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The Importance of Being Earnest

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Karren Dale and Julia Middleton, installation of works in Snippets, Scraps and Spectacle Julia Middleton, Wreckers, photograph on canvas Julia Middleton installation of pendants Julia Middleton installation of rings   Karren Dale installation of works  Karren Dale, Discarded Heart  Karren Dale, The Poet Karren Dale, I'm Sorry I Laid your Soul So bare Karren Dale, Beauty Lies in the Eyes of the Beholder

On the gallery website the press release said Karen Dale was ‘…reeling from her last four years in the institutional studio setting…’ and that she was now ‘Free from the shackles of endless critique with a renewed artistic headspace.’ Both Dale and Middleton are Whiteria graduates and I’m sure they have benefitted from their studies. However, for some the institutional environment can be a killer.

Wellington

 

Karren Dale and Julia Middleton

Snippets, Scraps and Spectacle

 

30 January - 5 February 2012

Up the top of Cuba on the corner of the bypass, the Thistle Hall Gallery has openings that spill out into the street and on these evenings there’s usually an abundant selection of snacks on offer inside, including crisps, dips and lamingtons!

I always think of the Dave Eggers title: You Shall Know Us By Our Velocity when I walk past. Blink and you’ll miss a show. The exhibitions change out weekly, meaning the Thistle has an edge over every other gallery, simply because of the dizzying speed of its programme. The gallery also has the benefit of a large window frontage, so sometimes I can just glimpse through the glass, see what’s on and not even have to inch across the threshold.

As a community venue, the Thistle probably isn’t the sort of space I’m meant to want to write about. There’s no major curatorial agenda at work - other than balancing the shows allocated to each medium. The gallery is clearly just a crazy little Petri dish for whoever has paid to exhibit. This is actually why it works.

I’ve seen an incredibly diverse range of practice at the Thistle, from a poltergeist ensemble of chairs populated with stuffed toys and a watercolor of three goldfish snuggling, to a faux-woodland scenario filled with the tweets of native New Zealand birds. Ok, so we’re not in avant-garde territory here, but so what? A lot of avant-garde work is succeeding on terms so small to audiences so rarified, I can’t help but roll my eyes every time I see Derrida or some heavy theoretician quoted in the press release.

That’s another reason why I like The Thistle. The vast majority of artists don’t pretend to address the supposedly ‘big ideas’ and the exhibitions here often miss their mark and fall flat. But even the failures are earnest. They’re not irrelevant. I’ve enjoyed seeing so many botched attempts at painting and drawing. The Thistle has reminded me how hard it is to succeed in the world of mark making.

Snippets, Scraps and Spectacle, an exhibition featuring the work of Karren Dale and Julia Middleton, is another good example of the eclectic creativity up for grabs at The Thistle. The show opened in late January so of course it’s long gone now but is still worth considering, particularly because of the artists approach to the accompanying writing. The work on display included art jewellery and even pages of typed poetry - how shamefully earnest!

Karren Dale’s jewellery was hung from the ceiling, dangling at the height of a human head. I spied a shrivelled paw, a plastic flower attached to a purse. The jewelry wasn’t conventional, nor was the display. Typed on creamy thick paper a row of poems populated a nearby wall. A few lines jumped out at me: ‘intuition by collecting.’ ‘Is it so easy to pass?’ Hmmm. This line should really be the criteria for every artwork - is it easy to walk past? If it is then maybe it’s time for a re-think.

An overhead projector blazoned a sheet of typed text onto the back wall of the gallery, the text was a review of the show by Matt Middleton, the brother of one of the artists. I really liked his fresh, decidedly untheoritical way of writing about the works. ‘(Julia) Middleton provides a backdrop for her chunk-core ringery with macro shots of the exteriors of derelict cars…’ He goes on to say her canvases are about ‘the language of rust’ and mining.

Her industrial rings were displayed along a series of white plinths. The rings were made out of jagged metal, shards of found objects, nuts and bolts, reconfigured and fused together. The collection looked ‘Mad Max’ inspired, like something found behind the Thunderdome. That’s another great thing about this space - there’s a lot of craft in the mix.

I don’t want to overlabour the significance of this show or the gallery really; but I do want to acknowledge and recognise different kinds of practice and what they have to offer.

I noticed on the gallery website the press release said Karren Dale was ‘…reeling from her last four years in the institutional studio setting…’ and that she was now ‘Free from the shackles of endless critique with a renewed artistic headspace.’ Both Dale and Middleton are Whiteria graduates and I’m sure they have benefitted from their studies. However, for some the institutional environment can be a killer. It’s important for all artists to understand the context and continuum their work occupies, but sometimes too much introspection can be stifling.

The press release went on to promise an exhibition that would evoke ‘endless wonder and hot flushes.’ I enjoyed the inherent lack of formality in this statement and I’d like to see more galleries adopt this approach to their press releases and accompanying texts - there’s a genuine attempt to get the reader’s attention. Good move. It’s also an example of the imagination at play, the intuition collecting different words and throwing them together, without leaning on the crutch of theory to prop up the importance of everything. The poetry throughout this show was bald, often consisting of statements about life, rather than creating imagery, yet there were lines that hit their mark, and left thoughts dangling in my mind, like Dale’s jewelry dangling from the ceiling. 

This exhibition bustled with the snippets and scraps of life. What is art, without the people, energy and community that sustain it?

The Thistle - it’s the gallery I watch the most in Wellington, partly cause it’s close to my house, partly cause it’s just so damn earnest.

Megan Dunn

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