Tim Gentles – 7 January, 2013
The addition of new works, all anonymous and relatively collective in execution, throughout the duration of the show threatens the stature of both the curator and the individual artist….and yet there is no denying the career-building potential of such a show. While these young artists work to shape the gallery to their liking, they must ultimately cede sovereignty not just to the physical limits of the space, but to the idea of the Artspace New Artists Show, in which their role is perhaps already prescribed as 'youthful vitality.'
New Artists Show Part 2
Drinking from the Fire Hose
6 December - 20 December 2012
This year Artspace made the decision to break up their annual New Artists Show into two parts, and where the first part followed the somewhat conventional model of exhibiting a diligently curated handful of up-and-coming recent graduates, for the second part of the show curator Catarina Riva has adopted for a more anarchic approach. Essentially giving the gallery space over to 21 AUT Fine Arts students to do with it what they will, Drinking from the Fire Hose is an interesting exercise in institutional upheaval.
While it’s certainly possible to object to the showcase-like, capital-driven obsession with newness of calendar fixtures such as the New Artists Show - as Mark Harvey did in his review of the first part of the exhibition - breaking the show up into two parts has if anything highlighted the diversity of what the new can mean. Far from placing Artspace in the position of an art world gatekeeper, this second iteration of the New Artists Show doesn’t name its artists, marking them instead with an anonymous, slightly feral, youthful creative energy, and allowing them free reign to overturn an institution in which as yet they have no place.
The expectation around the show was that significant architectural alterations had been made to the interior, and upon arriving on opening night and having to walk through a makeshift plywood tunnel, this was thoroughly confirmed. The effect on the space was immediately apparent, and coupled with part of the wall between Artspace’s main and smaller rooms being removed, the changes reconfigured the dynamic between openness and claustrophobia in different parts of the gallery. These ‘spatial interventions’ only became more important as the show went on, where works were continuously added to the gallery, which began to seem more like an obstacle course, upsetting the viewer’s ability to competently navigate the gallery space.
Such spatial intervention may also serve as an analogy for the relationship between the young exhibiting artists and Artspace as an institution, if not the institution of the art world as a whole. The addition of new works, all anonymous and relatively collective in execution, throughout the duration of the show threatens the stature of both the curator and the individual artist, and instead the show seems to take on a life of its own, growing organically and overrunning the gallery. There seems to be a concerted desire on the artists’ part to make their mark on the gallery in quite a literal, i.e. physical, way. And yet there is no denying the career-building potential of such a show, while these young artists work to shape the gallery to their liking, they must ultimately cede sovereignty not just to the physical limits of the space, but to the idea of the Artspace New Artists Show, in which their role is perhaps already prescribed as ‘youthful vitality.’
If the open-ended and constantly evolving form of the exhibition is as important as the specific content of the works exhibited, this content nevertheless deserves some attention here. Namely, given the scope of the exhibition as a (perhaps) representative sample of the best that AUT Fine Arts students have to offer, there are a number of currents which might be taken, in turn, as representative of emerging trends in contemporary art, and which indeed contain certain resonances with some of the work exhibited as part of this year’s recent Elam Graduate Show.
In many respects the works are presented in the same anarchic mode as the exhibition format suggests, with a work demonstrating a keen archival impulse (in which a cabinet displays the contents of a “timeless capsule” purportedly created by Dane Mitchell in 1997), buttressed against other works of a decidedly more contemporary grain (images of manicured nails and the sculptural use of potted palm trees will be familiar to anyone with a vague awareness of tumblr art/contemporary art daily). There is a randomness here that seems to deliberately elude containment, and is suggestive of a collaborative approach that encourages viewing the show as a series of ‘continuities’ rather than discrete works. Themes and similarities fade in and out of view, and in the fluid, cluttered confines of the exhibition space some works jar with others, but there is a continuity between many of these works that extends beyond their shared proximity and anonymity. This continuity is presented in the form of a collaborative organicism, a reading which the buzzing, studio-like atmosphere of the exhibition (at least when I visited, for the second time, a few days before closing) certainly encourages.
Rootless but referential, Drinking from the Fire Hose has something like the texture of net culture, being both wildly impulsive and heterogeneous, and yet the works can be grouped together according to certain themes or threads, like the prevalence of a certain shade of pink that comes up in work after work and which played a key role in the opening night performance. This dynamic speaks to some of the emerging antagonisms of contemporary art, between the art institution and without, between the different spaces that art can inhabit, between fine art and other visual discourses, such as interior design and net culture, and the sticky notion of authorship.
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