Sometimes you have to be kind to be kind. People get their knickers
in a twist over the merest inkling of a nonplussed review, a case in
point being Howie Matil's Ivan Anthony opening Doodly Internationalism hot
on the heels of the last issue of Log Illustrated. This title
was an "artistic" act of appropriation aiming to accentuate
the positive and eliminate the negative by recontextualising an unfavourable
remark on Matil's work in Jon Bywater's Auckland roundup. This is a timely
reminder of the tenuous and often loveless relationship between artist
and critic, and the contradiction in terms that is "constructive
critique." In such a small art community there is nowhere to run
and nowhere to hide, and thus the potential for any mercenary commentary
or venting of spleen is severely mitigated by one's needful pussyfooting
around the tender pneumatic ego of the artist. In such a small and insular
art community one can only be conscious when writing of whose neck is
on the chopping block when the worm of circumstance inevitably turns,
and the quid pro quo relationship between reviewer and reviewee, especially
when the critic is a turncoat artist. Passing Bill Clinton on the cover
of TIME magazine one is reminded that "it's a fine line between
pleasure and pain." Mea Culpa.
A personal highlight of this artistic season was Yvonne Todd's photographic exhibition Fleshtone at
Rm3. Post-Showgirls Todd reveals that she is still in pole position with this
titillating litany of snaps and snatches from the annals of her teen history.
Depicting friends and familiars, Todd creates indelible documentary images of
feminine identity from the inevitable fledgling faux pas to the femme fatale
forte. The secret of Fleshtone's success lies in its saturation of stereotypes
and deft combination of cliches; the overexposed artiness of black and white
cheesecake photography, the Pollyannaish Kewpie doll, the party pussy (a white
moggy covered in streamers) and a Kodak close-up of a Kentwood fire. The juxtaposition
of imagery, girls and their pussies, is inherently fascinating and seductive.
Todd captures the shot that should have really been on the cover of The Beauty
Myth, lipstick guerilla tactics on a snaggletoothed ingenue (Face Magazine
2000) immortalised in all her gory preteen agony. Fleshtone reiterates the
strength of narrative and the continuing struggle for beauty in the face of adversity.
It may be what's on the inside counts, but only if the outside figures in the
right amounts. And whilst we know beauty is in the eye of the beholder, we also
know what he be holding. Yvonne successfully avoids the hackneyed sentiments
of the fantasist and the drudgery of the unmitigated realist, instead amalgamating
the two to form a unique oeuvre that is at once erotic, nostalgic and genuinely
affecting, proving that she is not just a bird in a gilded cage.
1997, Rm 3
The echo of female teen angst also reverberated throughout Violet Faigan's Fiat
Lux show Playing for the B-Team. Hey! Hey! Faigan constructs her own paean
to feminine social hierarchies, the plight of the underdog and the tyranny of
the sanitary napkin with paper outfits like so many origamied pages of the female
eunuch cut up on the kitchen table. This exhibition was reminiscent in style
and content to Faigan's High Street Project exhibition Gurls Can't Surf,
consisting of a suspended ballerina tutu and cheerleader costume (accessorised
with paper pompoms), moody lighting and mangy pink streamers evocative of the
halcyon days of American rite of passage films (thank you John Hughes!). The
show's clincher was its soundtrack, a cocktail of music samples with a warped
Beach Boys refrain that suggests Faigan, like Carrie on prom night, isn't picking
up good vibrations.
Daniel Malone at Rm3 and Adam Cullen at Fiat Lux can be seen through
the converse side of the looking glass. Where Todd and Faigan personalise
the political (or
vice versa), Malone and Cullen reflect, magnify and objectify the quotidian.
In Malone's case this entails literally mirroring off the back wall of Rm3
that looks down upon Real Groovy Records in an uncomfortable illusion
of spatial expansion
and increased intimacy. Jon Bywater provided the accompanying micrograph, a
lovely lexicon of quotable quotes culled from the best and worst of rock'n'roll
Revolution revolved around representing the referential web of logic for which
Malone's art has become renowned. Aptly, the micrograph closed with a refrain
from Billy Idol's Dancing With Myself: "With the record selection and
the mirror's reflection."
Adam Cullen's Self Loving was a series of eight black shiny boards with
silver spray painted texts of glib sloganese cropped from the tabloid media
as sublimated through the public consciousness; "Down we go, nudie show"; "Special
Dreamtime" etc. And as the artist himself remarked, the show was "well
hung." Cullen's work is well known for offering a dark mirror on the dehumanising
force at will in advertising and the social economy at large. To risk reiterating
a gross gender stereotype, the works represent two marked ideological camps:
the feminine which speaks from subjective experience and an emotional dimension,
to the masculine which is objective and colonial in approach, reflecting language
but not penetrating the mystique or offering a personalised critique.
From the sublime to the ridiculous. Towards a Hyperreal Elam. The sculpture department
in its annual group exhibition displayed some earthy artmaking with a naturalist
bent from a dak-dropping, dread-locking, muck-raking student of the what-not-to-do
school of rank hippiedom. The sight of some stick-in-the-mud stuck-in-the-mud
was like poetry in pottery. The exhibition as a whole was spaced out; centrally
located in the newly refurbished George Court Building. The venue constrained
the body of evidence-the space and the work were polished but pretty vacant.
They say that imitation is the sincerest from of flattery, but plagiarising one's
tutor is perhaps taking the grade-mongering tactics a tad too far. The Lisa Crowley
knock-offs were blatant art poaching with none of the gist or geist of the originals.
Multiple plaster udders grafted onto an extended umbilical cord, like prop flops
from some mammary fixated science fiction also-ran, were possibly the best for
the sheer perversity of design and concept. That, however, is a telling indictment
of the creative paucity of the show as a whole. If these are the artists of the
future, let's hope tomorrow never comes-all things considered this insipid affair
was a resounding dud. Too much, too little, too late.
Gavin Hipkins' curated exhibition of photography at Artspace, Folklore,
was a successful precis of contemporary talent in this field of practice. The
potential Achilles heel of the show was the sheer overplus of work, but better
to err on the side of caution (sometimes more is more). Whilst recognising the
importance of the retrospective parallels made in the show, one was inevitably
attracted to establish personal favourites. Ava Seymour's grand Guignol collages
are a disconcerting sight to behold with their mutants and psych-ward out-patients
abiding under the ball of an unrelenting suburban neurosis and state funded housing
tracts. Seymour is undeniably the master of her medium, creating phantasmagoric
images that in a very real sense do haunt the mind and leave bats in your belfry.
Ronnie van Hout trots out the perennial artistic leitmotifs of pagan nudes posed
in pastoral dells-the scenario is like some sunseekers jamboree modelled in miniature
as seen through a pair of steamy bifocals. The rabbit pulled out of the magician's
hat was Ian Richardson's photography to which we had never before been exposed.
Richardson produces evocative images that invoke a tangible sense of nostalgia,
where snapshots of provincial backwaters assume the look and aspect of Elysian
fields. Curator Gavin Hipkins' cornered kiwifruit warrants a mention, abstracting
the national fruit from the postcard rack of the souvenir store-all that is kitsch
must go askew.
You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away,
know when to run. At the end of the day you had to be there.