting off the slacker posturings of Hangover in favour of deadpan meditations on the short-lived future of humankind. Christchurch artist Phil Price is one of those who has succumbed to the temptation of the dark side.

Price's latest exhibition at the Campbell Grant gallery, simply titled , marked a departure from the formal concerns that previously defined his practice. For the purposes of the exhibition Price transformed the otherwise inviting space of the Campbell Grant into a makeshift miliary-style complex. Entrance to the exhibition was by swipe card, and visitors ascended the stairs to the gallery under the watchful eye of a slowly revolving gunmetal grey radar. After passing a pyramid of 40 gallon drums lashed to pallets - no doubt harbouring the toxic byproducts of covert experiments - the viewer finds themself confronted by a giant militia style insignia emblazoned on the wall of the main gallery.

Under a low hung white light in this maximum security display room, several pristine sculptural objects are arranged in a row on the floor. These elongated geometric sculptures look like prototypes for spacecraft or futuristic dwellings, though their smooth white surfaces disclose neither purpose or intent. Denying any trace of the artist's presence, these post-industrial objects deflect easy categorisation, suggesting the pre-fabricated authorlessness of the readymade. Yet neither the utilitarian banality of minimalism, or the factoryline familiarity of pop art adequately gives definition to Price's otherworldly installation.

In fact, we are more likely to find contextualisation for Price's work in the prolific output of the entertainment industry than the annals of art history. Take by way of example a film like Gattaca, which taps the same vein of late-capitalist dread as Price's sculpture bunker. In Gattaca's cinematic future humans are genetically cloned, their dna code determining their career, social status, and partner. In this regimented and uniform society sterility and surveillance are combined to unsettling effect, utilised as tools of oppression and containment. Traversing a similar terrain, Price zeroes in on the modern desire for order and perfection and it's attendant anxieties, suffocating the viewer with too much of a good thing. His installation plays on the viewer's paranoia by replicating the now familiar mise en scene of late capitalism: corrupt dealings, faceless multi-national cabals and shadowy puppet masters all play a hand in this conspiracists scenario.

By exposing an aspect of society that we might believe to be kept hidden or secret from us, Price offers the viewer a reinvigorated sense of the 'real.' Echoing the infamous catch-cry of The X-Files, he promises that the truth really is out there - and he's going to find it for us. Yet a closer consideration of his surface bound exhibition reveals this pointed stripping back of institutional screens to be a clever deception. There are really no top level secrets or plans for world domination to be deciphered using the exhibition's rhetorical symbolism. In a sense, what you see is what you get. Neither a soothsayer or millennial prophet, it seems that Price favours a fatalistic approach, proposing that if there is conspiracy here it is both inevitable and inscrutable.

derives much of it's power from this amibiguous moral standpoint. With no convienient explanation or ethical resolution on offer, our relationship to the show's loaded imagery becomes murky and confused. Our very presence in the space confirms our own complicity in 'the conspiracy'. Part corporate logo, part swastika, the fascistic implications of the giant black insignia that presides over Price's alien laboratory are difficult to ignore.

Of course it's tempting to write off as yet another addition to an inevitably short-lived genre (opening the same week across town at the public gallery was Pre-Millennial, Mike Stevenson and Ronnie van Hout's monumental tribute to the zeitgeist). But what the hell, we've still got a few years left to work out our pre-millennial tension, and need all the therapy we can get.

Jonathan Nicol
25 June 1998