Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics RoomLog 6 - Abuse of Substance
Log 6 - Abuse of Substance

Auckland Roundup
Jon Bywater


Judy Darragh has been drawing with twink over found posters since her show at the short lived Spot Gallery last year, including single works in the Fiat Lux fund raiser and the Honeymoon Suite's Endless Summer. Cube'n'Dice (Oct 14-25) at Fiat Lux was a juicily direct use of correction fluid to play up the not so subtle desires that drip and bulge forth from bedroom and workshop walls. Where the Spot show dribbled milky liquid over the limbs and chins of perfume and make-up supermodels, this follows the Samantha Fox portrait and anonymous, big breasted, gruesomely titled, "Heavy Weights"Ñstationery shop poster bin images for this runny commentary. A rearing motorbike, a skimpy togged muscle boy, a platter of sausages, and Luke Skywalker's face are amongst those pin ups drenched and patterned with rivulets of white. The many more than 10cc of nail polish-brushed jism make an absurd excess of the airbrushed, shaved, oiled and framed hot rod, fantasy couple and talcum (and I mean tal-cum) powder girlie. This overpainting amplifies or substitutes for the already explicit phallic fantasy and ejaculatory desire, and makes the act of, er, pouring over the images something messier, a stickier business, casting us as casting our eyes like spraying semen. My eye gets sucked in, though, wants to follow the lines, check their trajectories for gravity-obedient verisimilitude(!). White circular stickers bubble up the dark blue walls, too, finding another office drawer drawing tool to suggest fluid activity. These bubbles recall a previous installation in the gallery, Lisa Crowley's Blue Movie (Sept 3-13), that reconstituted undersea suspense schlock into a watery, moody, gauze blur of frustrating open-endedness on video screens in the blacked-out room; one that seemed to imply that looking for something deep may be more about the feeling of looking than of actually getting there, invoking the same body-of-water as memory or unconscious mind references and nicely extending the chilly, seaward static gaze of some of her recent photography.

Also at Fiat Lux-who've been playing many favourite songs-Ann Shelton's Cabin Fever (Oct 1-11) made itself at home, a flat enlargement of a cushioned wall, a photo flash stab in the dark of some bar, stuck onto the blacked out window. This characterful decor could have been a detail from one of her earlier shots of her friends and their surroundings, and the gallery is in any case, to some extent, her friends' surroundings. The sheen of the represented surface matched that of the bare bulb glare on the gloss walls of the gallery, and their similarly deep, dark shades of blue were hard to pick apart. The emboutonne, lairish, garish close up, blow up of night club washable plush finish was a squarely formal remodelling of a room whose ambience so well matches the aesthetic of Shelton's hyper-edited photo diary depictions of kiss and make-up loud preen parading. The tavern carpet of the gallery and the blue glitter of crystallising liqueur on shot glasses left over from the opening further blurred the subtly claustrophobic, indeed, cabin feverish sense of closeness between image and room, between seat and eye or image and nose.

"Autonomous Action" (Sept 3-Oct 3) at Artspace was put together by curator Richard Dale to represent "a new wave of Chinese conceptual art". China hasn't had contemporary art for long, he tells us, so much as Indian fashion is just discovering shoulder pads and asymmetric zips, the Beijing art world is just starting to get its gear off for a season of hard-way performance art. The main gallery installation of video documentation was keyed off by the large projection of two pigs rutting, that is, mostly trying to and occasionally succeeding in fucking, with rawly instinctual fumbling urgency (A Case Study Of Transference by Xu Bing). The squealing and yelping, grunting and snorting was the default soundtrack to a lot of deadpan solemn interventions, human nudity and endurance action. The monitor-displayed works by three other artists that shared the room had headphones for soundtracks here and there, but the background noise they played was no match for the sow and boar vocalisations, which were in any case intended to some extent as a gross metaphor for intercultural 'exchange', the horny male pig being made up in a painted-on suit of mock English words, and the mating female in mock Chinese. The piece I liked best was that in which a dozen or so participants, all young Chinese, stood around in the nude on a chilly looking hilltop, moving with mime muteness and piled themselves, one after another into a pyramid base of prostrate figures (The Anonymous Mountain Raised by A Metre, by Ma Liuming). Much of the rest was visually opaque and slow moving, or corny in way unredeemable by the irony imbued in much of the work. The piece which involved someone taking four days to move a wall of bricks painted with text across a street in Hong Kong, brick by brick, brick-width by brick-width, was about as interesting as that sounds in video form, though must have had a more engagingly, puzzlingly futile hook if encountered in down town Hong Kong. Ma Liuming's female persona, Fen-Ma (boy with long hair made up as a girl), seemed to be playing some rather too well worn moves of gender bending. Even these works, though, were carried in context by the overall sense of perverse seriousness and the loud animal sexuality so artily overlooked or denied by classic performance. The definitionally 'uncanny' superimposed and liquid portraits in the dark room by Li Yongbin (Face I, Face II, Face III) seemed more like works in themselves as projections than performance art, but made a nice follow up to the use of that space for the display of Megan Dunn's equally eery but funnier Doors/Disney/Blue Orchid/9 1/2 Weeks music video, Is America A Good Place For Genius? back in August.

The work in Autonomous Action had a distinctly '70s feel by Anglo-American standards. Generalisations about the present moment in art abound as Australian critics harry Jonathan Watkins for failing to sum up all of art history in his Every Day biennale, but it's hard to ignore that the look of minimalism and conceptualism (the '70s) is one way to read the internationally proliferating formalism of pared back, modestly undeclarative work. Artspace has responded to this by moving to fill us in on what went down back when hereabouts, using the tag written into local art history by Jim Allen & Wystan Curnow's book, New Art, and Lopdell House, too, has offered a show of canonical conceptualism.

The first instalment of Robert Leonard's show, Action Replay: Post Object Art (Oct 7-16), revives documentation and work by five New Zealand-related artists. Not having exhibited since the '70s, Roger Peters remade some physically imposing trimmed beard & overalls sculptural pieces that involved naked flames, large rocks and high voltage, formally pleasant but clunkily 'elemental'. Two 'drawings' in neon hung in the air, a ladder with a flickering top rung (Blue Ladder 1974), and two abutted (abreast?) pendulous loops (Suspended Wire 1973). Three chunks of metamorphic rock sprouted birthday candle Bunsen burner fire (The Rocks 1973), and the main room of the gallery was warm and fumy and about ready to blow. In the side gallery the only woman due to appear in the two show series (How about a reunion of Jim Allen's class of '76 sculpture chicks who performed for him in bikinis?), ex-pat Betty Collings, hung the most strikingly replayable stuff, two sets of work which, apart from its elaborate sciencey mathematical generation, had a very '90s look to it to me. Photo documentation of biomorphic shapes - Flintstones dog bones - rendered in helium balloon vinyl (Andrea du Chatinier at Artspace's Quay St location?), and the morse code, biology textbook technical diagrams (Jim Speers?) that relate to them as summaries of cusps and tessellations (Anolatatabulta 1975-79) made manufactured and industrially produced purposeless objects that looked like they should do something, and might well be club decor or design store knick knacks in the same way that much non-minimalism/non-anti-minimalism/non-art/non-furniture can now. The most generous experience of the show for me was seeing the artist's film of the installation that opened the Govett-Brewster in 1970, "Real Time" by Leon Narby (A Film Of Real Time 1970). His psychedelic ghost train of flashing neon and dangling polythene strips looked like art for the people - a walk in day glo trip through op formalism and the shots of the grey mayor and citizenry swilling cordial and listening politely looked like they might have got a kick in the head from this 3d realisation of what the LSD experience was constructed as by the pop underground of California. It was so modestly short and snappily edited to the clang of some giant bimetallic switch that I happy watched all the way through. All the way through is not something I'd consider enduring with Billy Apple and Annea Lockwood's sound document of an action that involved the collection of glass and its being ground to granules (Glass Transformation: A Public Activity 1970) played in darkness in the video room. Bearing a tangential resemblance to things I like, like the glass breaking extreme performance and music of Japanese outfit C.C.C.C., for example, this work lacked (presumably deliberately) any tension, consisting for two thirds of the running time of the sound of a machine munching glass, the machine's motor hum an overpoweringly boring aural background (grinding me down, my attention span forcibly extinguished like a bottle entering the grinder) to the intermittent and mild excitement of a bottle being whacked and crushed into glittering dust.

Two other Apple collaborations were dusted off at Lopdell House in The Lure Of Language, curated by Brett Levine. Last year's Pavement magazine page work (Liv Tyler cover) by Apple and his writing half, Wystan Curnow, was placed in stead of sheet music on the gallery's usually ignored but conspicuous grand piano (which then got immortalised on the list of works as one of their materials). A variation on one of Apple's trademark visual/conceptual devices, the golden section, the words involved were about gold, gold that doesn't exist but that the greedy want to exist - the fictional South American city sought by raping, halucinatorily avaricious Spanish invaders, El Dorado. The writing credentials of Mr Curnow ensured a 'feel for language' of the old fashioned variety. Many more words and much less flair was displayed in the elaborate performance installation by Apple and Bruce Barber (Subtopia Subtraction Subulate 1975/1998). Some vintage '70s bad poetry (right from the stiff same-prefix as weak eptymoloical conjuring trick title) clogged my reading eye, a lengthy script punctuated by the masculinist verbs 'thrust', 'parry' and 'cut'. The sentence "A dry shit." leapt out at me from the page. A redeeming feature was the work of one whittler, who has 'fashioned' a chipped and coddled micro penis totem out of the wood to be shaved in the mustily male whittling chamber. The "defence for the narrative of Detached Incident" (sample: "Thinking now how one can whittle while thinking while writing while passing away the time [...] while away the time [....]" AAAARGH!) didn't lure me. Two famous Americans weighed in with a less digressive or belle lettrist feel. John Baldessari, as extra special guest star (a fact loudly, though not verbally, inscribed by the work's presentation in an apparently bullet proof plinth come vault of perspex), sent a cheapo flea market wallet, embossed with matching cheapo flea market joke in c.f.m. 'gold' lettering: "I WILL NOT BUY ANYMORE BORING ART" (I WILL NOT BUY ANYMORE BORING ART, 1998). (Nothing was for sale.) In a more poetically unassertive vein, Lawrence Weiner showed with his own seven-word, all-caps one liner, done up in large computer cut vinyl letters, 'right justified' high on the one end wall of the gallery: "FAR MORE OF ONE THING THAN ANOTHER" ("Cat. #801", 1997). The stars of the show, though, were the genuinely alluring linguistic deposits on the volunteer's table and in the visitor's book. Accompanied by a saucered libation of two heart-centred Shrewsberry biscuits, a note read, "We have all gone on the 'Art + Wine Tour' & I won't be back until [...] I made you a name badge (lucky you!) its [sic] in the box [....]" Further matching the verbal to the artistic, a couple have offered "An interesting concept - masterly [?] excecuted", though someone differed that "I don't like the concept but a great show", while the last word was had by the person who put his name in the comments column and put for his name: "Great Proper Art".

A more richly visual as well as 'conceptual' employment of written language has so far been a key element in the work of L.Budd. Like components of a personal archive, Budd's work includes hand-annotated books, sound recordings, shelves and screens. In further Studies For Existence (Sept 9-Oct 3), at Ivan Anthony, Budd et al presented writing, sound, video and painting, that plays out this ongoing meditation on cultural relics, including language, specifically that of Western philosophy. Fragmentary phrases echo more than they quote canonical sources ("(iv) is knowledge possible in the company of the body?"). Illustrative 'fig.'s are numbered, page references suggested. Like a scholar's notes or blackboard scrawl, vaguely jotted, or crossed out, or bolded by over-writing, the handwritten insciptions have a schoolish yet personal appearance that is part of a consistently questioning, sceptically provisional tone. An annotated and shrink wrapped professional journal dated from the mid-'60s and attributed to Budd, The Practitioner was covered with mention of 'reflective mechanisms', and included a number slated as 'studies in inadequacy'. These volumes, and some acetate-type clear long playing records, also vacuum sealed (a series, perhaps instructional on 'technique' or 'approach'), were presented on black steel shelves, whose screws' pinkish drill dust sprikled the skirting. Roller blinds overpainted in black and surgical pink also carried notes and sketches. Exquisitely impaired video images on glowing caravan home TV sets were accompanied by lush, minimal, beige noise soundtracks credited to Dion Workman and Rosie Parlane. Elaborately yet elegantly suggestive, visually and associatively rich, Budd offers an alternative to the ease, wit and cheapness of such work as Baldessari's conceptualism as one-liner.

Jon Bywater
Summer 1999



Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics Room