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Oram in Christchurch

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Yet the first room breathes - the sterile breaths of life-support, captured in a video loop of a plastic storage bag being sucked and blown, sucked and blown, in and out, in and out.




James Oram


May 21 - June 4 2011

The first room is cold: white and black and sickly degrees of translucence in a windowless space.

The second room boasts colours that enliven.

Yet the first room breathes - the sterile breaths of life-support, captured in a video loop of a plastic storage bag being sucked and blown, sucked and blown, in and out, in and out.

The pale blue band at one end of the bag is the only colour afforded by the space. It’s like ice-nine.

Remember the video of the plastic bag caught in the wind, shot by the weird kid in American Beauty? This is its antithesis: that was romance and light; this is death displaying carelessly a ridiculous caricature of a life not worth living.

On the floor, candles in series also mock animation and romantic transformations. The weak flame offers no heat, the exergy of the wax a bad bargain for the entropic decay that ensues: a band of black soot, captured on Perspex, tells a tale we all know, and the melting wax speaks of ice-shelves and glaciers and chaos.

And overlooking these, on the wall, a geometric work in black and white looks like a postmodern tribute to Mondrian’s ilk, with what seems like a folded bath towel cheekily inserted into one of the squares of the grid.

On inspection, though, we find that the towel is original, belonging to the defaced advertising brochure that comprises the work. The gridlines are also original, defining the arrangement of rectangles on the page, used to demarcate the offers of shit-we-don’t-need that have (with the sole exception of the towel) been painted over in an oily black.

The romance of geometric abstraction has been resurrected, mediated by its own debasement as a universal marketing tool.

But the towel bespeaks a further association: the grid comes to recall a wardrobe organiser - yet another product (likely enough to be advertised in that very same brochure), which offers us the temptation of returning our depressing and worthless and decaying acquisitions to the pristine form they enjoyed when as-yet-unused, when they awaited like sirens the hopeful extension of our credit.

The wardrobe organiser is a meta-product - the one whose purchase promises the return to order of earlier purchases that have all come replete with their unreliable assurances of stability and clean lines.


And while the first room contains this tale of human endeavour inclined towards death, the second is a place where lightness and colour and life inhere in the ideological constructs that we imbue with an absolute authority over the lives we constantly fail to live.

It’s not unusual for Oram to exploit his everyman looks and put himself in the centre of his pieces, degrading himself somehow in the pursuit of identity and self-assurance. Here he substitutes his own image with that of a model in black-and-white (belonging thus more to the first room, affixed to that adjoining wall), whom we take nonetheless to be the artist. That’s because painted colour lines obscure the face, leaving only the suggestion of those Mark Wahlberg good-looks, captured by hair gel and posture and attitude.

This gesture asserts the place of the imagination in ascribing and naming, and it foregrounds the power of whoever wields the brush - maintaining constructions of meaning and symbol that control.

There’s some kind of sorting of informational content going on between the two rooms, but the conversation is muted and confused, points of reference are not stable: this is not algebra. What’s discernible is an underlying antagonism between the actual (in the first room) and the real (in the second); between the denuded starkness of life’s essence, and the colours of its surfaces that we name and live through; between the real story and the stories we tell.

This is played out most dramatically in the two images of cellphone towers in this second room. The sky is a perfect, beautiful blue; the towers are adorned in gold leaf.

But the leaf is flaking off, loose and decaying.

Our icons are mere distractions, unreliable and entropic like everything else - like the very value we ascribe to them, fickle and feckless as we also are.

Creon Upton

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