John Hurrell – 16 May, 2017
The highlights of this exhibition however are two thrilling Alex Vivian wall reliefs. As sculptures they are murky, mysterious and startlingly disturbing, while the doubled over lengths of wire suggest a pedestrian's trajectory where key mnemonic elements are encountered in transit.
Oscar Enberg, Gabriel Hartley, Milli Jannides, Pentti Monkkonen, Alex Vivian
19 April - 20 May 2017
This engrossing exhibition explores Surrealist sensibilities using the works of two New Zealanders (Oscar Enberg, Milli Jannides), an Australian (Alex Vivian), an Englishman (Gabriel Hartley) and an American (Pentti Monkkone). The last two contributors have never shown in New Zealand before, but the first three are well known in Auckland, as their works often appear at Hopkinson Mossman. Surrealism, with its interest in the unconscious mind, love of chance and rejection of rationality, has always been popular in Australia (James Gleeson, Pat Brassington, Rosslynd Piggott, Gabriella and Silvana Mangano, Dale Frank), and not nearly so conspicuous in New Zealand (Helm Ruifrok, Julia Morison, Edward Bulmore, Barry Cleavin, Don Driver).
The show’s title is a very funny verbal jamming together of allusions to sex acts and art production (frottage butted with ‘cottage industry’), and a lovely acoustic jumble of clashing French and English. The contents of the two differently sized galleries interact, as multiple references from the ten works splay out and - through the doorway - internally cross-connect.
One obvious theme is that of the domestic dwelling. Gabriel Hartley’s small resin-stained house carved out of sponge rubber looks a bit like a sauced-soaked cake. It has six cut-out windows where the removed square pieces have been squeezed back in, so that the soft colour interacts with their torn wonky raggedy edges. It is a very intimate, somewhat plain affair compared with the much grander, multi-levelled, high walled chateau from Jannides with streaky green, blue and yellow walls, a junglelike (even feral) ambience, and a little textural frottage.
Pentti Monkkonen’s two works, made from cast fibreglass blocks, are a bit like the famous entrance to Sydney’s Lunar Park, but in fact are decidedly Parisian with their metal street numbers, window-shutter eyes and gaping cupboard door mouths. Like Jannides’ house, their cute ‘Michael Jackson’ noses and chubby cheeks are covered with smokey gray smudges and camouflaging patterns that are a bit like marbling from Victorian book covers, but adapted to military purposes.
On the same wall is a framed suite of three images revolving around the sexploits of Red Beryl and Crocodile Harry, larger than life characters used by Oscar Enberg to create the narrative structure of a short film about to be presented in Basel. One central component is a horned Roman god, a mural grotesque from Domus Aurea, Nero’s palace, that connects with Monkkonen’s (also ‘facial’) project. The god is thought of here as lowering himself into White Man’s Hole (Coober Pedy), a famous Australian opal mine.
The other contribution from Enberg is a corkscrew that was part of the ‘Christmas installation’ he presented at Artspace a couple of years ago. Made of polished ebony, stainless steel and ivory it shows a man’s righthand leg in isolation, damaging the gallery wall through its screwing. ‘He’ is wearing white undershorts, a black sock and a black dress shoe. It links to the second main theme of the show, that of walking around a city as a flaneur, a random exploration - possibly with a voyeuristic or sexual intent - but actively superimposing ‘mistaken’ processes like maps of other cities.
Jannides’ other painting features a composition of organic linear leaf shapes and several meandering lines (in several thicknesses) that seem to reference such random wanderings in a city square. These looping, crisscrossing doodles are not linked to civicly planned street alignments or angular intersections. Instead they deal with open spaces, and linear formations. A bit like dance choreography in that they are free and unimpeded.
The highlights of this exhibition however are two thrilling Alex Vivian wall reliefs that consist of horizontal lines of bent wire from which are suspended various objects such as toys, open purses, model commercial planes, destuffed draught stoppers, assorted dolls, doll’s garments and a domed bird cage. After being sprayed with glue these dangling juxtaposed items have been covered with straggly clumps of shaved off teddy bear fur. As sculptures they are murky, mysterious and startlingly disturbing, while the doubled over lengths of wire suggest a pedestrian’s trajectory where key mnemonic elements are encountered in transit. Scruffy, fluffy and sinister, the partially obscured symbols seem to allude to distant memory and uncovered primal childhood fear. The synthetic hair becomes a metaphor for lost recall, the corrosion of once crystalline mental acuity.
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