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Looking at the Chinese Zodiac

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The Chinese Horoscope Show at Enjoy. On floor, Tiffany Singh, Never Follow a Straight Line, 2012, dirt, horse shoes, horse hair, painted bamboo wind chime.  On back wall on the right, Kate Woods, Untitled, 2012, photographs, fringing. Sam Mitchell, Fette Sau, 2012, acrylic and enamel on paper mache. Caroline Anderson, Too Much Information, 2012, cushions with handmade covers, plinth, workbook pages, paper, glass professor, fake cherries, ephemera from Pass the Parcel performance, shopping bags, stationery and confectionery The Chinese Horoscope Show at Enjoy. On the left Eugenia Raskopoulos, Waiting for Lass, 2010, DVD, duration: 2.38. Next to it is Ruth Thomas-Edmond's Snakeskin, 2012, ink on paper. On the other plinth is Liyen Chong's Goat Soup, 2012, Printed paper. Andrew Beck, Antumbra, 2012, photograph, frame, oil paint on glass. Murray Hewitt, Untitled, 2012, vinyl and newspaper, and Chris Lundquist, Dot. Carnations at 3.37am, 2012, inkjet photograph.

This is curator Erica Van Zon's second exhibition at Enjoy using an astrological structure (the first used the western signs) and the strongest. It feels like a summary show of artists she has met and admired over her time as Enjoy curator (2010-2011) and on the Red Gate Residency in China last year. Don't bother looking for heavy political pieces on New Zealand's relationship to China here - it's personality driven and small and domestic in scale.



Group exhibition
The Chinese Horoscope Show
Curated by Erica Van Zon


16 February 2012 - 10 March 2012

The theming of group exhibitions can sometimes feel like a bit of a shallow exercise. The work still has to individually stack up and, unless there’s a strong intrinsic thread or approach a theme, it can end up largely a marketing exercise. At best it might at least inspire artists to try out some new territory. Neither conditions however promise a strong exhibition experience.

The Chinese Horoscope Show has an honesty in its embracement of this situation. Each artist has been selected to consider and respond to their Chinese horoscope zodiac animal. This lends an edge of eclecticism and randomness to proceedings. It asks artists to assert their individuality rather than reach for commonality. It celebrates difference, and nods to the influence of China on our art world.

This is curator Erica Van Zon’s second exhibition at Enjoy using an astrological structure (the first used the western signs) and the strongest. It feels like a summary show of artists she has met and admired over her time as Enjoy curator (2010-2011) and on the Red Gate Residency in China last year. Don’t bother looking for heavy political pieces on New Zealand’s relationship to China here - it’s personality driven and small and domestic in scale.

My favourite work is the most obtuse in relationship to its theme, which I like. Andrew Beck (the Rabbit) has smartly pushed forward the distinctive investigation between photography, architecture and installation that was emergent and evident in a short solo show in a private house last year. The work may be spare and dry but (like another recent Massey Masters graduate Peter Trevelyan’s work) it’s crisp and charged in situ.

A small, black framed photographic print is hung across a corner of the gallery. The photographic paper has been exposed to the light to go jet black, with the exception of a central white hexagonal shape. This shape presents a 3D representation of the gallery cube, or the sides of the corner of the room itself. Further integrating the print into the architecture, a vertical fold runs through the print in line with the corner behind it, convex to the corner’s concavity. Directly below a pane of glass is propped up in the corner, held between the two walls and the floor. In its centre is the black painted shape absent from the print above. It’s as if the whole room has been meditated upon as a photographic chamber.

Some of the more minor works for me are those most literal with their sign. Sam Mitchell’s pink pig with a dragon tattoo and large penis and balls is amusing rather than powerful, and Ruth Thomas-Edmond’s drawing of stretched snake skin a mildly diverting experiment. Tiffany Singh presents a shrine, with a pile of dirt surrounded by horseshoes and above it a wind chime hung from horse hair. The promising amalgam of materials in a familiar format doesn’t amount to enough visceral punch for me compared to Singh’s work here from last year.

Then again the theme seems to have pushed Kate Woods (the Monkey) in an interesting new direction. Photographs of New Zealand domestic gardens have exotic bundles of fruit photoshopped into them, and hang in different geometric shapes like Chinese banners, fringed by tassles. I particularly like a kite shaped banner featuring the found geometrical structure of a clothes line. Together with Murray Hewitt’s Rooster work it’s the one work that overtly looks to personally explore a New Zealand Chinese relationship.

There are three artists from Van Zon’s Chinese residency here. Sheng Xiang Liao’s black and white images are arresting but I can’t see any relationship to her sign the Ox, nor am I sure whether I am supposed to. Jordan Brethauer and Rachel Grandon’s meditation on the dragon (labeled collections of their own ‘dragon hair’ and ‘nails’) is witty but weak.

The standout amongst the visitors is Eugenia Raskopoulos’s video of a set of black dogs trapped in a house. I’m weirded out by this works paranormal edge, the silence in the gallery punctuated by the dogs’ intermittent nervous and fretful barks. The interior is filmed through glass, as if the house were a zoo exhibit, and the image flickers occasionally like CCTV coverage from living room to bathroom. The film appears to slowly layer on top of itself, the dogs becoming ghostly impressions on the glass, and providing the work with a strong hypnotic movement. I found the work powerful in the way it made me consider how we domesticate and trap animals, but further what this says about people’s own private entrapment.

Also strong is Too Much Information a work by Caroline Anderson (who has recently moved to Wellington from Melbourne). Covering and surrounding a plinth are mounds of personal flotsam and jetsam. It’s as if the artist has upended an enormous handbag, and then arranged the contents Eve Armstrong-like with a sculptor’s eye. Appropriately (at least to my concept of a rat’s nest) her Chinese sign is the rat.

As a piece of what the popular press might call ‘rubbish art’ it’s strong and on theme, suggesting a personal identikit might most honestly be constructed from the scraps of physical material an individual gathers daily. Like physical origami doodles, the work is full of witty readymade combinations of cheap materials. These, together with scrawled offhand remarks (“WTF! Do you guys get it?”) and texts jotted in open notebooks, placed together feel at once both artful and actual. Too much information could feel awfully contrived and try hard but doesn’t, much like the entire exhibition. The Chinese Horoscope Show has a relaxed, personal air that has no truck with pomposity.

Mark Amery

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