Katy Metcalf – 29 December, 2016
This all weaves back into one particular part of the installation conspicuous for its subtle humour. The clocks both stopped at exactly the same time during the opening preview. It's interesting to note that the moment at which the clocks froze, 4:20, has over the years become a ‘codeword' for the use of cannabis. This more amusing side of the work comments on its own easily-distracted, bizarre nature, while simultaneously making a broader statement about the main principles of Surrealism.
Troubles de la croissance (der ursprung des pendels)
3 December 2016 - 18 June 2017
After walking through a huge automatic glass door and stepping out onto the Level Two terrace of Auckland Art Gallery, you might half expect to see something as minimal and futuristic as this. It’s refreshing then, that Christchurch-born artist, Oscar Enberg (awarded Creative New Zealand’s 2016 Visual Arts Residency, in Berlin) should be commissioned to create a site-specific work in such a space. We are faced with an installation which mimics the environs it occupies and strikes a conversation with elements of the surrounding architecture. The work maintains a sense of being somewhat out of kilter with present time, while still managing to feel quite at home on the terrace.
The first thing visible are two large chimneys - made of brick and cement respectively. A bronze replica of Jean Arp’s Croissance (or ‘Growth’), from 1938, is held between them by metal rods. Croissance is an anthropomorphic form, seemingly oozing and folding within its bronze skin. Without even beginning to walk around the installations, we are faced with the bizarre juxtaposition of the real and surreal; solid and organic forms.
On the opposite side of the furthest chimney (the cement one) are two cuckoo clocks. These are initially hidden away but become a homely and welcoming sight after the more industrial first impression. Finally, a bronze replica of Max Ernst’s Der Ursprung des Pendels (in English, ‘The Origin of the Pendulum‘) can be found on the brick chimney. As with the cuckoo clocks, the piece is displayed on the side of the chimney that is invisible from the terrace’s entrance.
The cuckoo clocks pay tribute to a small cottage-cum-museum, that sits a few hundred metres away in Albert Park. The museum was home to the trinkets of philanthropist, Bruce Wilkinson, which he collected from his travels overseas between the 1930s and 1960s. It isn’t a well known about site and, subsequently, has very rarely been visited, hence the subtlety of the clocks in Enberg’s installation. Presumably Wilkinson’s collection is largely put together from European travels. Links with the birthplace of Surrealism and the artist’s recently awarded Berlin residency are clear.
Connections can be drawn between the installation and aspects of the surreal story of Alice in Wonderland: the strange passage of time; chimneys; clocks; anthropomorphic forms; surprising ‘curiouser and curiouser’ elements that add to the work. There are also other connections, like the fact that Ernst completed illustration work for some of Lewis Carroll’s other writing as well. It has often been asked whether Carroll was under the influence of mind-altering substances when he wrote ‘Wonderland‘, or whether the books were perhaps based on the idea of psychedelics (the ‘magic mushrooms’, the hookah-smoking caterpillar, and the talking animals).
This all weaves back into one particular part of the installation conspicuous for its subtle humour. The clocks both stopped at exactly the same time during the opening preview. It’s interesting to note that the moment at which the clocks froze, 4:20, has over the years become a ‘codeword’ for the use of cannabis. This more amusing side of the work comments on its own easily-distracted, bizarre nature, while simultaneously making a broader statement about the main principles of Surrealism.
“Psychic automatism is in its pure state, the means by which one proposes to express - verbally, by means of written word, or in any other manner - the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, it is exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.” André Breton, Manifestoes of Surrealism, translated by Richard Seaver and Helen R Lane (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1969), 26.
It is easy to become overwhelmed by Enberg‘s work if expecting to condense it into one nice, neat narrative that has a beginning, middle, and end. The work itself seems to jump from story to story, as though it were a physical manifestation of ADHD. Viewers are given enough material, both physical and symbolic, to form their own links. It is then up to them to determine how far down the proverbial rabbit hole they wish to go. I personally found myself entangled in a web of research (links, clues, hints) to the point where I was teetering on the border between feeling as though I had almost solved a complex mystery, and seeing my interpretation as the ravings of a lunatic.
Enberg has created a space so rich with external connections and influences that it becomes nearly impossible not to wonder which ideas and stories are intentional, and which are the result of your fanciful mind. It is difficult to avoid feeling as though you are falling down a ‘rabbit-hole’ where rationality and logic seem to dissolve, making way for a story of many elements: none of which are successfully competing for attention, but all seemingly in cahoots.
This artist uses materials in a way that solidifies otherwise subtly linked narratives. The result is a bizarre suspension of disbelief. Objects are eerily still, yet packed with movement and energy. The work becomes an invitation to a moment where whimsical elements meet reality in an attempt to secure multiple, disjointed storylines, a confused feeling of waking up and entering a surreal dream world simultaneously. His material choices give weight to otherwise enigmatic ideas, as a physical embodiment of this hypnagogic state.
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