Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics RoomLog 7 - Science Fact and Fiction
Log 7 - Science Fact and Fiction

Auckland Roundup
Megan Dunn and David Townsend


Beginning on a personal note, this year's Fiat Lux fundraiser, "In Art We Trust", has been a validation of the time and energy we have spent on the gallery over the last three years. The need for a fundraiser is obviously indicative of the hardship involved in running a contemporary art space and it is thus a time when support becomes tangible, translated into dollars and cents. The artists who contribute work, the buyers and the donations are, more or less, from a group of people who are the staple core of the artist-run space scene and contemporary art practice at large. This kind of group show, although not curated around any specific theme, provides a valuable commonality by generating a sense of community atmosphere. Thanks to everyone involved for their generosity, you are the wind beneath our wings!

"Multiples" at Ivan Anthony was our other seasonal favourite, operating on a similar modus operandi. Although small works shows are often criticised for tokenism, as artists are sometimes working outside their oeuvre, they offer a rare opportunity for those nearing the humble end of the socio-economic scale to purchase original works. The energy generated by a group exhibition also makes them an enjoyable starter for the year, an entree that whets one's appetite for the main programme, dishing up art in palatable bite-size chunks.

Ronnie van Hout takes the cake yet again with 'After McCahon'. This edition of three small scale models features McCahon himself, reducing the master at work to an anti-heroic scale. Van Hout's McCahon, an antipodean Pollock, models an anachronistic formula of the creative genius. Crouched on the studio floor, adorned with plaid worker's shirt and a cigarette in hand, the model artist has become the artist's model - your candle burned out long ago, the legend never will.

Gorilla Ronnie Van Hout
Pre-Millennial - Signs of the Soon Coming Storm
, 1997

Brendon Wilkinson's landscapes on Lion Red bottles were an apt accompaniment in the adjacent room-Alcoholics Synonymous! A twisted nationalism rears its head with these 'Frames on the Land'. Sepia toned landscapes and cascading waterfalls in the vein of Charles Heaphy or the Hudson River school painters are applied with the quotidian sensibility of a Jasper Johns assemblage. Is this the new sublime? Wilkinson deals with the age-old clash of high and low culture; landscapes on beer bottles offer a wry spin on the Drunk Driving campaigns which feature human roadkill set against scenic provincial backdrops-where is that drink taking you?

Multiples document the Lilliputian insurgence of a burgeoning school of diorama artists featuring the likes of van Hout, Wilkinson, Ricky Swallow et als. These kitset commandos have a 'take no prisoners' approach to artistic canons, as irony is the new sincerity for the generation(s) of artists after McCahon. The true artist used to help the world by revealing mystic truths, now the true artists just help themselves.

This ideology is craftily contained in van Hout's and Mike Stevenson's Pre Millennial-Signs of the Soon Coming Storm which recently made its Auckland debut at the New Gallery.

Van Hout's documentation of the government's bureaucratic paper war is a frank account of the fatuity of making contemporary art in this economic environment. Income Support Service accounts of his work history, or lack thereof, are an example of two mutually exclusive worlds colliding. To a community of artists the employment service are an invasion of the body snatchers, to the layman contemporary art is often seen as an alien entity which appears to serve no other purpose than trying to pull the wool over their eyes.

Stevenson fans the flame of this paranoia by uncovering demonic syndicates and cryptic masonic codes couched in the works of high-capitalist postmodernism. The conspiratorial preponderance of conceptualism in artistic discourse is interpreted as a fascist force subjecting the public to its hegemonic yolk. Perhaps this is why Ronnie's models are small and separate, pieces of an incomplete puzzle, fractured and cut off like artists or art itself from the majority of world affairs. Islands in the stream, that is what we are. Nothing in between, how can we be wrong.

In contrast ARTificial Life at Artspace was another reminder of how conceptually void high-tech work tends to be. Interactive art presupposes an audience prepared for pro-active engagement-a faulty logic that works in theory but often not in practice. For example the play station in the main space came off like a failed video game, with characters you could pose questions to only to acquire indecipherable answers. Techno work with its attendant involuntary tics and hiccups just doesn' t provide a convincing workable model of things to come-it certainly falls short of the scientific fiction of artificial life. Mainstream media offer the more relevant insights into the perils of technological hubris and its impact on humanity, see Jurassic Park and The Net. Piccini's multi-monitor seascape possessed the most resonance but remained reliant on a visceral sense of wonder embodied in the horizon line's symbolic potentiality. The three pieces exhibited were caught up in the joy of playing God with visual sophistry, creating a universe in new media. Take your eyes along for the ride but leave your brain at home, ARTificial Life was effective but not affecting.

We could be Heroes by A.D. Schierning and Kiri Gillespie at the George Fraser Gallery was a resolved exhibition from two recent Elam graduates. Holy Humungous humunculous, Schierning's pan-Asian doe-eyed cartoon ingenue was inflated to statuesque proportions and punters were invited to see how they measured up to this impossible paragon of feminine perfection. In a different take on a parallel theme, Gillespie seemed to be quoting from the visual dialectics of Frankenthaler and Rothenberg and applying them to degraded motifs from our nation's visual vernacular. A paean to the plight of the domestic goddess, or a critique of suburban banality?

Writing for Log Illustrated one can't help but be aware of one's own biases which are all very in-house as we tend to exclude a large circuit of dealer gallery activity. Christine Webster's recent photography at Gow Langsford only consolidates this position.

Webster's hallmark cibachrome cliches continue unchanged despite the writing on the wall. At best her impersonations lie somewhere between 'Whatever happened to Baby Jane?' and Courtney Love before Versace saved her soul from rock'n'roll. Webster's large glossies rely on a legacy of old school feminism which penetrated stereotypes and archetypes from sources like Grimm's fairytales, Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber, and Cindy Sherman's defining film stills and prosthetic masquerades. Unfortunately Webster's dress-ups smack of a flaccid fetishism, as devoid of life and meaning as the black vacuums her figures inhabit. The fairy tale is definitely over.

We're here, we're queer, get out of it! The Hero festival's photography exhibition in the bowels of St Kevin's Arcade was a lively bacchanalian affair (though the art came close to being completely eclipsed by the seemingly undiminishing supply of booze). This opening certainly fulfilled the sentiment of Prince's pop anthem let's party like it's 1999. Ann Shelton and Fiona Amundsen came out tops by judiciously avoiding stereotypical image ghettos of leather yuppie male nudes and modern primitive dyke amazons. Their subtlety proves you can achieve a sense of community without homogeneity. Tales from the farside. As a testament to the debauchery of the evening a certain party, who will remain nameless, was spied dancing to the beat of a different drum (au natural) and exposing his principles in protest of the addition of human DNA to cows' milk. The answer my friend is blowing in the wind, the answer is blowing in the wind.

Megan Dunn and David Townsend
Winter 1999



Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics Room