John Hurrell – 31 July, 2012
I responded to the items that had some visceral wallop, with a scale that affected me bodily - and much here doesn't. Gordon-Smith seems to have no ‘eye' for work that has drama or is compositionally compelling. A lot of this show might be technically remarkable or innovative but it is also visually forgettable.
Ubiquitous: Aspects of Contemporary Pattern
Curated by Ioana Gordon-Smith
30 June - 1 September 2012
Ubiquitous: Aspects of Contemporary Pattern is an exhibition that looks at the popularity of decorative motifs in craft and art. Rather than formally analysing in depth the various structural templates and systems of pattern’s internal dynamic, it examines in general the varieties of use to which it is put - and as you can tell from the title, its presence in all cultures.
Therefore the notion of pattern here is not tightly regimented in terms of repeated templates, inversion, mirroring, half-drop etc. Much is loosely organic in its organisation and strictly speaking more about ornamental pulse than pattern: something not mathematically precise and which - as the example from Darren Glass’s 105 apertured, rolling pinhole camera (Hefty Roller) shows - may be process driven, or as in Blue Willow referenced designs, exploits curving linear rhythms.
Ioana Gordon-Smith, the show’s curator, has picked works from twenty artists that include glassware, rugs, brooches, photography, sculpture, painting, prints, fabric hangings, screens, clothing and ceramic tiles.
I responded to the items that had some visceral wallop, with a scale that affected me bodily - and much here doesn’t. There is not sufficient work that has drama or is compositionally compelling. A lot of this show might be technically remarkable or innovative but it is also visually forgettable.
Of the more dynamic works, the Andrew McLeod / Dilana rug, with its competing families of swirling kowhaiwhai pattern and densely packed koru motifs (surrounded by fine tendrils) is inventive and admirably unpredictable with its restless energy.
Sandra Thomson’s printed hangings attack creationism and arms suppliers, and though didactic and heavyhanded, succeed as fascinating images you keep on looking at - due to her brilliant drawing and organisational skill. In the centre of the room they dominate the space as an activist update of William Morris. Leanne Joy Lupelele Clayton also refers to Morris. Her Bitter and Sweet screenprint shows lemons and oranges on his design of a pomegranate plant, and seems a subtle Samoan comment on New Zealand society. It is also compositionally daring with its nonrepeatable clusters of citrus.
Three exhibits here focus on the Blue Willow ceramic design, originally adapted by the British from the Chinese, and here in New Zealand put out by Crown Lynn. Adrian Hailwood has an original Blue Willow design placed on a t-shirt (it looks rather lame in an art context), Robin White does her own wonderful version in an etching, Braveheart, using ‘New Zealand’ motifs very similar to those found in her paintings and screenprints, and Neil Dawson has a flat sculpture blending a Blue Willow plate with two delineated I-beams. His contribution, Plate 6, 2008, is hung too low and too close to wall mouldings and other exhibits. It needs to be up high in isolation.
One see-through work that does function well in the space is David Trubridge’s elegant Manuka Screen, 2011. Consisting of a rectangular lattice of suspended flower forms, its six petalled shapes made of flat bamboo plywood and thin strips of polycarbonate create a pattern that is simple but never boring, especially when enhanced by light and shadow.
Another highlight is Gina Matchitt’s black and white tukutuku frieze made of hundreds of computer keys in descending diamond formations. You have to stand close to see the identifying letters and numbers that speak of the transition from traditional Māori wall patterns and a local environs to the power of written language and the global reach of cyberspace.
A couple of the exhibits are in fact photographs of items which should themselves be in the gallery space. This, after all, is a design show (not a magazine) and so the aim should be direct engagement with the visual and tactile properties of each selected project. To have a sample of the undulating aluminium cladding designed by Ashley Allen and Stephane Rondel for the Metro building and Genevieve Packer’s Souvenir: Flock wallpaper design on its original calfskin would have made their attractiveness as providers of pattern so much clearer, and in the case of Packer, with wit.
Even though it contains two informative essays by Gordon-Smith and Anna Miles, the catalogue, designed in A4 format, like the show itself, lacks flair. If done well a show like this (with a classy attendant publication) could be wildly popular. What should be unrelentingly exuberant and celebratory is in fact often slightly dreary.
Objectspace obviously needs a quality designer who can make individual images look good on the page, not butt six together in a manner that looks cheap and tacky. Each catalogue publication should be an artwork in itself, a desirable item to be fought for, an object you are proud to insert into your library.
Part of the problem is the venue. Objectspace urgently needs to be turned into a proper gallery that is lined with plain mdf lined walls from ceiling to floor. That would allow some large flat exhibits (like rugs and sculpture) to be displayed high up so they can be seen from a distance. Having said that, this show does look better than other exhibitions I’ve seen here. There are not so many vitrines to negotiate around this time. However if it wants to be taken seriously, Objectspace has to get its walls up to scratch to compete with its Karangahape and Ponsonby Rd rivals.