John Hurrell – 23 February, 2021
The show's title of course is about meeting strangers for sex, the initial contact and ritualistic exchanging of vacuous verbal pleasantries. These necessary socialising procedures are turned into glowing neon speech bubbles resting on a double-layered glass table, juxtaposed with chunky symbolic mineral materials. The stacked-up multiple reflections emphasise the repetitious nature of each encounter.
Been Here Long?
Curated by Francis McWhannell (as part of Auckland Pride Festival)
11 February - 20 March 2021
In-house curator McWhannell has selected a dozen works from Paul Johns, the Christchurch artist whose artmaking career goes back to the seventies. Polaroid photographs, stills from films, prints, neon sculptures and one text painting; these showcase a queer sensibility—pioneering in this country. However that LGBTQ component (albeit salient) is really only a part of his complicated art practice overall.
Though disparate stylistically, and in method a mixed bag, McWhannell has selected carefully so that all of Johns‘ assorted narrative threads connect. The stories feed into each other, but you have to join the dots.
Three Polaroid portraits (1985, 1998, 2001) feature leather cap and jacket clad young men exuding a macho insouciance and surly ‘tough guy’ belligerence. They might be the same person, though with the added sunglasses it is hard to tell.
A much larger black and white image of a bound man in a tight eyeless leather hood—showered in what seems to be urine—is entitled I just thought I’d ring and say thanks. Some viewers might think that caption is simply Johns being wryly funny but there is no reason to assume it is not about gratitude as opposed to humour. It is about genuine appreciation.
The show’s title of course is about meeting strangers for sex, the initial contact and ritualistic exchanging of vacuous verbal pleasantries. These necessary socialising procedures are turned into glowing neon speech bubbles resting on a double-layered glass table, juxtaposed with chunky symbolic mineral materials. The stacked-up multiple reflections emphasise the repetitious nature of each encounter.
Other neon sculptures and text paintings look at biological determinism and questions of how an individual’s traits or sexual preferences seem to result from certain (successful) spermatozoa reaching ova faster than 199,999,999 competitors carrying different behavioural patterns. These pristine and minimalist works challenge us to ponder what are the deciding pre-natal factors?
Three photographic images from Johns’ home movies of the mid-seventies have a Warholesque feel. They show two transexuals outside leaning over a balcony, chatting to the camera, or one resting in bed with make up on. The shots stress the ordinariness of their daily and domestic routines, the prosaic humdrum nature of gender-fluid middleclass life, even when seen by the wider world as ‘unorthodox’.
With its vibrant mix of old and new work, this is a rare chance to see a sample of Paul Johns projects, with usually hidden subject matters that were explored decades before they later became fashionable.
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