Art after the quake

by gabeatkinson / 20 December, 2012
The first year of Christchurch Art Gallery’s quick turnover exhibition programme of young artists.
The opportunities of bare and broken land have prompted a run of temporary outdoor works in post-earthquake Christchurch. Around the city, things flutter (Brazilian artist Fabricio Fernandes’s line of white washing above a demolished church), glow (Joanna Langford’s aerial recycled plastic city) or sit in contemplative commemoration (Pete Majendie’s self-explanatory 185 Empty Chairs) as artists and arts organisations respond to the changing landscape with speed, ingenuity and often limited budgets.

But, as former Tate Modern director Vicente Todoli told the Listener in 2010, if such institutions are agile sailing crafts, large museums tend to be airplane carriers – slower to change course and more costly to manoeuvre.

For the past two years, Christchurch Art Gallery has been beleaguered by repeatedly delayed openings as the building was seconded for civic emergency responsibilities, closed for nearby demolition, then closed again following a reassessment of its own building. Which could explain the delay in finding an alternative indoor exhibition space. Over the past 10 months, however, the gallery has taken up temporary residence on the cavernous first floor of the historic NG gallery building. Overlooking the rapidly diminishing city skyline, Rolling Maul, originally planned to run during the Rugby World Cup and now part of the gallery’s Outer Spaces programme, has presented a quick-turnover exhibition programme by young Christchurch artists.

Most shows clipped the ticket of up-and-coming artists building on a body of work represented in the few remaining dealer galleries and public spaces around the city. A few appeared to struggle under the lead weight of thematic direction. Others presented works that were elegant and utterly engaging.

Do You Remember Me Like I Do?, by Scott Flanagan


In Do You Remember Me Like I Do?, Scott Flanagan gave form to the inscrutability of collective memory through a painstaking plying and heaping of metres and metres of VHS videotape, piled up, cascading down and flatly woven into the surface of a wishing well or framed mirror, the uniform blackness giving away nothing of their content – no narrative, no history, just the gleaming, at times self-reflecting, face of failed or archaic systems of communication.

It was an eloquent and intelligent evocation of loss; not what was lost but a representation of lost-ness. Read in the context of the earthquake (Flanagan’s studio collapsed around him in the February quake), it was an illustration not of trauma itself but of the inaccessibility of that trauma, relayed with brevity, humour and pathos.

As part of the Out of Place group show, sculptor Charlotte Watson transformed a small office space adjoining the main gallery into a foldaway, collapsible, transportable habitat. Building on her earlier series of architecture-driven work, Watson used ply and paint to construct makeshift furniture and other objects apparently cut out  of the wall linings. It was a thoughtful yet playful take on temporary and inexpertly concocted utilitarian structures, applying the line of geometric abstraction to rough DIY assemblages evocative of 60s caravans with their foldaway tables and other cunning contrivances.

The ubiquitous billboard, with its growing prominence in an increasingly low-rise and degraded inner city, was the raw material for Miranda Parkes and Tjalling de Vries in Keep left, keep right. Whereas Parkes presented a literally grid-locked painted panel alongside a haunting video work, de Vries spliced an unashamedly romantic massive outdoor billboard with shards of imagery from his previous work – cartoony, candy-coloured, cutaway figures (as seen in de Vries’s excellent show at the University of Canterbury’s Ilam Campus Gallery earlier in the year) and abstract forms floating over and under the eroded image.

With an art-historical palimpsest added to the natural weathering process of outdoor billboards, the work was coherent, compelling and flawlessly executed.

While supplies last, from But it’s worth it, by James Oram


In the last solo show of the series, James Oram manipulated the grab-and-bag footage of Black Friday sales in the US – the annual cut-price shopping frenzy that has become the sad culmination of Thanksgiving Day celebrations. Alongside a table-top installation of unmarked plaster and bog casts from bizarrely shaped everyday plastic packaging, three video works presented a spare language of disembodied hands grabbing at air, blacked-out figures bending and bowing to empty the shelves, and pages of dream homes from lifestyle magazine Wallpaper scrunched up and reapplied in a visceral version of wall decoration. But it’s worth it was a calm, deliberate, minimal and mesmeric performance of unthinking acquisitiveness.

Earlier, Sam Harrison, better known for his immaculate figurative woodblock prints, hung the gallery with sculpted carcasses of plaster and chicken wire, presenting the bone-coloured drama of the hunt and the abattoir, effectively blurring the boundary between the sculptural and the abject. In Breathing Space, Georgie Hill’s small watercolours revealed a mannered but obsessive compilation of colour, texture and detailed patterning, tilted up and foreshortened into expertly constructed two dimensional dioramas of frantic interiors – polite in scale but chaotic in construction.

Sensorium, by Zina Swanson


In contrast to Hill’s claustrophobic spaces, Zina Swanson’s Sensorium exuded a laboratory-like atmosphere of deliberation and control. Comprising a Mimosa pudica seedling, a creeping plant that apparently droops when touched, within a full-size and – unusually for Swanson – ready-made glasshouse, Sensorium used the needy fragility of the plant and its rarefied, artificially lit, remotely nurtured enclosure to create an anxious, precarious beauty.

Some of the Rolling Maul exhibitions, however, appeared overly concerned with theme. The individual parts of Out of Place, comprising photography (beautifully strange, unclamorous works by Tim J Veling), painting (Chris Pole) and sculpture (Charlotte Watson and Katharina Jaeger) failed to form a meaningful interaction outside the shared focus on structure, itself an unsurprising response to a city mired between demolition and reconstruction.

From Aaron and Hannah Beehre, we have come to expect the serendipitous, the whimsical and the unsophisticated but alluring magic of makeshift technology. Alluding to the traditional camera obscura, or the homemade pinhole camera, Waters Above, Waters Below projected a real-time fish-eye view of the city outside. Inverted and warped, it was a slick but simple performance, remindful of cosmological imagery and the sheer weirdness of a half decimated inner city (and apparently referencing the Creationist theory about a canopy of water once surrounding Earth), but there was an uncharacteristic literalness here at odds with previous works.

In CASS, Andre Hemer presented a mosaic of different iterations of Rita Angus’s 1936 painting, seared into social history since winning a TVNZ poll some years back and now locked away from public view. The facsimiles – ranging from high-quality reproductions to blurred, cropped or reimagined copies – raised a predictable set of questions relating to notions of originality and reproducibility, commodification and appropriation.

The idea – and act – of negation is characteristic of much of Hemer’s work, in which paint and non-paint seem to be applied or stripped away with the same brushstrokes. But the verve and vibrancy of this artist’s work is better seen across town in Things to do with paint that won’t dry running along the side of Christchurch Art Gallery – a gallery that, as it stakes out new temporary sites before returning to its own building (expected in mid-2014), will hopefully engender a new sense of dynamism and challenge in a city ready, willing and hungry for such challenges.
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

Richard Prebble: Jacinda Ardern will face the tyranny of events
86009 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Politics

Richard Prebble: Jacinda Ardern will face the tyra…

by Richard Prebble

I predicted Bill English would lose the election and the winner would be Winston Peters. But no forecaster, including the PM, predicted her pregnancy.

Read more
Aokigahara: More than just the ‘suicide forest’
85966 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z World

Aokigahara: More than just the ‘suicide forest’

by Justin Bennett

It's known as a 'suicide forest', but Justin Bennett found Aokigahara's quiet beauty outweighed its infamous reputation.

Read more
Truth and Lye: New perspectives on the brilliance of Len Lye
85816 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Arts

Truth and Lye: New perspectives on the brilliance …

by Sally Blundell

New essays on New Zealand-born US artist Len Lye elevate him to the status of Australasia’s most notable 20th-century artist.

Read more
Brain activity may hold the secret to helping infertile couples
86046 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Health

Brain activity may hold the secret to helping infe…

by Nicky Pellegrino

For about a third of infertility cases in New Zealand, there is no obvious reason why seemingly fertile couples struggle to conceive.

Read more
Farewells on the Auckland wharves, captured by photographer John Rykenberg
85964 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

Farewells on the Auckland wharves, captured by pho…

by Frances Walsh

More than one million images from Rykenberg Photography, taken around Auckland, are now in the Auckland Libraries Collection. But who are the people?

Read more
'Termite hell' for Golden Bay man after he woke covered in insects
86027 2018-01-18 11:59:55Z Environment

'Termite hell' for Golden Bay man after he woke co…

by Hamish Cardwell

A Golden Bay man spending his first night in his new house says he woke to find his bed, walls and floor covered in hundreds of creepy crawlies.

Read more
Ten ‘stealth microplastics’ to avoid if you want to save the oceans
86015 2018-01-18 11:18:49Z Environment

Ten ‘stealth microplastics’ to avoid if you want t…

by Sharon George and Deirdre McKay

There's a growing movement to stop the amount of wasteful plastic that goes into our oceans, but what about the tiny bits we can hardly see?

Read more
It's time to chlorinate New Zealand's drinking water
86001 2018-01-18 09:41:15Z Social issues

It's time to chlorinate New Zealand's drinking wat…

by The Listener

The inconvenience to chlorine refuseniks is tiny compared with the risk of more suffering and tragedy from another Havelock North-style contamination.

Read more