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Almost Strictly Ocular

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Yona Lee, An Arrangement For 5 Rooms, 2022. Commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. Supported by the Contemporary Benefactors of the AAG, Asia NZ Foundation and Chow:Hill. Courtesy of Fine Arts, Sydney. Photo: Jennifer French and Paul Chapman Yona Lee, An Arrangement For 5 Rooms, 2022. Commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. Supported by the Contemporary Benefactors of the AAG, Asia NZ Foundation and Chow:Hill. Courtesy of Fine Arts, Sydney. Photo: Jennifer French and Paul Chapman Yona Lee, An Arrangement For 5 Rooms, 2022. Commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. Supported by the Contemporary Benefactors of the AAG, Asia NZ Foundation and Chow:Hill. Courtesy of Fine Arts, Sydney. Photo: Jennifer French and Paul Chapman Yona Lee, An Arrangement For 5 Rooms, 2022. Commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. Supported by the Contemporary Benefactors of the AAG, Asia NZ Foundation and Chow:Hill. Courtesy of Fine Arts, Sydney. Photo: Jennifer French and Paul Chapman Yona Lee, An Arrangement For 5 Rooms, 2022. Commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. Supported by the Contemporary Benefactors of the AAG, Asia NZ Foundation and Chow:Hill. Courtesy of Fine Arts, Sydney. Photo: Jennifer French and Paul Chapman Yona Lee, An Arrangement For 5 Rooms, 2022. Commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. Supported by the Contemporary Benefactors of the AAG, Asia NZ Foundation and Chow:Hill. Courtesy of Fine Arts, Sydney. Photo: Jennifer French and Paul Chapman Yona Lee, An Arrangement For 5 Rooms, 2022. Commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. Supported by the Contemporary Benefactors of the AAG, Asia NZ Foundation and Chow:Hill. Courtesy of Fine Arts, Sydney. Photo: Jennifer French and Paul Chapman Yona Lee, An Arrangement For 5 Rooms, 2022. Commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. Supported by the Contemporary Benefactors of the AAG, Asia NZ Foundation and Chow:Hill. Courtesy of Fine Arts, Sydney. Photo: Jennifer French and Paul Chapman Yona Lee, An Arrangement For 5 Rooms, 2022. Commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. Supported by the Contemporary Benefactors of the AAG, Asia NZ Foundation and Chow:Hill. Courtesy of Fine Arts, Sydney. Photo: Jennifer French and Paul Chapman Yona Lee, An Arrangement For 5 Rooms, 2022. Commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. Supported by the Contemporary Benefactors of the AAG, Asia NZ Foundation and Chow:Hill. Courtesy of Fine Arts, Sydney. Photo: Jennifer French and Paul Chapman Yona Lee, An Arrangement For 5 Rooms, 2022. Commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. Supported by the Contemporary Benefactors of the AAG, Asia NZ Foundation and Chow:Hill. Courtesy of Fine Arts, Sydney. Photo: Jennifer French and Paul Chapman Yona Lee, An Arrangement For 5 Rooms, 2022. Commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. Supported by the Contemporary Benefactors of the AAG, Asia NZ Foundation and Chow:Hill. Courtesy of Fine Arts, Sydney. Photo: Jennifer French and Paul Chapman Yona Lee, An Arrangement For 5 Rooms, 2022. Commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. Supported by the Contemporary Benefactors of the AAG, Asia NZ Foundation and Chow:Hill. Courtesy of Fine Arts, Sydney. Photo: Jennifer French and Paul Chapman Yona Lee, An Arrangement For 5 Rooms, 2022. Commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. Supported by the Contemporary Benefactors of the AAG, Asia NZ Foundation and Chow:Hill. Courtesy of Fine Arts, Sydney. Photo: Jennifer French and Paul Chapman Yona Lee, An Arrangement For 5 Rooms, 2022. Commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. Supported by the Contemporary Benefactors of the AAG, Asia NZ Foundation and Chow:Hill. Courtesy of Fine Arts, Sydney. Photo: Jennifer French and Paul Chapman

The title of the installation sounds more limited than what it in fact is. 'An Arrangement for Five Rooms' can be explored from within the art gallery building, or from outside, standing in Albert Park amongst the trees at different elevations. (Even from below the projecting floor level.) During daytime or at night.

Auckland 


Yona Lee
An Arrangement for Five Rooms


26 February - 2 October 2022

Yona Lee’s trademark tubular steel railings, gridded ‘jungle gym’ monkey bars, and bizarre ‘functional’ insertions will be familiar to anyone who hung out in Artspace’s tower (or Te Tuhi’s drawing space) over 2012, or Te Tuhi’s communal lounge in 2017.
Since then she has had some spectacular exhibitions overseas, and so this new Auckland indoor and outdoor installation (with its curious mixture of formal arrangements and implied interwoven narratives) designed to comment on methods of bodily control, reveals many surprises.

The title of the installation sounds more limited than what it in fact is. An Arrangement for Five Rooms can be explored from within the art gallery building, or from outside, standing in Albert Park amongst the trees at different elevations. (Even from below the projecting floor level.) During daytime or at night.

At one time Lee’s installations—even in the past during a non-Covid age—could be interpreted as showcasing how empty our public and private galleries were, what a comparatively underpopulated country Aotearoa was, and sadly of its inhabitants, how few were interested in art. There was a strong sense of melancholy from the barrier-split spaces with their overt linear protection for potential (then absent) paintings. The ambience exuded a lack, a place longing to be peopled, a hint perhaps at a desire for a bureaucracy necessary from past times when art might have been greater appreciated.

Now—in the Covid age of social distancing and quarantining—those things still apply, but Lee‘s project also suggests refugee processing (migrations caused by war, natural disasters or economic collapse) queuing spaces for example in airports, ferry terminals, food distribution sites or government offices. The current time is more stressful than earlier. Different communities everywhere are in open conflict; tempers are frayed; barriers seem necessary to separate squabbling factions. The ‘functionality’ of Lee’s installation makes perfect sense, albeit with many humorous spliced-in additions that don’t really alter that overall controlling or protecting mood.

The visitor’s peripatetic movement is regulated by occasionally perforated glass windows; railing traversed, temporarily positioned, white walls; and the freestanding lines of glistening tubular steel. The gallery attendee’s eyes may be free to look through or around, and their imagination stimulated, but their body remains thwarted.

With this exhibition, the visual resigns supreme and the unruly is avoided. You keep your hands and your feet to yourself. For reasons of Omicron and protection of work you and your kids can’t touch the horizontal rails, or twisting configurations of steel tubing. You can’t climb up on the monkey bars (you might hurt yourself), sit by the lamps and read, fondle the suspended pot plants, get into the unmade bunks for a snooze or some hanky-panky with a friend, or rest with coffee beside the row of circular tables in the coloured chairs. They might break.

Nevertheless, this is overwhelmingly a fun show. There are lots of subtle or deliberately incongruous things going on, to be discovered in repeated visits, such as unexpected ambiguous reflections in gallery windows, mysterious horizontal slivers of fluorescent light to be seen outside, sly changes in railing diameter, pots of dead flowers in letterboxes, ludicrously hung bus straps that are out of reach, or dry soap in soap dishes on poles above bus seats.

All reliant on visual alertness; and an awareness of the consequences of the not-so-clean, sweaty, hefty and mobile human body. All arranged in a fascinating sequence of cluttered or ‘near empty’ spaces; where linear rhythm and optical penetration, body blocking or allowed access are key: all teasing and smart-arse, and all good.

A treat for the attentive.

John Hurrell

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