Kate Brettkelly-Chalmers – 12 April, 2011
Just outside the main exhibition galleries viewers must negotiate a very narrow staircase to get to what Clegg has rather ingeniously described as an ‘elevated bunker.' Its raw concrete walls offer a sanctuary of sorts where Modernist architecture stills lives free from contemporary demands for comfort and softness.
the miserable idea of measurement
5 March 2011- 31 May 2011
David Clegg’s latest exhibition the miserable idea of measurement occupies an unusual space in ARTSPACE’s upper garrets. Just outside the main exhibition galleries viewers must negotiate a very narrow staircase to get to what Clegg has rather ingeniously described as an ‘elevated bunker.’ Its raw concrete walls offer a sanctuary of sorts where Modernist architecture stills lives free from contemporary demands for comfort and softness. This unfurnished room is where ARTSPACE once stored its paper archives. Turning the outside in, the space is now used to display a series of simple photographic and audio recordings of what lies beyond its sturdy confines: the Karangahape Rd neighbourhood.
Clegg’s work is similar to his wonderful project of 2003-4 The Imaginary Museum that involved recordings of European museum staff members musing on the architecture of their galleries. Along with a range of thoughtful and humorous remarks from curators and museum directors, listeners were also party to another kind of sonic narrative that traced the atmospheric audio qualities of these various spaces. From the footsteps of visitors to the varying acoustic attributes of different rooms, layers of incidental sound formed an alternative portrait of a gallery space. The Imaginary Museum offered a collection of the kind of audio and architectural quirks that institutions often try to minimise in favour of an unfettered visual experience of their art.
For his ARTSPACE project Clegg appears to have taken one step backward. Where The Imaginary Museum shifted our focus away from the art collections of various institutions and towards their space of exhibition, the miserable idea of measurement turns our attention to the wider environmental context of the gallery itself. Black and white photographs offer a similarly fragmented portrait of K’ Rd’s cafes, shops and odd architectural spaces. They focus on transient phenomena: a play of light, reflection, shadow and illumination. Clegg’s photos actually reminded me of an older K’Rd, one that still exists in some pockets, but one that is somewhat grubby and makeshift.
These prints are displayed on simple wooden shelves and are orientated away from the viewer so that a turn of the head is required to see them ‘straight on’. It is a useful trick as these photographs are so simple and ordinary that, had I not been made to tilt my head, I might have just passed them over (in much the same way that I pass by K’ Rd shops). Clegg’s slightly awkward photos made me think about how conditioned we are to slick photography. Lavish fashion spreads and the spectacle of the National Geographic shot have made us accustomed to visually dynamic images with definite subjects. Unfocused at times and without clear subject matter, Clegg‘s images have an atypical and elusive character.
These photographs are presented alongside headphones in which you can hear similarly indeterminate recordings of K’ Rd. As with The Imaginary Museum we are presented with a rich layering of sound: kids chattering against the crackle of a stereo, the clinking of cafe glasses and shifts in sound quality as the recorder moves through different spaces. Clegg dislocates sound, space and time - elements that are usually cohered in our everyday experiences. The detective in me wants to make connections and put it all back together, but this work doesn’t suggest a measurement guided by mathematics, chronology or other such certainties. Connections between pieces are ineffable and remain intriguing because of it.
The metonymic qualities of Clegg’s ARTSPACE project are what make this very unassuming work special. I was captivated by the delicate movement between gallery and neighbourhood, between part and whole, and between inside and outside. Although tucked away from the road in its concrete-laden confines, the garret space is very much anchored to the continual flux of the street outside. In its fragmented composition, the miserable idea of measurement induces viewers to engage in an inherently creative activity. In our attempt to reconnect pieces of image, sound and space we come to rely on more intangible impressions: hazy memories, myths and imaginary suggestions.