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Warren Feeney on Uncanny Valley

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Installation of Uncanny Valley at Christchurch Art Gallery Roberta Thornley, Crying my Mother’s Tears (Meme), 2010, archival pigment ink photograph on Ilford Galerie Gold Fibre Silk paper, 800 mm x 640 mm. Courtesy of the artist and Tim Melville. The two works on the wall are by Rosa Scott. The works on the wall, from left to right, are by Marie-Claire Brehaut,  Zhonghao Chen and Roberta Thornley

While the Wellington City Gallery's recent survey show of up and coming artists, 'Ready to Roll' seemed deliberately loud and attention seeking, spreading throughout both floors of the gallery like a series of compact solo exhibitions, 'Uncanny Valley' is restrained, concise and measured with a clear priority to place images in conversation with one another and it works best when considered as a whole, greater than the sum of its parts.

Christchurch

 

Cat Auburn, Marie-Claire Brehaut, ZhongHao Chen, Arie Hellendoorn, Rosa Scott, Roberta Thornley, Shannon Williamson

Uncanny Valley,
Curated by Jennifer Hay

 

19 November 2010 - 27 February 2011

Modest in scale but impressive in the visual and thematic relationships that it establishes between the works of the seven participating artists, Uncanny Valley is a rare achievement for a survey exhibition of contemporary art. This is the Christchurch Art Gallery’s fifth show of emerging artists and, to its credit, all selected works by Cat Auburn, Marie-Claire Brehaut, ZhongHao Chen, Arie Hellendoorn, Rosa Scott, Roberta Thornley and Shannon Williamson all look as though they belong in the same gallery space together. Okay, it could be argued that the empathy between images might be because six of the seven participants share a commonality of materials as either works on paper or canvas, but there is a pervasive atmosphere of melancholy in Uncanny Valley that is almost tangible. While the Wellington City Gallery’s recent survey show of up and coming artists, Ready to Roll seemed deliberately loud and attention seeking, spreading throughout both floors of the gallery like a series of compact solo exhibitions, Uncanny Valley is restrained, concise and measured with a clear priority to place images in conversation with one another and it works best when considered as a whole, greater than the sum of its parts.

Roberta Thornley’s bittersweet portrait, Meme (Crying my mother’s tears), may be the key reason. It casts a haunting presence and severity that resonates throughout the entire gallery, influencing all within reach. If Arie Hellendoorn’s surreal and colourful Pop Art paintings, Portrait Woman and Portrait Man (both highlights of this exhibition) had been placed in a different group show alongside works by artists such as Sam Mitchell or Seung Yul Oh, Hellendoorn’s work could seem ironic and playful. In Uncanny Valley these twin portraits are decidedly uneasy, as though revealing a willing victim’s dispassionate extermination of self and identity. Similarly, the leftovers of the recently consumed feast in ZhongHai Chen’s Phobic Phobia might seem humorous and less like the evidence of the abandoned remnants of an addiction to anxious, compulsive behaviour.

Although Shannon Williamson’s work frequently conjure up associations with H. R. Giger and Alien Insurrections, her art remains too astute to be limited by any sources. These images are compelling in their ambiguity and impeccably crafted. They refuse to stay still, perpetually reinventing themselves between anxious nightmares and transparent, lyrical anatomical studies. In Rest Care, Cat Auburn’s life size, fibreglass sculptured pony, with its head tethered to a four poster bed works beautifully as a perverse and innocent ‘if only’ childhood wish, with the creature positioned uncomfortably in a place that it does not belong as a kind of curious, fretful symbol of humanity’s ambiguous relationship with nature.

Less convincing, but certainly not out of place, are contributions from Rosa Scott and Marie-Claire Brehaut. Scott’s paintings seem like transition pieces. The intimate scale of her previous paintings of domestic pets was near perfect but the expressionist, larger painterly intentions evident in Uncanny Valley are a reminder that sometimes less is genuinely more, and although Brehaut’s appropriation of family photographs may seem ideal for this exhibition, the literal association and treatment of her subjects with the show’s title tends to quickly close down the resonance and longevity of these paintings.

Indeed, if survey shows like Uncanny Valley have any overriding weakness, it resides in the use of thematic titles that too-readily limit the gallery visitor’s reading of the work. Although this exhibition comes close to being guilty of such charges, in this instance it succeeds because of the astute selection and grouping of images. Read the title, walk through the gallery and enjoy the otherness.

Warren Feeney

EyeContact hopes to be adding further visual documentation of this exhibition shortly.

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This Discussion has 2 comments.

Comment

Mark Amery, 1:19 p.m. 23 December, 2010

Gosh, I like the look of that Cat Auburn piece. And Warren sure whets the whistle to want to see more of the exhibition. Any chance of some more images soon John?

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John Hurrell, 8:03 a.m. 28 December, 2010

Hope so, Mark. It's a bad time of year but fingers crossed.

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