John Hurrell – 9 October, 2012
If it were displayed in a science fair, far away from an art contextualising framework then viewers' interpretations would be very different. It would be subversive. Here though the large wall label on the container exterior states the artist's aims and pre-empts a spontaneous viewer response; an explanatory intention is elucidated. It is clearly art, perpetuating an ‘art' ethos.
From White Darkness
14 September - 14 October 2012
In Christchurch, as part of NZ Ice Fest in North Hagley Park, this exhibition by Ruth Watson is her second Antarctica focussed show in a few months. Presented inside a narrow metal shipping container, it was curated by Felicity Milburn as part of the Christchurch Art Gallery’s post-earthquake Outer Spaces programme.
Sited between the Armagh St gates and Victoria Lake, the large transportable oblong box you walk into has various wooden crates and multi-sized plastic containers pressed up against one long wall. On these are positioned thirteen video monitors of various types, sizes and ages, showing assorted loops of archival film and home videos made during Watson’s stay there. As the old and more recent loops are of different lengths, they vary in synchronicity, according to where - within the cramped space - you happen to be standing. You tend to make connections between screens that are close to each other when formal or conceptual parallels occur.
Most of the imagery is of scientists working on the southern ice, sending up meteorological balloons, drawing and examining maps, conversing, or recording data. Because of the colour of some of the archival material and the striking nature of some of the more dramatic imagery, there is an aesthetic that makes you linger. Though the work is intended to deconstruct the programmatic assumptions of science - accentuating its speculative aspects - that doesn’t really happen, because of the art context which espouses such values.
If it were displayed in a science fair, far away from an art contextualising framework then viewers’ interpretations would be very different. It would be subversive. Here though the large wall label on the container exterior states the artist’s aims and pre-empts a spontaneous viewer response; an explanatory intention is elucidated. It is clearly art, perpetuating an ‘art’ ethos.
Of the nearby (non-art) exhibits, probably the display with the most affective punch is the presentation in a crate of Christchurch’s marble statue of Captain Scott, lying on its side and badly damaged by the earthquake. Normally admired amongst the Avon’s flower beds next to the Worcester St Bridge, its now pitiful horizontal state reflects the historical status of Scott’s expedition (aspirations of Empire) and his current reputation as leader - compared to say Shackleton or Amundsen.
It might be surmised that this prone broken carving coincidentally symbolises the indeterminate role of science, its unstable epistemological state, a lack of certainty in any foundation or useful predictability, but I doubt whether many scientists on the ice would see their discipline that way. In their eyes (unlike Watson’s) the two paradigms of art and science remain separate and are not close to being interchangeable.
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