John Hurrell – 23 May, 2018
In the context of this show (for which Jaar provides the title), though the heading becomes global in reference, it is primary Pacific and Asian in emphasis—and very Australian. The point here is: ‘other artists'—especially those beyond the northern hemisphere—think the way we do.
International contemporary collection sampler
Other People Think
Curated by Rhana Devenport assisted by Julia Waite
10 March -10 June 2018
Other People Think is a clever, very simple, text work by Alfredo Jaar about subjectivity, and how our own interiority often discourages our admitting that other people (in our own or other cultures) are ruminating over certain issues, just like we presumably are. In the context of this show (for which it provides the title), though the heading becomes global in reference, it is primary Pacific and Asian in emphasis—and very Australian. The point here is: ‘other artists’—especially those beyond the northern hemisphere—think the way we do.
Part of the show is about indifference to western contemporary art history in ‘the outer margins’, shown in precursors to such contributors as Joseph Watt (Sean Scully?), Emily Kame Kngwarreye (Brice Marden?), or Secundino Hernández (Hartung?). Part of it is also about bringing claims of personal narratives to abstraction (say romantic or landscape) that are very difficult to argue precisely for (Howard Hodgkin, Sally Gabori). Their interest instead comes from their formal qualities, and at times, their newly emerging political status. Or extraordinary technique (Margaret Turner Petyarre).
Irrespective of the geographical locations of its contributors, Other People Think is extremely varied in the types of art it presents—there is no cohesive binding logic in terms of media, visual qualities and ideational content—but it is an appealing introductory sampler to the institution’s international contemporary art collection. In some ways the curatorial amalgamation is akin to the Taryn Simon work, where in her photograph Simon reconstructed the way flowers from all over the world were air freighted to the Beehive in 2008, to decorate the table in the Banquet Hall where the Crown finalised a Treaty of Waitangi Treelords agreement with seven iwi.
In this lively selection of over thirty artists and forty items, three works are very special in the impact that they make. The first is the suite of neon works by the French collective Claire Fontaine, that says ‘Foreigners Everywhere’ in Māori, Samoan, Chinese, Korean, French and Hindi—never English.
It is wickedly ambiguous as satire, for it is more likely to be interpreted as xenophobic than being welcoming to immigrants. At face value it is ‘hate speech,’ even though the artists intend it to be a caricature. Away from an art context—in the street and unexplained—the presenters could be prosecuted, although the fact it is not in English might absolve them. However in a gallery, it is a superbly provocative stimulus for discussion.
The second key work is the immersive installation by Nalini Malani, In Search of Vanished Blood, which focuses on the horrific violence commonly inflicted on women in India. Detectable in the darkness are western newspapers plastered over most of the walls, and a sequence of voices and moving image projections accompanied by a dramatic musical soundtrack. It’s pretty disturbing (especially if you’re male; you feel hammered by the descriptive detail) and very memorable.
The third work that regularly engages most gallery goers is the set of three subtle distorting mirrors (in pink, yellow and blue) by Rebecca Bauman and Brendan van Hek. To see the whole show you must walk between them, and so you end up seeing the delicate twists and jumps (on your vertically reflected—and repeated—body) where the mirror seams meet or where the surface gently ripples. The pastel colours suggest mood changes, and your slyly distorted figure implies cognitive shifts and analytical readjustments; all this as you mentally ruminate on your ‘self’ image while distractedly ‘floating’ through the space.
This excellent exhibition on Level One is packed with surprises, as is the neighbouring Colour Is An Abstraction show (with stunning John Nixon works) just around the corner. A must-see.