John Hurrell – 4 August, 2010
One might assume that the more spatially and conceptually totalizing projects like those of Arps, Connor and Monteith might have a clear advantage over Leek, a mere dauber, but actually, not so - it could take only one painting (that really excited Todoli) to swing it her way. One single work to make him utterly weak in the knees and so-called ‘conceptual rigour' might get thrown out the window.
2010 Walters Prize
Finalists: Dan Arps, Fiona Connor, Saskia Leek, Alex Monteith
Selection panel: Ron Brownson, Jon Bywater, Rhana Devenport, Kate Montgomery
International judge of winner: Vicente Todoli
24 July - 31 October 2010
So now we have the fifth Walters Prize, the last to be presented in the New Gallery. That will disappear when the new municipal building opens next year. And this time it is an all K’ Rd show line up, suggesting that the event is a local occasion - not a national one - but for the fact that Kate Montgomery was part of the selection process (she’s the Director of The Physics Room in Christchurch). So that should quieten any possible murmurings.
All the original exhibitions were very good - according to what I wrote when they occurred, and I think so still - but the interesting thing now is to see how the chosen artists have responded to the challenge of transferring their projects to the New Gallery space: what modifications they have made when considering the architectural properties of the site.
For his revamped version of Explaining Things Dan Arps was given a pristine space with a large floor to ceiling window that brings in a lot of light. His work looks very ordered here; in fact all the elements look as if they are positioned within a three dimensional grid - as though locked within an invisible Sol Lewitt installation of stacked cubes. There is a sense of bodily logic to their placement, within the height and width of the room, that was not apparent in the original Gambia Castle space. The grungy, wildly earthy side of Arps’ practice is still apparent within his often charred and smeared sculptural items (shown on plinths) but nevertheless it is tightly checked. It is as if he enjoys being in a ‘white cube’, and wants to besmirch it a little - but not overdo it.
Fellow Gambia Castle-ite Fiona Connor has created an entirely new work, realising that doing something in a new site based on her utterly brilliant Lett Gallery-based Something Transparent (please go round the back) would only lead to disaster. She has a space with two oppositely placed doorways that you look through but not enter.
Connor showcases the roof struts and girders of the New Gallery by replicating them at floor height with white painted MDF, and displaying them alongside the fluoro lighting trays that bounce light off the tilted ceiling to illuminate the art indirectly. The cunning of her work lies in the fact that it seems to be a Billy Applelike critique of ‘given’ exhibiting conditions, and that the (putatively) distracting structural triangles are to be seen in the other artists’ spaces which she has slyly colonised. Her work hovers within the upper regions of their sites through the ubiquitous struts, and exposes the politics of competitive group shows where one artist can easily (or inadvertently) subvert the endeavours of their colleagues.
When I first saw Alex Monteith’s Passing Manoeuvre with Two Motorcycles and 584 Vehicles for Two Channel Video at St Paul St., I thought it was easily upstaged by the other racing circuit works in the show with more channels and more bikes. However this New Gallery version, with its comparatively small space, really succeeds with its two adjacent projections - based on two cameras: one on the front bike aiming behind and the other on the rear bike aiming forward. I am more impressed with it now, especially with the screen’s tightness on the single wall, and am intrigued by the bikes’ illegal manoeuvres weaving in and out of two rows of motorway traffic at pre-work rush hour.
The work is a very distant cousin of Bruce Nauman’s 1970 Live-taped Video Corridor where a person walking between two close and parallel walls can watch in front an image of their movement filmed from behind. We see the bikes simultaneously film each other so that they advance and recede consistently in size - without the inverse spatial relationships on two monitors of say, Nauman’s moving vertical figure.
Saskia Leek has the most difficult problem of all the artists because the Walters Prize is traditionally oriented towards installation. Her challenge is to have a presentation where her paintings make an impact using the un-Ivan-Anthonyish, institutional architecture that lacks a domestic or intimate feel. She has a good selection of work that is carefully positioned, but the even lighting reflected down from above (pointed at by Connor) tends to suck the chroma out of her already tinted pigment, replacing it with a more pale gauzy haze. They had a more optical, gruntier impact in her original show.
So the big question - the crassest, most vulgar and overtly silly of conversation topics (which of course the more dignified and superciliously sensible EyeContact readers [like yourself] will now choose to ignore) - who is the favourite?
Well we don’t know much about the judge’s taste, do we? One might assume, for example, that the more spatially and conceptually totalizing projects like those of Arps, Connor and Monteith might have a clear advantage over Leek, a mere dauber, but actually, not so - it could take only one painting (that really excited Todoli) to swing it her way. One single work to make him utterly weak in the knees and so-called ‘conceptual rigour’ might get thrown out the window.
Attempted second-guessing is pointless. We have to wait and see.
To read a transcript of the panel discussion “Whose Oceania?” held recently in London, and more on NZ arts abroad, CLICK HERE
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