Warren Feeney – 30 June, 2015
The framework for the ideas that make up 'Hardboiled city' is couched in relation to the spaces of central Christchurch. So, is the notion of limitless associations between words and images compromised by a particular relationship to a specific site? Maybe and maybe not. There are things to love and loathe about 'Hardboiled city' and all are centred upon a number of paradoxes around the specific and the universal.
Christopher L. G. Hill & Francesco Pedraglio
Curated by Rebecca Boswell
13 June - 18 July 2015
The list of objects and materials in Christopher L. G. Hill‘s installation, ‘Lauren Burrow STRONG MEASURES AND PSYCHIC ARRANGEMENTS…’ (1), may be the longest inventory of items yet to appear on an exhibition handout anywhere in New Zealand. I counted 106, but then, the list ends with ‘etc… various materials.’ The gallery handout also confirms there that there is more, much more to discover.
Hill’s installation makes up half of The Physics Room current programme, Hardboiled city - a great film-noir title for an exhibition that outwardly reconsiders the city of Christchurch as the site for a crime fiction story. ‘Lauren Burrow STRONG MEASURES AND PSYCHIC ARRANGEMENTS…’ is complemented by a short film by Francesco Pedraglio, Los Barbaros (The Barbarians), that, like Hill‘s work, invites a reconsideration of familiar methods of unfolding storylines in works of art, propositioning new relationships between ‘things, words and images.’
This is a more than familiar proposition in contemporary arts practice, but the framework for the ideas that make up Hardboiled city is couched in relation to the spaces of central Christchurch. So, is the notion of limitless associations between words and images compromised by a particular relationship to a specific site? Maybe and maybe not. There are things to love and loathe about Hardboiled city and all are centred upon a number of paradoxes around the specific and the universal.
For example: the thoroughness of Hill‘s documentation on the gallery handout represents a statement about this installation as an assemblage of precious objects. Yet, scattered over the floor of The Physics Room’s largest gallery space, they are also accorded a quite different context via the declaration that their placement represents ‘an energetic way to organise space without hierarchy…suggesting a field of action across material, digital and social spheres.’ As an introduction to a series of open-end narratives, this is a statement that is compromised by the collective itemisation of the details of a work of art.
Moreover, the experience of facing the challenges of freedom of association with more than 106 objects distributed over an extensive floor space, significantly distancing many of them from one another at either end of the gallery, rapidly diminishes the gallery visitor’s enthusiasm in playing the game of subjectively unravelling possible storylines.
Hardboiled ciity‘s text also constructs a somewhat specific and familiar narrative around Hill’s persona as artist: ‘a kind of anti-hero, whose material or narrative re-workings propose a stranger version of events than the story we’re used to, creating unexpected connections and allusions or exploring a heightened atmosphere of tension and unease.’ It is a proposition that overstates and constrains the possibility of numerous contexts for the items that make up his work. And in reality, meandering around a myriad of things in the gallery like a portable radio, scissors or a CD player does reveals a number of consistent connections; an interest in the premise of obsolete technology, as well as one of the most rewarding aspects of Hill’s intentions; a visual musicality that connects objects, shapes and related purposes (for example; scissors and positive/negative images cut in paper).
Most vexing however, is the invitation to consider Hardboiled city as metaphor for the dysfunctional reconstruction of Christchurch: ‘The artists in Hardboiled city present work that invites new readings against the backdrop of a city that is in a constant stage of change and whose appearance is no longer sensible, or rational.’
This is a grand claim to make about the visual arts’ potential to deliver tangible metaphorical associations, offering - in this instance - a context for making sense of the state of Christchurch at this particular moment in time. Comparable associations in the visual arts about relationships between a site, city or country with the work of an artist tend to make sense in the wider context of their practice, rather than in the detail of the location they are referencing. For example: Andy Warhol and New York, or Colin McCahon and Titirangi.
It also has to be noted that, on this occasion, in the space of The Physics Room, the art is pretty much struggling to maintain the gallery visitor’s interest - in comparison to the view through the windows to the ruins and reconstruction of High and Lichfield streets. This represents a far more chaotic and dramatic reality, a genuinely open-ended, even disruptive narrative.
And the other half of Hardboiled city? In Los Barbaros, a short film by Francesco Pedraglio, an unrehearsed group of friends are documented in a home in Mexico City, having agreed to be filmed over a day and night, with Pedraglio recording scenes of them eating together, drinking and exchanging conversations. The artist makes the most of the potential of his setting. House, garden and pool all appear to be scrutinised in almost obsessive detail as form, space, surface, texture, pattern, and contrasting light and darkness.
Pedraglio effortlessly pulls symbolism, allegory and metaphor out of everything that enters the field of his camera. The intimacy of the subjects of Los Barbaros rapidly draws the viewer into a curious story that, even on repeated viewing, sustains an uncomfortable ambiguity that keeps on promising all might yet be revealed. A gradually pervasive voice-over by an unseen narrator watching the mundane reality of events, initially appears to disrupt the warmth of this social occasion. Yet, as the monologue continues to surge, it is the familiar manners and behaviours of the house guests that assume a knowable sense of darkness and malevolence. If Los Barbaros sounds a little like Stephen King’s The Shining meets Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, it is - and it’s a comparison that complements all three film makers. Pedraglio delivers a complex and concise treat to sound and vision.
At this point, Hardboiled city reads as two, distinct creatures: ‘Lauren Burrow STRONG MEASURES AND PSYCHIC ARRANGEMENTS…’, for better or worse, appears to extend an invitation to the gallery visitor, one that generally leaves them open to any and all possible choices. Yet, in the very scale of the opportunities it offers and the apparent constraints of its relationship to site, it inevitably frustrates and confounds. In contrast, Los Barbaros is a refined and subtle series of images that operate as haunting cinematic experience with just enough threads to hold its oblique layers of narratives suspended together. In spite of its weirdness and refusal to give all away, Pedraglio’s Los Barbaros respects and rewards the visitor, through an experience that continues to disturb and unsettle long after leaving the gallery.
(1) full title: Lauren Burrow STRONG MEASURES AND PSYCHIC ARRANGEMENTS, pewter peter, band aid wrapper and spiral metal thing, scissor cut out, scissors and bird, novel open at any page, 16 page except, pokemon octopus, buffed train graffiti with man and dog, photo, new world, toothpaste box, leaf, portable TV radio, cut outs, white out scissors, dirty scissors, witch scissors, Pierre Huyghe newts photo, Isa Genzken World Receiver Radio, Brussels forest, grapes in hand, Hamtaro, unknown artist radio, bird cut out door knob, Time is mine gifted magazine ad, newspaper, metal bar, pink radio CD player, power board, Atomium, paper clip, bits, David Egan: leafed and swished drying pollen spreads, Muji bag, green saw, Winnie the Poo mug, urchin bag, Orange, Michael Lee and Zak Penney After Chanh Oai Lu 2, Snoopy astronaut, scissor photo, kettle photo, bits, text video work, still image video work, plugs, ‘antique’ Tine Hay Fork (pitchfork), shredder, plastic cups, white fur seal, photo of a Danh Vo work, and Lauren Burrow’s work, Isa Genzken World Receiver Radio, unknown artist radio, floor photo, toy, concrete feet, various photos, radio, white gorilla, silver bag, photo of text video, anchor, door knobs, At The Moment flag, Antenna, Fiscal Shrike photo, radio, cap, lock, broom, photo, another Michael Lee and Zak Penney work, sparkly hat, antenna, brown dog, bird cut out, waffle, toast, radio, sponge, power board, Isa Genzken World Receiver Radio, wood, photo, orange bag, no ideas, leaves, red star, other important elements, etc… 2015
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