John Hurrell – 26 November, 2013
Make no mistake, physical though it is, this is an incredibly dense show with its intellectual layering. However there is plenty of humour - some savagely excoriating (Seymour, Basher), others more droll and chirpy (et al., Upritchard, Laird, Carr and Arps) - as if to compensate you for being preached at. That is, there are both sweet and tart lollies to suck on after you've gulped down the horticulture / lifestyle redirecting pills from Thom and Cheng.
Edith Amituanai, Dan Arps, Wayne Barrar, Martin Basher, Mladen Bizumic, Dorota Broda, Steve Carr, Xin Cheng, Stella Corkery, Tessa Laird, Allan McDonald, Richard Maloy, Louise Menzies, Shannon Novak, Ava Seymour, Shannon Te Ao & Iain Frengley, Isobel Thom, Francis Upritchard, et al.
Curated by Natasha Conland
26 October 2013 - 23 February 2014
Let me start off with a little casual observation: A couple of weeks ago while I was having my breakfast of muesli and fruit (shovelling it down while hunched over my computer, as I usually do), I noticed on the Guardian art reviews website that Adrian Searle was reviewing a show at Tate Liverpool with an article called Art Turning Left: revolution in the head, about what he calls ‘Two hundred years of political art’. As I started to wend my way through his discussion, a little box in a column on the righthand side designed to distract me did exactly that. I got sucked into another compelling piece of writing by another Guardian art critic, Jonathan Jones, about a show at Tate Britain. Jones’ review was entitled The revolution will not be aestheticised: the top rightwing artists.
Amongst the many conversations I have while wandering around Auckland’s inner city galleries, one pattern I’ve often noticed is that if I verbally introduce into some discursive topic or other the term leftwing or rightwing I can guarantee a bout of eye-rolling and muffled snorting from whomever I’m chatting to. I am invariably told art is far too complex a subject, its attendant community far too varied a population, to make such reductive claims. Such terminology is obsolete now. Have a rethink.
So when I notice Messers Searle and Jones confidently bandying these terms about, and then examine the intro wall panel for Natasha Conland’s large contemporary art exhibition Freedom Farmers at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki - a cluster of almost twenty minishows - a utopian based project of avowedly ideational focus that ‘positions artists as creative leaders in a culture that values invention, forward thinking and liberty,’ I wonder what might that ‘forward thinking’ be?
Is it a synonym for ‘progressive thinking’, another oft-used expression for leftwing or Marxist thought? Or am I, in my search for clarity, barking up the wrong tree and that ‘freedom’ - even if it is actually about independence from the thrall of the globally dominant capitalist trading system and its facile consumerist society (perhaps via self sustaining food and clothing production, or bartering) - can be rightwing too?
Or is that nonsensical? It seems to be, doesn’t it? The issue is not about the sovereignty of individual governments or nation states (their bolstering or liberation) but about a worldwide economic system. That’s the focus of this show.
Of course there is a certain amount of hype one always has to plough through when reading gallery wall labels. “The artists of this era have matured to become leaders: they are no longer ‘the young’ but a group of influencers…” Say that to the residents of suburban Auckland (wearied from the local larrikins performing noisy and smelly burnouts in their street) when they are in the gallery watching Steve Carr’s seemingly boy-racer sympathetic video, or to the renters of state houses confronted by Ava Seymour’s apparently malicious collages. Or even to the artists themselves. Do they really want to mature? Is their aim to become responsible? Conland would say ‘Yes it is. It’s a new model of planet sensitive, global community oriented art practice.’
Looking at the organisation of the twenty artists throughout the nine rooms, what’s surprising is the viscerality, the sensuality of much of the work. There is a lot of physical wallop to the show, for Tessa Laird, Francis Upritchard and Dan Arps make good use of saturated colour; et al., Shannon Te Ao and Iain Frengley effective aural dynamics; and Richard Maloy, Xin Cheng and Martin Basher clever manipulation of space.
Make no mistake, physical though it is, this is an incredibly dense show with its intellectual layering. However there is plenty of humour - some savagely excoriating (Seymour, Basher), others more droll and chirpy (et al., Upritchard, Laird, Carr and Arps) - as if to compensate you for being preached at. That is, there are both sweet and tart lollies to suck on after you’ve gulped down the horticulture / lifestyle redirecting pills from Thom and Cheng. Other contributions are about recycling (Maloy, McDonald), ecological issues (Barrar, Bizumic), colonial history and different communities (Te Ao and Frengley, Amituanai, Menzies), or capitalism (Broda) - while others still just don’t sit comfortably in the show at all (Corkery, Novak). Their inclusion is bizarre.
Certain artists here (especially et al., Arps and Basher) have projects sufficiently complex and multi-layered that their installations will repay several visits as you keep discovering new details. These three contributors are a sort of triumvirate that dominates the show with the richness of its offerings. Each of the three is brilliant at spatial organisation, at stacking up meanings, and providing surprises for you to stumble across. They are what will keep you repeatedly visiting Freedom Farmers during the Christmas recess, for they always provide something else for you to conceptually unravel next time you pop in. Nurturers and growers of ideas and sensations - for the present and the future.
To read a transcript of the panel discussion “Whose Oceania?” held recently in London, and more on NZ arts abroad, CLICK HERE
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