Erin Driessen – 24 September, 2012
The pipe motif, a swirl of tiny ships whirring around a large “node” or egg, a resin cast kina, the hanging tentacles: all conjure images of time portals and wormholes. The viewer can imagine themselves projecting forwards or backwards through time, into fiction. Moby Dick is here, Medusa too; and at one point when the electric tentacles moved and I looked up, and heard the muffled sound of the ocean from one of the videos, I was Pinocchio inside the whale.
James R. Ford
Hayden Prujean and Carlos Wedde
Deep Sea Dis-comedusae
29 August - 29 September, 2012
Although they are two quite separate exhibitions, James R. Ford’s Snake Pis, and Deep Sea Dis-comedusae by Hayden Prujean and Carlos Wedde both attempt to address existentialist themes of endlessness, change or flux, and properties of the universe. Both displays explore a wide range of media, from digital prints and gummy snakes to electronics and readymade objects. Ford’s Ouroboros snakes are mirrored by Prujean and Wedde’s vortices; each motif is repeated throughout each exhibition respectively.
The amount of work that has gone into Deep Sea Dis-comedusae is incredible. Prujean and Wedde have created paintings, electronic tentacles with motion sensors hanging from the ceiling, plaster and resin casts, videos, multimedia sculptures or installations, and painted model ships. They also made a small booklet, entitled “Merchant Ships,” to accompany the exhibition. It includes reproductions from past publications, such as information on ship models, funnel legends, advertisements for books, and a list of ships sold for breaking up. Throughout, Prujean and Wedde have added pages of their own. One gives an etymological definition of the word ‘nostalgia’; one recounts a story of a trial, at the end of which it was decided that a whale was in fact, a fish. The last page contains an excerpt from “The Vortex,” a prose-poetry piece by American writer Eliot Weinberger:
The Cartesian universe is mainly matter, is endless and the whole universe is literally in flux, in a kind of fluid. Within it are infinite worlds revolving around their suns, each world and sun spinning, and within them infinite vortices of matter, one within the other, to the infinitesimally small. Emerson wrote that Descartes “had filled Europe with the leading thought of vertical motion as the secret of nature.” Newton, in old age, complained bitterly that despite his proof that gravity moves the worlds, people still believed Descartes simply because Descartes had said it.
Weinberger went on to speculate that maybe it was because the image and idea of the vortex was more beautiful in imagination than gravity was in reality.
The spiral pipe motif is semi-explained in framed photocopies from the work of Victor Schauberger. By displaying Schauberger’s work, Wedde and Prujean draw attention to pseudoscientific theories like vertical motion and implosion. The spiral pipe was, according to Schauberger, a “water-ennobling device,” wherein the water must be able to in-roll on itself, and be able to breathe while travelling through the pipe. Therefore, it must also be possible to accelerate movement of the water. Wedde and Prujean have taken Schauberger’s pseudoscientific theories and merged them with their own imaginary visions of exploration and discovery. The idea of the vortex and the image of the pipe give these works an element of movement, but not just in an animation sense. The pipe motif, a swirl of tiny ships whirring around a large “node” or egg, a resin cast kina, the hanging tentacles: all conjure images of time portals and wormholes. The viewer can imagine themselves projecting forwards or backwards through time, into fiction. Moby Dick is here, Medusa too; and at one point when the electric tentacles moved and I looked up, and heard the muffled sound of the ocean from one of the videos, I was Pinocchio inside the whale.
The snake in Ford’s exhibition, like Prujean and Wedde’s vortices, appears in different guises: figurative, digital, edible, stuffed. Seven prints show the same black-and-white starry background, with a different-coloured ouroboros juxtaposed on each. The colours of the snakes correspond to the seven colours of the rainbow, but instead of putting them in the conventional order of ROYGBIV, Ford has arranged them backwards, with violet as the first (or last) colour: IBGYORV. This clearly expresses an idea of infinity (the eternal cycle) and beginnings as ends, and vice versa. The skin of each snake is printed with small markings that when looked at from further away, create larger numbers: the numbers of pi.
The accompanying text for Ford’s work explains that the first Snake Pi “was born from the idea of quantum mechanics - the way that particles can pop in and out of existence, taking on unobservable random forms and assemblages of molecules. Or, put another way: if you kept coming across a snake an infinite number of times, in at least one of the instances it would be curled into the shape of the pi symbol.” Ford has created that instance with Snake Pi (version 1ii), a stuffed toy snake, blue with white printed skulls and plastic eyes, curled into the pi symbol. On one wall, a projected animation plays the old Nokia digital snake game. The snake gradually makes and unmakes itself in the shape of the pi symbol. Between the stuffed snake on the floor and the digital one on the wall, sits a set of scales on a plinth, holding a mass of gummy snakes which initially weighed 3.14 kilograms, before its gradual disappearance through the consumption of spectators.
Although I like the aesthetic of the scale and gummy snakes, and the idea for using the old Nokia game, Ford’s show lacks a certain depth. For an exhibition that aims to express the randomness of the universe, it is a bit contrived. The snakes weighing 3.14 kilograms, the snake skin made up of numbers, the stuffed snake being 3.14 metres long, the digital animation running for 3.14 hours: we get it. I guess the repeated instances of pi in different forms express the eternal cycle, and the mixture of different media expresses randomness, but its incohesiveness has backfired. Instead of prompting depth of thought in the viewer on what this all might mean or point to, it comes off as surface - the snake, and pi, and again.
To read a transcript of the panel discussion “Whose Oceania?” held recently in London, and more on NZ arts abroad, CLICK HERE
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