John Hurrell – 15 August, 2012
Frankovich's static installation doesn't successfully convey the impact of her live events. You need to see and hear the performers in person to appreciate the cleverness of her ideas. The small plank on one wall slowly ascending and descending is too understated to make any palpable connection with the Jumping Man, and the portrait of George 1 that forces any hopeful viewer to enter a confined space (between the painting and gallery wall) to see it, is hardly memorable as an act of visitor manipulation.
Alicia Frankovich, Simon Denny, Kate Newby, Sriwhana Spong
The Walters Prize 2012
4 August - 11 November 2012
This year we have come to the sixth Walters Prize, the first such biennial presentation on the top floor of the revamped AAG building, architecturally so different from the New Gallery. This time - unlike the five other somewhat disparate occasions - the design of the four finalist shows (all first exhibited overseas) looks really tight, a precisely orchestrated walk-through that looks like a curated, thematically cohesive event with its use of alternating light and dark spaces, inside walls and out.
Everything seems perfectly balanced. Two of the artists use film or video to record the activity of the human body (Frankovich to document a jumping man doing one of her performances, Spong to speculate on and reinterpret early modernist dance, using three performers), those same two artists using early modernist music (Bartok and Stravinsky), and the remaining two explicitly referencing thought as logic (Denny) or its wild twin, feeling (Newby) - as a foil. In a thematic sense the ‘body’ half of the show is balanced by the ‘mind’ half.
Moving through the sequence of exhibitions, the first you enter is that of Alicia Frankovich‘s Floor Resistance. The first section is a film of a dancer performing Jumping Man, a work also seen live in a recent Frankovich Starkwhite opening. The inexhaustible bouncing guy, pogoing and clapping his hands together, has real presence as he energetically moves amongst the audience and musicians who are preparing to perform another Frankovich work, Floor Resistance.
That work, a performance of a string quintet playing a piece by Bartok, is a treat. The music is aurally vivid in the space, especially the pizzicato, but that is beside the point. The crucial factor is the posture of the classical musicians lying on the floor playing, while reading from sheets fastened to inverted music stands. Initially prone they partially raise themselves up as the four sections develop.
Frankovich’s static installation doesn’t successfully convey the impact of her live events. You (and this year’s judge) need to see and hear the performers in person to appreciate the cleverness of her ideas. The small plank on one wall slowly ascending and descending is too understated to make any palpable connection with the Jumping Man, and the portrait of George 1 that forces any hopeful viewer to enter a confined space (between the painting and gallery wall) to see it, is hardly memorable as an act of visitor manipulation. Only the two monitors facing each other wittily connect with her Bisons work when the artist and a gallery-goer lock in a quarter scrum position and try to push each other backwards off the floor.
The second exhibition is that of Sriwhana Spong‘s Fanta Silver and Song. Her two film installations will for many people be the WP highlight, the fluid dancing, accompanied by subtle changes in filmic colour and sound, making it the most accessible work in the show. They are separated by a room of wall works, one being a silk garment dyed in hot Fanta orange, and the other two, collages of a dancer in an emaciated skeletal costume with chilling skull-like make up. Originally Spong had a sculpture of fabric covered wire hoops and jammed in filters suspended in the middle of the room, but she seems to have changed her mind - to good effect - wisely drawing on her strengths of emotional temperature.
The two film installations are inspired by Ballet Russes projects from the early 1920s, one by Matisse’s ornamental costume for Le Chant du Rossignol (it really a sort of duet that dancer Benjamin Ord creates with the physical properties of the baglike garment), the other where two dancers (Timothy Gordon and Izumi Griffiths) respond separately to Stravinsky’s music. One problem Spong (like Frankovich) has is the power of the (often loud) music, its ability to overshadow the activities of the performers. They sometimes get sidelined. And in the Auckland Art Gallery building there is no sound control. The heaving breaths of Frankovich’s Jumping Man can easily be heard in the opposite end of the exhibition in Kate Newby’s show.
Of the four presentations, Simon Denny‘s display in a single rectangular room, is the most cohesive. To some extent it is icily intellectual but spectacular with its huge photographic mural of the Mungo desert, and its nineteen lined up screen-printed monitor faces (each part sculpture, part painting, part print) - based on the width, height and depth of the original University of Sydney screens he found during his residency there. It is as if Denny’s role as an artist means taking on the role of a lecturer (much contemporary art is drearily pedagogical) particularly with the samples from the philosophy course he took placed on the screens. Despite this, the body of material - its display of paired screened canvases, the photographs of his university flat, his reflexive notices about the residency itself, various remote controls - all resolve into a unified, very satisfying presentation.
I like the detail and tightness found in Denny’s exhibition, the samples of logical (and illogical) argument, the humour of the canvas surrogates for plasma screens, and the chromatic intensity of the red, rippled Mungo Desert sands. The different elements lock in together exceptionally well, whereas in Frankovich, some parts (like a pair of explanatory Dashperesque wall labels about Bisons) seem superfluous as devised ‘artworks’, as did the suspended hoops for Spong.
Kate Newby‘s exhibition was first seen in Bremen. Here like there, Crawl Out Your Window is reliant on saturated colour and nuanced whimsy to generate a mood - with leaves, bottletops, puddles, and rocks set in its sloping blue concrete wall, a bright yellow ‘corridor’ you have to walk through to get out, and an adjacent ‘empty’ grey boxlike gallery where you can enjoy radiating natural light and a calming stillness. The colours seem to reference sunny weather and clear blue skies, exuding optimism.
Newby’s work (with a title that advocates escape, referencing Bob Dylan’s follow up single to his 1965 Like a Rolling Stone) has many internal conversations ‘bouncing round’ the space. For example, the various objects set in the concrete floor ‘chat’ to the random boot marks seen in the nearby hanging fabric curtain, the black chalk text in the carpet outside (saying ‘Feel It Forever’) flits mentally over nearby rooftops to be answered by ‘Try, Try’ painted on two rocks that have mysteriously sprouted over the slate. A plea for a new sensitivity perhaps, a life-changing emotional awareness?
In two years, for The Walters Prize #7, hopefully some the issues about the selection process that critics like the Barrs have pointed out will have been sorted. Maybe AAG will also be more sensitive in preventing terrace sculpture shows doubling up with the finalists’ submissions and creating unfair advantages. As for next time, my guess is that the emphasis could well be on the Newcall or ACFA crowd, two younger Auckland artist groups (now disbanded) and a different (more understated) sort of practice. I dream of the Walters Prize eventually changing from being exhibition fixated to that of commissioning brand new art. Such redefining would make the event much more flexible and exciting.
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