John Hurrell – 12 August, 2023
In organising this project for the Gus Fisher, Lisa Beauchamp has selected work from four artists, two of them moving image (one referring to the deliberate ‘trial-by-drowning' of accused women, the other an oblique, panoramic, “speculative” history of the phenomenon of shamanism); and two installation, where one focusses on photographic documentation of botanical remedies with informative text, and the other a bubbling vertical ‘cauldron' in a darkened room with radiating woven flax material and baskets on the floor.
Tai Shani, Ann Shelton, Jayne Parker, Louie Zalk-Neale (with Adam Ben-Dror, Neke Moa, and Tāwhanga Nopera)
She Would Lie on her Back and Sink
Curated by Lisa Beauchamp
3 June - 26 August 2023
With the recent publication of Andrew Paul Wood‘s book on the occult, and the occasion of this Gus Fisher exhibition on witches, one might think that for the artworld any interest in the supernatural is new, but it is not so. One can recall Natasha Conland‘s AAG show in 2007, and several other ‘paranormal’ exhibitions (often with witches allied with feminist politics), that go back to the early seventies.
In organising this project for the Gus Fisher, Lisa Beauchamp has selected work from four artists, two of them moving image (one referring to the deliberate ‘trial-by-drowning’ of accused women, the other an oblique, panoramic, “speculative” history of the phenomenon of shamanism); and two installation, where one focusses on photographic documentation of ‘mind-altering’ botanical remedies with informative text, and the other a bubbling vertical ‘cauldron’ in a darkened room with radiating woven flax material (to transmit mauri) on the floor, its seven end baskets containing a range of geological types and carvings.
i am an old phenomenon, Ann Shelton’s presentation under the dome in the central courtyard, focuses on (culturally marginalised) hallucination-generating or medicinal wild plants like Datura or Agaric fungi, using elegant botanical photographs displayed on five double-sided screens arranged in a circle to suggest a small community of very focussed women.
The title of the Gus Fisher show comes from a line in The Three Fates, a Pip Adam short story commissioned by Shelton, that she has placed on the back of the i am an old phenomenon poster. It incorporates several sections taken from a thesis researched by Shelton.
Shelton’s flower images (accompanied by informative texts) have been seen many times now in Auckland since she began her stylish plant portraits in 2015, so their audience context has altered. Nevertheless these recent works (with their emphasis on normally hidden knowledge) have some particularly witty image-title combinations that take you by surprise.
The considerable physical impact of the immersive film and installation projects by Tai Shani and Louie Zalk-Neale lures you into sticking around, your curiosity awakened.
Tai Shani’s spectacular hour-long project, Neon Hieroglyph, with its immersive wide screen, guiding Pre-Raphaelite shaman, computer-generated text, and caressing hypnotic looping sound, propels the viewer through different ‘hallucinatory’ other worldly universes—there to be voluntarily enjoyed, unlike the mentioned unknowing European ingesters of the psychedelic ergot (the mind-altering mould that grows on rye bread) during the early seventeenth century.
Shani’s film seems like a digitally enhanced version of Bill Seaman‘s 1991 work, The Exquisite Mechanism of Shivers, being similar in mood and tone, but with a pronounced feminist, pharmaceutical, anti-consumerist and more technically aware reflexive twist. While in parts its images become overmanipulated in an attempt at a lysergic mood, it is a great work to come and go to, and dip into at leisure.
With Beyond Your Tadpole stage //Your Spinal Cord Dissolves, Zalk-Neale and their collaborators present carefully positioned lines of woven harakehe that end in baskets of stones and carvings, spreading out from—in the centre of the room—a tall percolating cylindrical barrel-like jar containing pieces of bobbing pumice, seaweed, and seawater. The installation relies on carefully controlled lighting (including twinkling stars on the walls) for a ‘supernatural’ but eco-conscious ambience, successfully blending Māori and European concepts of witchcraft. With cushions provided on the floor so the seven rocks can be held by a circle of ‘sensitive’ adjacent sitters, it extends into séance-like theatrics, but the room’s gurgling sound, low temperature and darkened atmosphere, for a normally formal venue, makes it strikingly refreshing.
Beaumont’s inclusion of the underwater Jayne Parker video, Whirlpool, in my view, is not a successful fit. It is too similar to aqua-gymnastics or synchronised swimming, with its slow twee dreaminess and lack of dramatic tension. With its immersed dainty ballerina wearing red en pointe shoes, sweetly dancing to Schumann piano, you certainly wouldn’t think of ‘witches’ being ‘tried’ and hideously murdered by drowning.
While the show overall is not totally successful, there is a lot of genuinely engrossing (quite complex) art here that needs time to engage with. Easily well worth a visit.