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Group Show at Enjoy

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Drawing Conditions (detail) by Ruth Buchanan Drawing Conditions (detail) by Ruth Buchanan Installation_shot_with_Past_Imperfect by Bik Van der Pol in foreground. Explanation at the Tree Trunk Aline Keller Little Millet by Maria Pask Nol Binsbergen by Sjoerd van Leeuwen Past Imperfect by Bik Van Der Pol

Buchanan provides a gallery vitrine featuring a hand latched hooked rug with an abstract arrangement reminiscent of a Gordon Crook tapestry, a pair of badly painted clay avocados, a business envelope featuring a photogram of a tag and a text card. “This the figure of communication might be about invention,” the text begins, “but it is equally about lighting conditions, proximity and timing.” The placement of the vitrine and arrangement of objects (which taken singularly would seem to speak to a New Zealand art-craft tradition of the 1970s) changes our museological attitude towards them.

Wellington

 

Ruth Buchanan, Aline Keller, Bik Van der Pol, Sjoerd van Leeuwen, Maria Pask, Marnie Slater, Sjoerd Westbroek

Charming the Snake of Reason

Curated by Marnie Slater

 

20 October - 13 November 2010

Charming the Snake of Reason is a group show with a promo blurb that starts with an enticing (but unattributed) literary excerpt featuring a group of what seem to be theatrical players. They are ruminating on the fact that what they can see from the wings has “a head, a middle and a tail”, but in terms of having a place to begin and end “the situation seemed to be more complicated.”

This excerpt proves a strong binding statement for the perspective of the exhibition’s ‘players’, both artists and viewers. The show asserts that art can play fruitfully with the accepted conventions of narrative and storytelling across film, literature, theatre and visual art. Refreshingly however the artists are also rather good at charming us into engagement with their dismantling of the practices of communication. This show is full of broken and overlaid conversations, yet the artists use their knowledge of their craft in different media (the way the camera sucks us into intimacy, text and image make us turn the page, and first person narration walks us around a literary world) to keep us absorbed.

The exhibition marks the return to Enjoy Gallery of Marnie Slater - now resident in Rotterdam. The exhibition, curated by Slater, features herself, Berlin based New Zealander Ruth Buchanan and five Netherlands based artists.

The excerpt mentioned above may originate from Slater’s own audio work, but at 19 minutes I didn’t catch it. This is my one gripe with this show: if you’re going to provide lengthy audio, video and book works it really makes sense to give us somewhere to sit and provide environs conducive to listening, watching and reading. (Why does this continue to be so hard for curators and galleries to get - or am I just old fashioned?). Such measures seem always to be subjugated by the need to make a clean, visually arresting show. At least in regards to the latter the exhibition is nicely spatially articulated.

Slater’s audio work plays cleverly with literary mechanisms to entice us into walking around a constructed architecture of language, using an array of descriptive devices to build a floridity of viewpoints while, for the most part, holding our attention.

It connects nicely to Maria Pask’s video work Little Millett in which the camera takes us through what appears to be a vacated office complex, with the voiceover of a young woman that provides a transcripted conversation involving a woman, an academic, in her 70s contemplating mortality, feminist, gender and generational politics - and how she no longer fits into the job market (shades for me of the current Letting Space project Tao Wells’ The Beneficiary’s office). The camera lingers on stylish office furnishings - from attractive constructions of stairs to light fittings - in ways that create symbolic associations with the text being read. We then observe a younger woman in the space (making us link the voiceover as her internal monologue), who muses and punctuates the space with expressive choreographed movement.

Works by Buchanan and Sjoerd Westbroek meanwhile fracture our reading of the presentation of more traditional visual art. Westbroek hand draws in pencil on the wall a complex crisscross of lines in a circular format. Shakily hand-drawn, a graph paper-like hatching of vertical and horizontal lines is crossed by a similar formula working diagonally, yet the whole work has a complex 3D rumpled texture to it with lines not meeting up, and patches under and overdrawn. To complicate things further, placed on the next wall is another work, under glass, where a silhouette of a half man / half rooster (a faun of sorts?) holding a book is imprinted on handmade paper, where residues of text can be detected.

Buchanan provides a gallery vitrine featuring a hand latched hooked rug with an abstract arrangement reminiscent of a Gordon Crook tapestry, a pair of badly painted clay avocados, a business envelope featuring a photogram of a tag and a text card. “This the figure of communication might be about invention,” the text begins, “but it is equally about lighting conditions, proximity and timing.” The placement of the vitrine and arrangement of objects (which taken singularly would seem to speak to a New Zealand art-craft tradition of the 1970s) changes our museological attitude towards them.

There are two interesting book works in the show, but I only half decently got to look at Sjoerd van Leeuwen’s Nol Binsbergen. It’s like an autobiographical take on a guidebook, the artist recounting a hike along a dyke, delving into the complex history of the surrounding land’s use (a lake made from the extraction of sand to make a tunnel, wilderness that has resulted from the land rendered economically un-useable) both in historical anecdote, and in the experience of getting his feet mucky. The journey is punctuated by the smoking of cigarettes, and the presentation in-situ on the walk of pages from a birdspotters book. I’ve always loved Richard Long’s walking across England works, but this is far meatier, with all the good humour and site penetration of Bedwyn Williams’ excellent Wellington One Day Sculpture project.

If this work plays fruitfully with a complexion of personal and documentary perspectives, it’s matched by Aline Keller’s beautiful short video work, Explanation at the tree trunk. A woman softly introduces us to the moss, fungi and surface life of a segment of a trunk, the camera moving in intimately, expertly, her finger gently pointing out features, like David Attenborough on acid. In its final moments the finger plucks up a wood-coloured moth which, held up tenderly to the light of the sky turns into golden jewellery. Gorgeous.

The exhibition is accompanied by an equally fascinating looking publication, with a smart cover by Louise Menzies and wider range of Dutch and New Zealand artists providing page works. Using a variety of paper stocks and appropriating and twisting a wide range of written communication techniques, like the show it messes in interesting ways with the registers we use to present information. And in a neat accompaniment, the printed exhibition statement has been printed on to a wide range of found A4 stationary sheets with different abstract designs, imported from the Netherlands.

Slater returns to Enjoy demonstrating a thing or two learnt about how to present a beautifully shaped exhibition of really interesting artists.

Mark Amery

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