Sunday, March 22, 2009

Aniwaniwa: Brett Graham and Rachael Rakena, 10 Days on the Island 2009

Accompanied by my New Zealand flatmate, today I went and viewed Aniwaniwa, a video installation at the historic Rosny Barn, by New Zealand artists Brett Graham and Rachael Rakena. The work, which is part of Tasmania’s biannual arts festival, Ten Days on the Island, is an engrossing depiction of the flooding of the village Horahora, as part of a hydroelectric scheme.

The viewer is encouraged to lie on mattresses beneath the five round convex screens mounted within massive tyre-like forms that are suspended from the ceiling. Speakers are positioned behind the provided pillows, and once lying down, the viewer feels appropriately submersed in the sound. The vibrations of the Maori singing, turbines and other accompanying sounds lull me into a relaxing, almost trance-like state.

The videos appear almost narrative. I enter the space at a time when bubbles (which I had at first mistakenly identified as stars) are floating tranquilly across the screens, and this scene becomes ‘the beginning’ for me. Then the turbines start up, the grainy black and white image alluding to past times. The shape of the turbine whisking the bubbles into a fury of circular motion echoes the unusually shaped screen. The noise of the turbines, which, I should add, look eerily like eyes, is deafening (although when I left I realised that I’d stupidly positioned myself right behind the largest speakers).

Not quite in synch, one by one the screens switch to underwater scenes of waving reeds and submersed figures going about oddly everyday activities. To the sound of a spiritual wailing, a woman floats in a murky haze, hair lazily waving above her head as she tries to light a fire, a man with a spade digs amongst the reeds, and a boy and a girl, dressed neatly in shirts and carrying brown suitcases stare placidly at the viewer. The blurred image, the eerily calm figures, and soundtrack suggest memory or myth, and while the overall effect is quite tranquil, there is an underlying feeling of sadness and loss.

The underwater powerlines that come into view at ‘the end’ are the only built indicator of the town, Horahora, that was drowned and turned into Lake Karapiro. My flatmate, who grew up in a town on the North Island not far from the Lake, remembers waterskiing on Karapiro during school camps, and the way that she described the location reminded me strongly of Lake Jindabyne, the popular watersport playground that covers the similarly submerged old village. A new Jindabyne has sprung up on the shores of the dam created in the 1960s as part of the Snowy Mountains Scheme, yet it’s eyesore that in no way resembles the old drowned town (Apparently, when the dam levels are low you can spot the old church spire sticking defiantly out of the water). Similar comparisons can be made to Tasmania’s hydro electric scheme which has resulted in numerous artificial lakes being built throughout the island, so Aniwaniwa seems an appropriate work for a Tasmanian arts festival.

I unfortunately missed out on the forum on Friday at the Tasmanian School of Art, where the artists spoke about their work, although I usually prefer to look at a work before I hear about it anyway. The gallery guide at the Barn door didn’t seem to understand my preference however, and insisted on giving me a long spiel on the work before I’d even had a chance to enter.

Overall, Aniwaniwa is a stunning work. I stayed for two loops (of I think about 15 minutes each), engrossed the entire time, making it one of the few video/sound works that has managed to beat my very limited concentration capacity (others include a Bill Viola piece at the AGNSW last year and the sound piece at the Sydney Biennale. by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller).

is presented by Ten Days on the Island, Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery and Clarence City Council, 20 March -13 April, at Rosny Barn.

These images have been sourced from Copyright belongs to the artists.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Callum Morton: Wall to Wall

I haven’t blogged for ages. I’ve been deliberating over a number of exhibitions but haven’t actually got round to writing them up properly, so I thought I’d bite the bullet and do a quick one on Callum Morton’s exhibition Wall to Wall at Roslyn Oxley9. Yes, I know it’s not in Hobart, but I was lucky enough to be in Sydney when the exhibition opened and I was blown away by the work.

For those unfamiliar with the Roslyn Oxley9 space, I’ll try to describe it because Morton’s work plays with the shape of the gallery. To enter the gallery, you walk up some stairs where at the top you are confronted with Morton’s first work, Monument #22: Black Hole Relocation (2009), a realistic-looking ‘brick wall’ made of “polyurethane, poxy resin, fibreglass, sand cement”, with a messy black circle painted in the centre. You then turn around, and opening off the small hallway/landing is the main gallery space.

Morton’s Monument #23: Slump (2009), also made of imitation bricks, is a sagging wall, which continues the line of the hallway into the main gallery, essentially cutting the space in half. It’s an unnerving sight: a life-size, seemingly heavy besser brick wall, held up merely by wooden supports and sandbags. Of course, it’s all an illusion, as the materials list indicates, but it still makes you slightly concerned as you walk the thin corridor between the white gallery wall and looming ‘besser bricks’, carefully stepping over the questionably adequate supports.

Morton’s wall falls short of the gallery length and the viewer is able to step around to the other side, the safer, cleaner side, and guessing from the painted surface, the outside. Here, the illusion continues. Painted in a trompe l'oeil style, we see that the geometric shapes are accompanied by shadows that, if you stand in the middle of the wall, emphases the illusion of a buckling wall. If you stand closer to the edge however, the shadows stop making so much sense. It’s disconcerting enough not to want to linger on this side of the wall, even though it’s plainly supposed to be the less ‘dangerous’ alternative.

I have something to admit. I love things that pretend to be other things. I remember the day that I discovered that the ‘metal’ (or chrome paint) on my mobile was peeling off. Was I upset? Not at all, I thought it was terrific. In 1860, Gottfried Semper described plastic’s predecessor, Indian Rubber, as ‘the factotum of the industry [which] lends itself to all purposes… since its nearly unlimited sphere of application is imitation,” and that was almost a century and a half ago. I like to think my mobile, camera, car and ipod, all of which sport a classy ‘metal’ finish, would please Semper.

I’m quite lucky in the visual arts to have so many examples of such illusionism to embrace. On my recent overseas trip I saw trompe l'oeils in the churches of Italy and France, and visited a Fischili and Weiss survey at the TATE Modern, where an entire room was made out of polystyrene objects so carefully shaped and painted that I at first walked through the room without realising they were imitative. Ricky Swallow also practices a similar kind of artmaking - the ‘hand-made ready-made’ as Justin Paton has described it. In short, you can probably understand the basis of my slightly biased enthusiasm for Morton’s plastic ‘bricks’. (Note: these last two paragraphs of rambling have been added after I was trying to work out why I used the words ‘blown away’ to describe an exhibition, and why I couldn’t come up with a more appropriate alternative)

An aspect of this exhibition that really interests me is that Roslyn Oxley9 is a commercial gallery and that Monument #23 work is priced at $120,000. I understand that private collectors are not the only clients of such galleries, and that public galleries frequently purchase work, but really, how is such a work to be handled, where would it be stored, and in the case of a private collector, where would it be placed? (“We’ll place it next to the dining table so that the guests don’t linger…”) I know this is not a new concept, I mean, installations are pretty much standard even in commercial galleries but I often wonder how viable such exhibitions are. Are they subsidised by other shows? Do many installations sell? If so, to whom? If anyone out there works for a commercial gallery, has an answer to these questions, or has ever wondered the same thing, please feel free to leave a comment.

Callum Morton’s Wall to Wall is on at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney 26 February – 21 March 2009

The copyright for all images belongs to Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery.