Saturday, October 2, 2010

Denys Watkins and Cultural Diplomacy

Denys Watkin's latest work 'walks some words around'. It roughly traces the progress of recent travel - both real and imagined. There's signage from Mount Eden, text from New York, the world's tallest man, names of songs, and hand-lettering that harks back to his training at Wellington Polytech in the 1960s.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

don't worry, be happy

We talked to Brit Bunkley recently about his latest work in don't worry, be happy.

MNG: You often include animals in your work that are distorted by human interaction - the sheep with jets under its skin, the cow with the train roller-coasting through it.

BB: These animals are the life blood of the New Zealand export economy. They are also part of my personal environment. I have lived in rural New Zealand for the last 15 years. My studio is often surrounded by sheep and cattle including our pets and those belonging to the farmer who uses our land.

These magical realist interactions that you mention, are metaphors of apocalyptic fear. The jets and trains that move under the skin of animals are darkly humorous, uncanny events that fit within the art paradigm of Maurizio Catelan. (I believe that Catelan legitimized humor in art more than any other contemporary artist.)

Apocalyptic fear has been endemic for years in film, literature and art. The traditional myth of the Apocalypse is filled with typically poetic mythic events such as water turning to blood, persecutions by dragons, and encounters with a woman clothed with the sun, the moon, and the stars. There have been plenty of quite realistic apocalyptic scenarios in my lifetime from several near misses of all-out nuclear war to the increasing possibility of scorched earth global warming.

I am an optimist and believe that human creativity, humor and rational critical thinking can improve our future as long as it is acted upon. As Noam Chomsky says, we don’t know what lies in the future or if our actions can help, but we can chose optimism. Inaction and fear will only guarantee pessimism.

MNG: In this exhibition you have used a lot of satellite images as backgrounds. Superimposed over these are a giant (if you consider them in relation to the satellite backgrounds) bridge, a cow, and a cathedral. What's your thinking about this scale relationship? It makes me think of power relationships...

BB: All the works refers to power relationships; and yes this is one method of delivery. These particular works also refer to the strange formal relationship between the two-dimensional image of the satellite photographs, and the virtual three-dimensional computer objects that I find uncanny and irrational like a Zen Koan. The ability to approach photographic realism is cut short by the obvious incongruent scale shifts.

MNG: And what about the Simpons? Why use Homer's nuclear power plant?

BB: The simply drawn cartoon of the Simpsons is transformed into the real (as is its meaning) with virtual photographic technology. A satellite photograph of a snow strewn countryside is mapped onto the surface of the 3D model providing a unique lifeless landscape. The Simpsons are seen as a form of reality by many, and many now feel they get a better grasp of current events from satirical shows such as the Daily Show or The Colbert Report (mostly in the USA, but also shown here on TV) than mainstream media news.

MNG: The granite mushroom cloud is almost a monument to nuclear energy. This work seems to walk the fine line between sinister and the celebratory... like a creepy businessman?

BB: It is. An acceptance of that which scares us provides the ability to overcome the obstacle. Finding beauty in the terrible has been a tactic in many art forms from the blues to the genre of apocalyptic films such as Mad Max or The Road, to the surreal work by David Lynch where good and evil are interchangeable and fluid. Mushroom clouds have an ominous beauty - a “terrible beauty” of Yeats.

Granite, that most monumental of materials, can capture the moment in a benign way. In this case the slim shaft (supported by a steel rod) holds a piece of granite weighing almost 50 kilos. The mysterious force of gravity is seemingly suspended. In addition all granite contains trace elements of (mostly) harmless radioactive materials.

MNG: What about the relationship between tiling in the computer graphics sense, and tiling over a computer screen, hard drive and printer?

BB: Tiling is a method of placing photographic or graphic imagery over a 3D digital model to give the appearance of realism - “virtual reality”. In this instance I tried to reverse the process by tiling hyperrealist tiles over old computers who “print out” a virtual model of themselves. The title “Existence Precedes Essence”, the famous existential quote by Sartre is meant to be ironic. Computers are the very essence of essence.

Also in a sense it is the opposite of Rachel Whiteread’s method of filling space between and within an object - instead I enclose objects.

MNG: And the bricked in television?

BB: Yes this is the same as the tiles, though the brick is far more earthy – not shiny or “pretty”. Along with the computer, TV is the main vehicle for transmitting knowledge these days. Here it is    rendered inert and ironic.

MNG: The gnomes are like the everyman. They were from another project right?

BB: The sculpture project, 'Primitive Accumulation' was a 1500 mm x 1500 mm x 1500 mm cube-like structure consisting of approximately 1500 garden gnomes. It began conceptually as a reaction to the abuse of cheap labour from China - as the old joke goes, “just wait until the communists take over!”

Ironically gnomes were banned in East Germany as symbols of the bourgeoisie. Gnomes now are associated with kitsch, not at all bourgeois... whatever that means. Communism has/had as much to do with social justice and socialisms as it did with democracy in those “socialist democratic republics”.

The title, Primitive Accumulation is derived from both the Marxist economic term “primitive accumulation” and economist Adam Smith’s term “original accumulation”. Both terms refer to the foundation of capitalism and "the accumulation of stock" as a precondition for the division of labour. With primitive accumulation “large swaths of the population are violently divorced from their traditional means of self-sufficiency” (Robert Gehl). Essentially the economy is kick started with the aid of dispossessed and desperate labourers who may (...or may not) create enough wealth for subsequent generations to enjoy.

But basically I thought it was just weird idea that would look interesting. When the temporary sculpture was destroyed I immediately thought of a method to try to reconstruct the ruins of the old work, and resin was the ideal material since it froze the materials in time as if drooped into a vehicle for suspended animation. Ten gnomes looked as if they were drowning. I have restructured materials since art school in the late seventies.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Big Bang at Cook & Co

Double happies, a fire at sea, an assassination of the queen... what is happening at Cook & Co?

Arson at Sea 2010

Cook & Co are in the process of rebranding. In preparation for her exhibition in Amsterdam next year, Octavia is 'exploding' what we know about Cook & Co. And in 2011 she'll be unveiling the reborn identity of her global jewellery company.

Octavia in the Cook Brand Combustible Torque 2010.
Photograph by Haru Sameshima.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Anarchy at Cook & Co

There's Anarchy in Avondale and a mutiny on the high seas of Cook & Co as Octavia Cook looks back to the days before the establishment of Cook & Co. In these rebellious teenage years there was the Cook brand when notions of jewellery and value were tried out and thrown in the air - like these wigs in Wig Riot 2010 (pictured).

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Beneath the Blue - Joanna Langford

Just fresh from the NewDowse where she has installed a work for the exhibition Under Construction, Joanna Langford moved into our space for the weekend to hang and construct Beneath the Blue.

We talked to Jo about the work and possible new directions for her 'architecture of the fantastical'.

MNG: Someone said something interesting about your work recently in the context of your use of skewers. They said that traditionally that was how sculpture and spatial relationships were taught at art schools, using skewers to delineate space and as the basis for forms. Which makes your work as much as sculpture as it does about architecture... any thoughts on that?

JL: I think of my work as installation or sculpture or paintings in real space. In a way I think it's all quite similar - there is an interest in materials, form, space and illusion.

MNG: These latest wall works also seem to be about some kind of expanded painting or drawing, would you agree?

JL: I do a lot of photoshop drawings when I am working towards an installation. This allows me to play with the materials and motifs in virtual space. The wall works that I made for Beneath the Blue originated from these drawings. I had also painted a wall in my studio blue to create a ‘blue screen’ for an animation I am making (a blue screen of green screen is often used in film so you can film action in the foreground and add a back ground later). I started to adopt this screen for the background for my drawings.

MNG: With the floor works we are back in familiar Jo Langford territory, except that the view has shifted to Iceland or the Antarctic...

JL: Imagery of Iceland has been lurking in my consciousness since I did a residency there in 2008. I am interested in landscapes that exist in the real but that have a feeling of the fantastic. Iceland is one of these places. The expansive lava fields and smoky geothermal happenings in the snow-scape makes it feel otherworldly. There is also a sense of unease in this landscape that hints at the drama that is going on beneath us - a mass that is in flux, a gurgling and surging up.

MNG: In earlier work you have used liquorcie allsorts and wafers to build your constructions and in the Any Dream series you have used icing sugar. How do you connect confectionary and the landscape/urbanscape (the delicacy seems perfect)?

JL: I am primarily interested in the formal qualities of these materials - the color and texture.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

From the stairway to the heavens - Joanna Langford

Joanna Langford's Beneath the Blue series moves away from her 'stairways to heavens', and finds us up above the streets amongst the clouds in an urban skyline clutterd with aerials, and cell phone towers.

Delicate threads 'draw' silhouettes of masting lit by tiny LED lights that glow from their uppermost tips.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Tom Sladden's 'Sleepers'

Duck! included six new paintings by Tom Sladden. The substrates on which all of the images in this exhibition are painted have a pre-history - sometimes marks from their former lives, sometimes holes from screws and protrusions.

Charger 2002-2010 above is a good example of Tom's interest in what isn't painted, what isn't said - and the holes and marks circle the blocks of colour adding to the atmosphere around them.

Study for everything I know 2009-2010 is a whimsical painting that hints and hides. It reminds me of good poetry - open-ended and suggestive but ultimately enjoyable because it doesn't tie down meaning or answer questions.