A Maze; A Meditation, Xach Xucherberg and H P A Gd4bb's response to Yona Lee's Specific Objects, and The Optimists, by John Ward Knox and Sophie Bannon.
Mane 2 Hune
Monday 2 June
Creating a maze through the Blue Oyster, Auckland artist Yona Lee’s Specific Objects disrupted the spatial confines of the viewer’s periphery. An MFA graduate from the Elam School of Fine Arts, Yona Lee is a Korean born, Auckland based artist, who is also trained classical cellist.
Specific Objects is the first freestanding series of steel works by Lee, but has many aesthetic and theoretical ties to her previously work, most notably Tangential Structures at Enjoy gallery in Wellington. Tangential Structures featured an array of moulded steel vines coming from the ceiling and holding a surrealistic amount of different everyday objects, including money, coat hangers, stockings and a glass of wine. The steel works in Specific Objects feature repurposed objects, fragments from the Blue Oyster’s past, as well as reappropriating practical materials that the gallery utilises.
The name of this show is taken from Donald Judd’s seminal text Specific Objects from 1965. Each of these bent steel works evoked dynamism through the space, but also offered a tension, through the anxiety one felt negotiating through the delicate system counterbalanced objects. Her works were very playful in the sense that they were obtrusive. This fluidity perhaps alludes to Lee’s background as a cellist, as the works appear like musical notes guiding the viewer through the space. Indeed these steel structures were embedded with movement and offered fluidity throughout the space. When walking through the space one realised how this tension made one feel emotionally. It was unnerving and potentially perilous to walk through. Her works were very playful in the sense that they were obtrusive.
Using motifs gleaned from that of the commercial window display, Specific Objects shows the potential for commercial modes of display within a gallery context. These works not only allude to unseen gallery activities, such as painting or plastering the walls, but also challenge the binary between different modes of display. This is evident in the way the works were able to flirt between art and commercial modes of display, pushing this far beyond the constraints of an intended function. Unlike the distanced relationship one usually has with display structures in which they are invisible, Specific Objects forces one to look at and engage with these objects.
The usual invisibility of such structures acts as a means to suggest that they were extensions of the objects themselves. By placing these materials in a gestural manner, they seem humorous within the space. One could easily find themselves being almost tripped up and often caught off guard in relation to the presence of these objects. Indeed the relevancy of Lee’s musical history is evident in this body of work, by the dancerly movements the viewer undertakes in order to view each work.
Xach Xuckerberg and H P A Gd4bb
Part two: A Meditation
John Ward Knox and Sophie Bannan
29 July–23 August 2014
Working in a series of gestures, The Optimists offers a simple, but thoughtful meditation on different modes of behaviour and the space outside of the gallery. Both artists show great restraint in what they output. The works of John Ward Knox and Sophie Bannan are both minimal, but seemingly parallel one another, and yet retain their individual practices and ideas. This encourages the viewer to engage beyond the space; despite the minimalist approach to aesthetics both works pose profound questions about behaviour. Most notably around the idea of charity, how we memorialise objects, our attachment to objects and the effects of architecture on our collective psyche. Holding an MFA from Elam School of Fine Arts, John Ward Knox is an Auckland based artist. Knox’s last work I saw in Dunedin Lightwave (2011) with Fiona Gilmore left an indelible impression on me of both the sublime and as a simple act of a gesture, as means to contain space. Bannan also studied at Elam completing a BFA and she is now working towards an MFA at the University of Canterbury.
Aspiration (higher learning) is a quiet, but clever gesture. A cigarette has been drilled into the gallery window and pierces through into the gallery space. Yet it sits in an almost dead space between the gallery and the outside world. As an object it appears almost two-dimensional and in relation to World Vision (rear window) highlights a satorialised group of charitable gestures, in what Knox call’s an act of unmonumental philanthropy. This is also suggested in the title and in the act of providing an offer of vices: money and cigarettes. On a post it is an instruction place a gold coin on a park bench near the gallery. The instruction is to place a single gold coin there every day for 240 days. The 240 days being the remaining $240 of Knox’s artist fee. World Vision (rear window) refers back to a previous action in which Knox forged a gold coin in $600 worth of gold before giving it away to the first person who asked for change. I like the thought of this coin being in circulation. I like the fleeting thought of someone maybe questioning why it might feel more weighted than any other gold coin. Much of Knox’s work is a selection of gestures that exist within a ephemeral perimeter. Whether this be physically transforming the space in ush (wall work) (2010) at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, or drawing in on going (2013) at Ivan Anthony gallery, his work exists more inside your memory than it does within a gallery.
This ephemerality or ability to exist outside the constraints of the gallery challenges the very concrete permanence contemporary art prescribes, as well as the often quite exclusionary nature of the art world. The simple action of placing a gold coin somewhere in a public space nearby exists as a gestural act of giving. It exists as an idea or a consideration, maybe Knox is keeping the artist fee instead of giving it away or maybe someone really is carrying out this act on his behalf. We’ll never know for sure, but we will think about this work as an ephemeral action that exists outside of the context of a gallery and wonder who stumbled across these coins.
Sophie Bannan’s series of earthenware pots with structural remains are an exercise in how to contain space. The first work one encounters is in the front room at the Blue Oyster and it’s title reflects it’s materiality Park Royal, earthenware pot and structural remnants of 70 Kilmore street. The second room contains a row of similar works created using the same means. Each work contains remnants of different sites around Christchurch that Bannan’s Grandfather, an architect, had designed in the 1970s-80s. The structural remains from these sites have been recast into delicate and beautiful, but impractical pots, which have been placed upon a reflective golden surface, sitting on a concrete cinderblock. These works reflect the dislocation one must experience returning to their hometown after the devastation of a natural disaster. These objects project the value of this rubble, as pieces of a collective cultural memory. The slick nature of the way they have been placed suggests a purity and acts as a homage to personal and cultural memory. The works harbour a need to try and comprehend one’s environment after such a series of events, but also reflects the memory of what Christchurch was prior to the earthquakes. The organic shapes of the objects are embedded with fingerprints highlight the methodical process of their creation.
These works as part of a larger body of research Bannan is undertaking as part of her studies towards a MA at Ilam School of Fine Arts. The organic forms of these objects highlight that they remain a primary object from the site, because they have been solidified into these shapes. These works encourage a reflection upon the role in which memory has over our relationships with former places and how this reflects our response to the development of a site. Bannan was living in Auckland when the Christchurch earthquakes struck, this body of research reflects both this distanced, but immediate relationship to post quake Christchurch, but also as a way to make sense of one’s environment. The placement of these bowl like shapes on these concrete cylinders and the use of a mirror was both a practical concern and a means to inscribe the histories of brutalist architecture and land use in Christchurch in the 1970-80s. Yet the reflective surface visually recalls many buildings from Christchurch and allows one to see both sides of the ceramic works. These reflective surfaces are also very interactive in that they seem designed to encourage one group of visitors to take ‘selfies’ inside of it. In placing the works on the mirrored surfaces the bowls appear to sit on individual mounds, placed on top of them like pedestals. This visual illusion is embedded within the work, as it projects the notion that the objects exist as a memory in one’s mind, yet also as a physical entity. Much like Knox, Bannan’s work offers a consideration of how to occupy space and as a meditation upon value, histories and time both within and outside the gallery.