John Hurrell – 9 November, 2011
The rounded wooden parts of the chair are repeated by the curved handle and thickness of the stick, which if called ‘cane' puns on the chair's woven seating - and other more stable chairs in the adjacent room.
John Ward Knox
moving on looking
26 October - 19 November 2011
John Ward Knox is known for his technically superlative dexterity in making drawings from biro ink or black paint, and very nuanced, light-conscious installations. This show though tends to explore readymades, rather, combinations of readymades - various ‘givens’ shrewdly juxtaposed or combined with hardly a trace of his hand.
There are eight works, all visually austere and what some might call ‘conceptual.’ I wouldn’t, because all post-Duchampian art is conceptual now (maybe pre-Duchampian too) - so it is not worth mentioning, like air. Even to attack conceptualism (the art genre or the term) is another variation of the same.
One work, Light Wave, in the Ivan Anthony hallway, is vaguely akin to a Bill Culbert methodology in the artist’s clever manipulation of three lampshades (their height and choice) and three clear bulbs to make coordinating undulating edges, a set of linked up arabesque shadows.
Two of the other seven are sculptures. One balances a blotchy lichen-covered rock (it could be a vague map of the world) on a delicate brass vase, and seems a meditation on the plinth in the manner of Bertrand Lavier, though it is positioned on a cupboard. It could be a comment on the dominance of nature over culture.
The other is a wooden chair leaning back on its two hind legs to be held up by a similarly stained walking stick. The rounded wooden parts of the chair are repeated by the curved handle and thickness of the stick, which if called ‘cane’ puns on the chair’s woven seating - and other more stable chairs in the adjacent room. No glue to used to ensure the equilibrium, though the floor could have some small dents that might ensure the stick’s tip doesn’t slip away.
Ward Knox’s splayed, balancing five-legged, tilted form looks integrated as a beautifully constructed object. There is a pleasing logic about this combination of the two mingled items, both designed to provide extra weight-bearing legs for the benefit of aching human limbs.
Of the wall works, three are blank book pages that the artist has typed onto (or stained with a coffee saucer) and then framed under glass, and another is a frame with no glass or mount - only a silver necklace with a pearl threaded through its eye-screws on each side so it can be supported by a nail. This last work continues the artist’s fascination with fine chains as a material. Here this symbol for love looks vulnerable when enclosed by the fragile wooden rectangle.
Ward Knox’s use of the typewriter is not surprising seeing he is a skilled writer. One work just says ‘Remembering Things’, encouraging you to free associate from the water stains on the page or the type of old book the page came from. (Here he is like Elliot Collins and his book covers.)
Another work shows no words or typed letters at all, only a hole in the paper caused by his typing out the entire script of Macbeth - he locked the cylindrical carriage holding the paper so the metal letters hit the same spot. The grey ink stains (from the ribbon) below the perforation look like gunpowder burn marks from a Yuk King Tan firecracker drawing, suggesting the incendiary possibilities of writing as agency.
Possibly the most interesting wall sculpture is one related to the pearl necklace. It has no frame, but on a single nail hangs a gold wedding ring. Around it is a rubber band, and around that, a knotted loop of jute string.
So what is Ward Knox saying here: that marital commitments can always be stretched, true love can always be untied? Or does he just like those contrasting substances of metal, rubber and twine, and how such materials effect the enclosing shapes? Perhaps it is even a wry comment on Len Lye’s Roundhead, 1961, a work with Ann Lye’s wedding band in its centre, surrounded by spinning concentric rings? Or is that just flippant and too artworld esoteric?
One thing’s for sure, he is saying something because he is the sort of artist who would. He is likely to have an opinion and not leave it open to viewer speculation….or is that view not letting him step back to allow the work it’s own life - bogging it down with unnecessary gravitas. A silly mistake preventing it from being a fascinating teaser for lively conversation?
Love to hear orchestral classical music live?
CLICK HERE to follow this orchestra’s adventurous performing programme
Comprehensive online access to contemporary art & leading galleries around the world
To read a transcript of the panel discussion “Whose Oceania?” held recently in London, and more on NZ arts abroad, CLICK HERE