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

Christchurch Roundup
Nik Wright


So what's the go in the flat city? Well really it's the same old, same old. The Robert McDougall Art Annex has been showing seven of Canterbury University's former students. Sky Writers & Earth Movers lives up to its over-blown title, these painters are the shit. In particular, the show demonstrates Bill Hammond's and Tony de Lautour's mutual appreciation. Seraphine Pick's star shines brightly - her work avoids being caught up in colonial (cringe) commentary, instead she seduces you into an incorporeal world of sexual fantasy. Naked Graffiti entrances the viewer with a multi-layered surface of perfect liner figure sketches and na"ve doodles. Meanwhile the local hero is out but not in force. Peter Robinson tones down his obsession with swastikas and big bold images. Instead he is witty and subtle - in a droll kind of way. Tiny icons float on the surface in contrast to the brash poster-style signs we are used to. More recently Christchurch theatre mavens witnessed the Robinson Temple of Flagellation and Fornication. The artist teamed up with university drama sicko Peter Falkenberg in an Artaud/Kokoshka extravaganza plumbing the depths of the steamy B&D fetishism industry. Got to love living in such a disproportionately sleazy town.

The other really great buzz I've got recently was seeing the Rudolf Boelee retrospective at CoCA. His stuff just looks so damn good especially when he collaborates with Brian Shields and Craig Stapley. This trio does modernist design by numbers, but they do it so well you know their works are not just post-modern piss-taking clones - but real design classics of earlier eras that are only now being brought to the fore as part of some retro resurgence. Perhaps the best example of the subtlety of their illusion is the beautiful DIOR fashion advert from the 1996 Crown Lynn series Watch out for the world's behind you. It could have easily come direct from the pages of Harper's October 1956.

Crown Lynn image

Boelee is rad because he can use art for political commentary without looking like a complete wanker. I believe some artists feel that they are empowered to comment on politics, science or medicine and their insight can impart some real intellectual truisms. Sorry, but most who try are just plain sad. Unless one is commenting on a real and serious personal experience, how can one expect to know more about cancer than a qualified doctor?! Boelee's commentary is focused on the inverse, how politics uses art to push political agendas. His tribute to Michael Savage looked at the Constructivists contribution to communism by quoting directly from workers' manifestos. Seven essential strengths for New Zealand is a pointed dig at the right wing nature of our modern governments. The 'strengths' are taken from Mussolini's propaganda (not that I realized that - very informative that brochure and why can't most conceptual artists just say exactly where they're coming from too?). The images reference El Duce's promotion of classicism to play upon Italian nationalism, and an idealized view of 1950's New Zealand. The distinctively New Zealand iconography of woven flax panels are broken down into modernist geometries to form border columns (did anyone say appropriation Gordon Walters style?). These 'strengths' - integrity, management, commitment, innovation, order, employment and measurement - could be seen as a bleak commentary on the totalitarian nature of our current society. The work had a strong graphical layout; Boelee does modernist clichZs well. To see them done badly check out Dave Thomas' and Chris Heaphy's recent collaborative show at the Jonathan Smart - infinitely eye-easy and boring. I guess it has to be said that I enjoyed Boelee's work because it made me realise how 1950s New Zealand was still principally the domain of ex-pat Englishmen. In fact I felt like the show could have been equally at home in a traditional British Museum.

Christchurch's last surviving surrealist, Salmonella Dub V-J and rumoured amateur porn star Helm Ruifrock exhibited his latest narrative epic at none other than The Space Gallery. The Mirror evoked the sense of hallucinogenic-nspired spirituality which has always endeared the artist to the Christchurch's 'Cosmic Corner'-shopping raver-hippie scene. The work demonstrates Helm's voluptuous figure drawing style. A line of figures appear like an undulating passage of flesh in the artist's patented burnt copper palette. Personally I felt the composition lacked the intensity of last year's Cruciform Crucifixion which was bolder and more complete - but maybe I'm just not into grey monotone skies. Still the work links back to earlier spiritualistic works, like his homage to Breughal's Tower of Babel. It's this sort of stuff that is the artist's real strength, showing his strong commitment to renaissance masters. His smaller works just aren't the same for me, his newer work hinting at a Giger/Satanic slant. Good solid cheese, but no nice Caffiends days sentimental reminisces.

On the music side, a last ray of hope for the languishing live music scene has emerged in the gangly form of the Steffan Van Soest Hit Machine. An afro-headed Dutchman, possessed by a perverse musical talent leads this dynamic four piece. The sound is similar to They Might be Giants, with a touch of Ween and smattering of KISS. My favorite song has to be "My Woman Stole My Shirt', in which the singer opens a beer can, sculls, then uses it as slide bar for his blues lament. Their lyrics are a tad dodgey, especially the heart wrenching love song "I learned about love in the jailhouse showers". Can't wait for the second pressing of their album. Like all Christchurch musicians, if they ever get successful they'll go to Auckland only to visit us once a year a charge us a wad more cash than their worth.

The High Street Project's From Here series was an improvement over some lacklustre shows earlier in the year. From Here has presented we citizens of this great metropolis with a wealth of contemporary art by artists foreign as well as local. Wallpaper Video from Glasgow was easily absorbed and pleasant viewing. The Duesseldorf Artists' Archive - despite the heap of info - was aggravating to spend any real time with. Maybe it's all part of what it means to be one of the Bosch. Personally I was more absorbed by Kirsty Gregg's Cushioning the Blow in the lift space. It consisted of cushions embroidered with the sort of answers a young lad doesn't want to hear when he drunkenly hollers "ello darlin', ever seen the Eiffel tower?" Following this was three ex-locals who have been doing the whole O.E. thing, along with some of that L.Budd action.

Nik Wright
Summer 1999



Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics Room