Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics RoomLog 5 Trans-Tasman
Log 5 Trans-Tasman

Christchurch Roundup
Luke Strongman


Christchurch in winter can be bitter with those cold-start mornings, high blue skies, the white blankets of frost and the north easterly wind which drifts across the city in cold gusts as the afternoon sun vanishes. The city centre is losing its focus with the rise of the suburban malls and parts of it look deserted-a network of avenues and bare branches, sewn with lonely stores, peeling facades and empty offices. Massage parlours, travel agencies and pool houses are the strongest street-signs while the gentrification of the city boundaries intersperse the centre with the high walls of 'no-access' and private lives. Cashel Street and Colombo Street still seem like the retail centre but the grey anonymity of Cathedral square is oddly set off by the green satellite squares of Cranmer, Latimer and Victoria such that the heart of the inner city still seems like a series of field-like clusters. What is the city centre though? A geographical point, an intersection of supply and demand, a focus of activity, or an imagined space? In the age of the simulacrum, the new millennium, work for the dole, and no MTV, Christchurch has lost its existential centre and we need to look to art for some solace and illumination. So perhaps central Christchurch in winter with its spaces official, industrial, retail, religious and private is represented in the blackly magical surfaces of Tony de Lautour's New Paintings, the industrial-strength loneliness of Seraphine Pick's Scratching Skin, and Ria Bancroft's moving Three Decades of Sculpture, respectively shown at the Brooke-Gifford Gallery, the Robert McDougall Art Annex, and the Robert McDougall main gallery.

Tony de Lautour's work has developed from the repetitive neo-impressionist emblematic works of a few years ago to more iconographic and darkly Victorian representations of a despoiled imperial landscape. Where de Lautour's motifs and symbols of 'white trash' were worn by his canvases as tattoos, patches, seals, and scars, the recent works have looked further at taxonomy and collection and offer an invocation of corrupt officialdom and demonic display. The binary between heaven and hell, innocence and experience is reinforced through a variety of emblems, motifs and signatures all pointing to the darker rituals of the colonial malaise. Proud and demonic lions, sick kiwis, worms, hypodermic needles, totems, stars, words and bones are the symbols of Pakeha officialdom and abuse, the darkened eye of post-imperialism scanning the web of its own corruption and decay. The library of 'The British Book Club' and the comic guns made from cricket bats, the sick kiwis and saws studded with the disks of chemically smiling stars are the stuff of Boys' Own legend-this is the demonic distillation of 'white spirit' etched on the canvas like the puff of the settler's musket, or like the drug-crazed versions of an early poisoned Edenic nationalism.

Lonely spaces and existential anonymity are the signatures of Seraphine Pick's retrospective Scratching Skin. Intimacy, solitude, denial, erasure, and even immolation characterise Pick's works of abjection and emotional dilution. Ghostly shopping bags, elongated and haunting hospital beds become the motifs of emotional withdrawal, suffering, etiolation and bad sex. There are marked shifts in style in this seriously girlie exhibition. Paintings which etch the profile of movement, femininity and amnesia in an industrial context remind one of the graffiti on the walls of an abandoned hospital or the permanent shadows caught on the schoolroom blackboard. There is a buried angst in Pick's paintings which explore the betrayals of intimacy and the emptiness of institutional detachment through the veiled mythology of feminine consciousness. The archaeology of domesticity and the persistence of memory, the lines and echoes of transience become an iconography of shoe boxes, shopping bags, and rooms emptied of lives. The titles of the paintings such as Why/Why Not?, Sound, and Looking Like Someone Else (portrait) are the inscriptions of ambivalence, hesitation, and a chemistry of blurred thoughts and lives, a dreamscape of trace and desire-the chord-of-life navel a reference to an intimate knowledge of a perpetually anonymous subject. All in all, Pick's work makes a peripatetic study of denial and disillusionment, and has anyone noticed that her most recent paintings look like superb variations after the cover of Radiohead's O.K. Computer?

Looking Like Someone Else #25 Seraphine Pick
Looking Like Someone Else #25
1997, Robert McDougall Art Annex

Ria Bancroft's Three Decades of Sculpture was a show of some beauty. If there is an artist who verges on a New Zealand Giacometti and the sublime, it is Ria Bancroft. Her religious iconography was a highlight of the Christchurch winter. The exhibition catalogue and space didn't do her justice. Horizon somehow anticipates the new millennium and Mary, Mother of Jesus and Angel of St. Matthew have the capacity to move and inspire even those who cannot lay claim to Bancroft's deep Catholicism. The bronze Tabernacle Screen Doors installed at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament are elegiac, both humble and sophisticated, and the Cathedral and Bancroft's sculpture are indicative of art, religion and architecture working in harmony, symbiotically accentuating each other's simplicity and beauty. What is different about these works is that although commissioned, there is no ethos of 'sell' behind them. They are there to 'move' and be contemplated, rather than the signatures of a transaction. In the age of transience, surficiality and irony they are not cynical and this makes them valuable.

Luke Strongman
Spring 1998



Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics Room