Hana Aoake – 25 September, 2014
A visually effective exhibition should offer both restraint and innate attention to detail, but 'Sleight of Hand's' sheer volume of works renders it incredibly overloaded, its curation clunky, overwhelming and undefined. Despite this, the trajectory of the show is playful and has very obvious appeal, especially in terms of its placement within a public institution.
Max Bellamy, Madeleine Child, Graham Fletcher, Mary McFarlane, Kathryn Madill, James Oram, Justin Spiers, Katrina Thomson.
Sleight of Hand
Curated by Lauren Gutsell
16 August - 16 November 2014
Upon entering Sleight of Hand one is greeted by two ominous full moons and their own distorted reflection staring back at them. These two mirror works by Mary McFarlane adorn the entrance to the first room displaying the works of James Oram and Graham Fletcher. Sleight of Hand has been framed around the notion of both illusion or theatricality and locality by curator Lauren Gutsell; the artists all “currently living and producing in Dunedin”. Sleight of Hand presents the idea of illusion ‘clever manual dexterity and deception when performing magic tricks’. Part of the text is taken from Dariel Fitzkee’s 1944 book The Trick Brain. Each of these works reflects the manual process to which they were made and harbours theatricality, trickery or illusion
Oram’s works are immediately enticing, perhaps a reflection of their subject matter. They revel in the mystery of marketing psychology, namingly neuromarketing, where the ‘subject’ is shown a series of images in order to incite and document a reaction. Neural market (2014) is an extension of his exhibition Old Brain Prospect (2014) at Dog Park in Christchurch. It consists of thin steel chair adorned with a hat embellished with gold chains. This hat mimics the brain tracking technology used in marketing strategies. The heavily embellishment also refers to the faux luxury iterated throughout Oram’s videos, featuring images of idealised domesticity.
On the left is a custom-made vitrine with two videos with a latex hand displayed between them. The room however feels cluttered, for there’s an eye created with gold chains that feels like too much. It seems tight spacing in relation to the other works. Perhaps if these works had been spread apart without the presence of Graham Fletcher’s painting they would’ve had stronger visual impact.
In Oram’s two video works Tracking and After Tracking (2014) domestic scenes quickly flash one after the other, to be then scrunched up by a hand which floats over the screen. Their farcical, stock like imagery of domesticity and ‘interior design’ offered a rejection of heteronormative narratives, and highlighted the simulacra inherent in our relationship to images in a post digital age.
This allusion to the editing process weighed heavily as though one were fighting the urge to crush and remove certain works such as, for example, the work by Fletcher, whose painting appears alongside Oram’s as if parallel to his video. The painting is that of a gaudy domestic scene and despite its (ostensibly) anti-bourgeois post-colonial critique its placement is too obvious. The space could have benefitted from the editing process alluded to in Oram’s works.
The second room displays the work of Max Bellamy and Justin Spiers. This room fails from the same curatorial inconsistencies as the first. Bellamy’s work consists of three custom made, identical glass vitrines on stainless steel frames. Inside each vitrine is a hygrothermograph, which simultaneously measures and records the temperature and humidity within a spectrum. These machines write out these measurements as poems. However each time we’ve visited this exhibition they haven’t appeared to be working. These works are both majestic and exquisite in their simplicity, beautifully articulating their ‘sleight of hand’, displaying mysterious mechanical devices and revealing the hidden technologies behind gallery walls. They tie in nicely to Bellamy’s video work currently on display in the rear window.
On the walls in between Bellamy’s works is a series of photographs by Justin Spiers. His photographs can be pictorially mesmerizing, especially the large scale works on the left-hand side of the room, but the size and placement of the works on the right-hand side were underwhelming, especially the placement, as it made them seem transitional. They really needed to be on a larger scale and given room to breathe.
Spiers also presents a video work from a previous show called Castleland seen at Blue Oyster in 2011. This video would benefit by being on a larger scale, as it uses what appears to be surveillance footage of a rabbit. This rabbit stands ominously in the foreground with the hollow sound echoing through a very small screen. Its appearance seemingly refers to both David Lynch’s Rabbits (2002) and Lewis Carroll’s fantastical Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland (1865). If this video work was given the space it needs in order to be digested, its nuanced poignancy would be better appreciated. It seems very pertinent, especially in light of information surrounding surveillance released during the ‘Moment of Truth’ presented by the Internet Mana party earlier this week.
Katrina Thomson’s theatrical curtain is the most literal manifestation of the title. Looking like fabric, it is fully carved out of wood. As it was produced in 2007 for a show at Blue Oyster it is one of the oldest works in the show. For this exhibition one would have expected Thomson to have created a newer work.
Mary McFarlane’s works are beautiful and nuanced, each work seeming quite mesmerising, especially with Lament I and Blue Blank I (2008) which in the entrance to the gallery allude to the magical connotations of the moon. These repurposed mirrors have been painted, aged and distressed. Their black slick appearance gives them a certain accessibility by embellishing the reflection of the viewer in their surface, and referencing the show’s trajectory. Her works aptly embody the infamous Dunedin aesthetic, but in a way that is a tasteful reference to their locality.
A lack of restraint is exemplified in the final room featuring the works of Madeleine Child. Seeing her work before one enters the space is a nice gesture; a plinth displaying a series of processual ceramics. But upon entering the viewer confronts four more, the density of the rest of the show rendering them almost obsolete. In this room a projected video is almost unviewable in the daylight from the windows.
Sleight of Hand was designed towards creating a stronger relationship between the Dunedin Public Art Gallery and its thriving art community. There has always been a disparity between the two, but Gutsell should be commended for her efforts to show a wider variety of local talent, in the rear window and now inside the gallery itself. In saying this we must reiterate the inability of these works to cohesively communicate the ideas the show seeks to explore. A visually effective exhibition should offer both restraint and innate attention to detail, but Sleight of Hand‘s sheer volume of works renders it incredibly overloaded, its curation clunky, overwhelming and undefined. Despite this, the trajectory of the show is playful and has very obvious appeal, especially in terms of its placement within a public institution. This show is an exciting step towards fostering critical engagement with the work of local artists.
Hana Aoake and Zach Williams
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