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Gambia Castle Conversations

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Burnt House. A little later. et al. Burnt House. A little later. et al. Burnt House. A little later. et al. Burnt House. A little later. et al. Burnt House. A little later. Kate Newby. Burnt House. A little later. Kate Newby. Burnt House. A little later. Kate Newby.

With a focus on conversation, immaterial exchange and indefinite outcomes the exhibition had a decidedly relational flavour. Instead of viewing the material results of an art practice, organisers Kate Newby and Sarah Hopkinson invited viewers to attend a series of discussions and activities, a programme of events that they called a ‘non-show.'

Auckland

 

Burnt House. A little later


14 May - 5 June 2010

From a cleverly refurbished courtyard to a programme of talks and activities, Burnt House. A little later at Gambia Castle explored the diverse possibilities of socially engaged art practices. With a focus on conversation, immaterial exchange and indefinite outcomes the exhibition had a decidedly relational flavour. Instead of viewing the material results of an art practice, organisers Kate Newby and Sarah Hopkinson invited viewers to attend a series of discussions and activities, a programme of events that they called a ‘non-show.’

The prefix ‘non’ was liberally attached to a number of terms-non-gallery, non-writing and non-school-suggesting a challenge to established modes of making and viewing art. et al.’s ‘non-school’ saw Gambia Castle’s office turn into a temporary archival space and its main gallery into a somewhat domineering school classroom. A lofty border of old-fashioned green blackboards covered in a series of smudged out chalk inscriptions encircled this room.

Any nostalgic recollections of primary school days were laced with a suggestion of authoritarianism and a dictatorial approach to education. Other slightly overbearing pedagogical props - chairs, paper easels and mats - were painted in et. al.’s signature grey slick and were used during the show to make presentations and seat attendees.

Downstairs at the rear of neighbouring bookshop Split/Fountain Kate Newby also made alterations to a courtyard area. Like many of Auckland’s central suburb courtyards, I half expected to find this one filled with chairs and tables ready for an onslaught of coffee drinkers. But Newby’s courtyard avoided having a clear-cut function. It was not as useful as et al.’s classroom in corralling crowds for educative discussions and it definitely lacked the commercial imperative of an Auckland cafe.

Instead, this carefully considered refurbishment simply drew attention to a variety of architectural textures. Fake boulders offered inviting places to sit and hang out while old wooden partitions, ruddy bricks and different concrete surfaces suggested periods of building reconstruction and change.

Altered urban architectures were also discussed during one of the show’s Saturday talks where Newby and Hopkinson showed a series of photographs of Mexican parking space savers. These curious space savers ranged from formal bollards demarcating a taken space to various ad-hoc fabrications made from buckets, pot plants or any objects close to hand. Like Newby’s spatial modifications, these space savers suggested an idiosyncratic refashioning of urban environments - an imaginative undoing and remaking of the form and function of urban materials.

Other programmed activities included Martin Basher screening videos by US-based artists, Jan Bryant reading from Anna Funder’s Stasiland and Gwyn Porter leading attendees in an irony-free guided meditation that was offered as an antidote to increasing workloads.

Participating in a group meditation sited in et. al.’s old-fashioned, dictatorial classroom was a somewhat peculiar experience. Still, the variety of activity and contributors to this show has gone some way in tempering the perception of in-house exclusivity associated with Gambia Castle. Burnt house. A little later had the feeling of a school open-day, eschewing usual exhibition practices to invite participation and discussion from visitors.

This year other Auckland artists and galleries have also embarked on projects favouring social interchange over material outcome. William Hsu and Nick Spratt’s project A lot or a little might be said, but in the end there will be something to pass on at Newcall gallery left its spacious exhibition room completely bare.

Conversely, the artists kindly invited visitors to consider their immediate surroundings devising a number of activities that engaged with the histories and social spaces of communities near the gallery. Eating homemade doughnuts in an empty car park off Khyber Pass while Hsu and Spratt discussed the local area’s building plans was a particularly memorable event.

Richard Frater also stepped away from his sculptural art practice for a few days in February to make coffee and have chats with visitors to K’ Rd’s rm gallery. Frater works as a café barister and his hospitable undertaking made an interesting reversal of the work-life/art-life balance. Labour hours are precious and it would be fair to say that most artists would prefer to spend time in the studio at a far remove from the toil of their day job. Frater’s gesture conflated the distinct labour categories of doing something for money and doing something out of interest.

At their most political, socially engaged projects such as these offer an activity-based means of contesting and confusing power structures. At their most whimsical, these projects simply offer something to be interested in, if not a new way to look at the world.

While Burnt house. A little later avoided overtly engaging with political issues, the exhibition did offer a space for wide-ranging discussions that were framed by the problematic dynamics of the classroom. The show’s appeal was ultimately founded in fleeting interactions and other idiosyncratic deliberations.

Kate Brettkelly-Chalmers

 

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