John Hurrell – 17 June, 2013
Maddie Leach's 'The Most Difficult Problem' makes us think about the tunnels built during WW2 under Albert Park for air raid shelters. Her video of the entrance on Kitchener St, leading under the hill, suggests to visitors the white door is about to open but it never does - teasing (maybe annoying) her audience.
International group exhibition and forums
If you were to live here
Curated by Hou Hanru
10 May - 11 August 2013
In this third of a series of ongoing ruminations about aspects of Hou Hanru’s Auckland Triennial, I want to look at the role played by the imagination, a topic obviously intrinsically embedded in the very nature of art itself - especially art that aspires to be utopian. Nevertheless (bearing in mind these thematic categories are not exclusive: and one work can embrace several) some artworks here, in terms of mentally picturing, really push the viewer - admittedly in not as extreme a fashion as Michael Craig Martin’s An Oak Tree, or Robert Rauschenberg’s Portrait of Iris Clert - forcing them to envisage details deliberately not provided in visual imagery.
For example Maddie Leach’s The Most Difficult Problem makes us think about the tunnels built during WW2 under Albert Park for air raid shelters. Her video of the entrance on Kitchener St, leading under the hill, suggests to visitors the white door is about to open but it never does - teasing (maybe annoying) her audience. The wall label says the tunnels were filled in, but that after the war there was a proposal to re-excavate them and make them into glow worm caves to attract tourists.
To accompany her video, Leach, as a handout, has published a text written in the late thirties in a local paper about the wonders of glow-worm caves. She also has some pretty piano music playing: The Glow Worm, a tune written by Paul Lincke, a Berlin composer praised by the Nazis, who included it in his opera version of Lysistrata. The recording, oddly enough, sounds very ‘French’, like Debussy or Saint-Saens.
Leach’s three gallery components work together to evoke in the visitor’s mind these proposed Auckland caves. The bubbly, highly penetrating, music dominates emotionally, being heard several rooms away on the same floor. Lincke’s melody is haunting and evokes the twinkling ‘lightness’ of hundreds of the pulsing insect larvae.
Luke Willis Thompson’s Untitled uses the imagination in a different way. He presents a different arrangement of three ‘notorious’ roller doors he presented earlier in a three wall version at Te Tuhi. Now they are lined up on the same plane as they were on the night their tagger Pihema Cameron was killed. With an added security light that flicks on when triggered by the movement of the gallery visitor, an ominously narrowing street within the gallery is suggested. Trauma-soaked objects from the real world prod the imagination, providing a catalyst for debating the reasons that lead up to such a tragic story.
Local Time’s project involves providing drinking water from Waiariki Spring, Tamaki Makaurau, at various venues of the Triennial for thirsty visitors. The water itself, tastewise, is not particularly distinctive, so its purpose here is more political, to draw attention - via its origins from under Auckland city - to issues of natural resources (this one a Treaty protected taonga), their guardianship and distribution. As with the Leach work you consider the subterranean recesses where it is to be found, the hidden dark environment around it.
With Do Ho Suh’s project the artist has worked with various design teams to present on 4 linked slide projectors and 2 video screens several proposed models of bridges that traverse vast distances, such as the Pacific ocean, to connect New York with Seoul - cities where he lives. Despite the detail in these hypothetical creations, prepared seriously and elaborately explained in dramatic and seductive animation, it takes a considerable leap of faith to believe these proposals are really possible. With the possibility of storms and turbulence in mid ocean, these projects seem like an amazing but never realisable fantasy. They have no ironical or humorous intent.
Ou Ning is a Chinese artist and curator, a pragmatic visionary who has researched and designed an alternative community, a commune for artists, writers, architects and other intellectuals, one that mixes with locals yet which tries to be conceptually and financially independent from government. Bishan Commune is a revitalised and renovated village near Beijing that tries to be self sustaining through a bartering system, running literature and music festivals, or operating printing workshops for making elegantly designed posters and commune ‘passports’. Ou Ning came to New Zealand and spent time living in and researching three New Zealand communes.
From another part of China, Zhou Tao presents a video, photos and poetical writings that focus on the activities within ‘South Stone’, a once rural village that has been surrounded and swallowed up by the city of Guangzhou. It is not completely absorbed. It has a different spatial feel and (obviously) different architecture.
In his video, there is a very gentle, understated humour, for many of Zhou’s observations are like a slow form of slapstick, showing a droll fascination with everyday phenomena like human movement, animals, vegetables and slow moving river water. Thirty-six shuffled panels of text and image on the wall transcribe writing we see drawn on to objects like plant leaves, plastic bottles and marrows; little poems about shoes and feet, and fish from the market. With no interest whatsoever in hi-tech, these whimsical works delight in the ordinary and vaguely silly - in the best possible way.
In the George Fraser Gallery the Yangjiang group presented drinks of tea, calligraphic drawings where used tealeaves were mixed in with the ink, and dice games that at the opening determined painted faces of visitors or their beer intake. The brushed on ink/tea marks (on the paper) are linked to the social dimensions of the space in a very direct manner, so examining them takes the imagination towards the architectural setting and its use. The building’s function is embedded in the display: linear quality and social purposes inseparable.
Looking at Amie Siegel’s film Winter, there is a moment when an imagined space presented in the work is not located in the mind of the gallery visitor, but implied to be in the ‘mind’ of the artwork itself, ‘thinking’ about its audience. There is a scene within a filmed Ian Athfield house when a group of seven or eight actors of mixed age enter the lounge, stand or comfortably sit down, and for a moment look directly at the camera, pointedly confronting the inhabiters of Auckland Art Gallery in their real space. This collective gaze from ‘the future’ prods the gallery audience to think about the room they are positioned in, and how they might appear to the screen were it to be an eye. And to ponder about their environment as seen in the context of a nuclear winter, wondering, “If I were to live here…”