John Hurrell – 23 October, 2012
The real star of this show is Steve Carr, his two videos exploring animality and human exploitation: one showing a professional poodle groomer at work, the other a chef preoccupied with the intricacies of basting a turkey. The pairing off of the two activities is very clever. The clipped tufted dog seems sedated and just as helpless as the plump depilated bird, which starts to look particularly poodle-like when two frilly, decorative, paper ‘feet' are added to its stumps.
Steve Carr, Len Lye and Campbell Patterson
22 September - 27 October 2012
This interesting video/film show is in the black walled, dark bunkers of the Michael Lett gallery: two cavernous rooms with a late 20s / early 30s Lye work in each, one also with a Campbell Patterson, the other with two Steve Carrs on one wall. One room with the theme of ‘animals’, the other with ‘fluid’.
Though you can see most of the films of the show online here at Michael Lett’s website, that is no substitute for experiencing them directly projected within the gallery. There you have superior scale, sound, acuity and nuance of colour. You miss a lot online.
The Lye films here are fantastic, especially the little known Peanut Vendor, made with a gangly, eye-rolling, monkey puppet with a detachable tail. It does have an oddly scrawny, nightmarish quality, despite featuring a catchy popular song recorded by Red Nichols and the Five Pennies, but there is lots of humour about the animation process if you look closely.
The real star of this show is Steve Carr, his two videos exploring animality and human exploitation: one showing for half an hour a professional poodle groomer at work, the other shorter work a chef preoccupied with the intricacies of basting a turkey with a hairdrier. The pairing off of the two activities on one wall is very clever. The clipped tufted dog seems sedated and just as helpless as the plump depilated bird, which starts to look particularly poodle-like when (with garnish) two frilly, decorative, paper ‘feet’ are added to its crispy stumps.
The more you look at Carr’s videos the more parallels you discover. Paper sheaths used by the groomer to contain clumps of hair are mimicked by paper tubes or wispy tapers used for adding smoky flavours to the meat. Early on another chef plucks feather strands from the pimply flesh with tweezers, and alongside we see the bare skin of the dog but not its shaving.
There is also a strong sense of (almost religious) ritual that could also be - with all the combing, caressing and ‘anointing’ - a poignant act of love.
Campbell Patterson’s video, Peanut, showing him [I thought] holding his breath in the bath and springing up out of the water to gasp for air, with his mouth over the camera, has a similar sense of repetition. [See Patterson’s comment below]. There is a certain amount of calculated optical confusion because the reflections of the bathroom walls make the camera appear to be in the water, this and the fact that the film often seems reversed, showing Patterson’s bobbing movements backwards.
The other Lye film, Tusalava, is famous as a piece of labour-intensive, pioneer, drawing animation, made when films were silent and when only live accompanying music was possible. Its jerky idol-like creature, that starts out like an amoeba but ends up with reaching robotic pincer arms, is mesmerisingly sinister and now almost 85 years old.
This is an excellent exhibition with no duds. All the films are worth spending a lot of time with. Carr’s particularly are highly informative - contemporary (‘surplus income’) versions of Darcy Lange - with their use of real time, and unusual subjectmatter involving bourgeois consumption: not working class labour. Lots to think about.
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