Cleaning up

Andrew McLeod and Brendan Wilkinson
Peter Mcleavey Gallery, Wellington

Andrew McLeod and Brendan Wilkinson 's recent collaborative exhibition, Cleaning Up, was dominated by McLeod's blue dot paintings which play on the similarity between the packaging design of Purex Economy toilet paper and the abstract art of Gordon Waiters. In many ways McLeod's Economy, 1999-a faintly streamlined reproduction of the Purex Economy pack on canvas- feels like the title work of the exhibition. McLeod's painstaking rendering of the Purex pack reveals the inadvertent pathos within it. Inscribed on an awkwardly rigid floating scroll, the word 'Economy' is presented in the guise of a motto one might live by. This is readymade satire-a monument to the local elevation of economic values above all else, emblazoned on the side of a toilet paper pack.

Interestingly, McLeod's dizzying regurgitation of the Purex dots, on supports such as crookedly constructed canvasses and a muffin tray, do not add to the cultural appropriation debates that have waged over Waiters's use of the koru. Instead, this is a chronicle of the economic environment that has redefined those debates. The cunning collision of Maori-derived abstraction and the 'Economy' brand makes the Purex pack a perfect emblem of the unlikely marriage of New Right economics and bicultural politics in New Zealand. However McLeod handles the association lightly. His less than pristine dot paintings are embellished with occasional seagulls that resemble the insects crawling over the surface of Richard Killeen 's 1970s' abstractions or the flying buttocks in place of putti that hover around Chris Ofili 's recently notorious image of the Virgin Mary. McLeod's loosely scrawled seagulls suggest scavengers at the local cultural dumping ground.

McLeod and Wilkinson share a fascination with the entanglement of economic and cultural imperatives. Both work with the ironic fusion between culturally derived signs and corporate branding. They pick over the detritus and assemble modest readymade monuments to a washed-up culture. Wilkinson inserts careful models of landscapes by colonial painters Augustus Earl and Charles Heaphy, within a Wallies Corn can and a can of the ironically named Progress brand of infant formula. His small beer-can dioramas contain reconstructions of such things as a road (as seen on the cover of Bill Gates's book, The Road Ahead); 'Tui Tui Tui' from Colin McCahon's North/and Panels; a generic Waiters painting; a rabbit running into a hole; and a McCahon 'Caltex' drawing. If Wilkinson suggests we can only access these icons through a beery haze, McLeod reconstitutes them as commercial packaging. His heart shaped collection of small canvasses, Untitled, 1999, is a delirious medley of abstraction a la Waiters, Vasarely, Herbin, Purex toilet paper, Basics generic brand food, Round-up herbicide and Dole canned juices and fruit. He throws in stripes from the covers of school exercise books and a Purex-inspired re-colouring of Maori-derived pattern used in publicity material for the Once Were Warriors sequel. McLeod focuses on the prosaic local variant of the Bauhaus abstraction that has served global commerce so well. He makes explicit the way in which signs of indigeneity are readily swept up into a corporate (albeit toilet paperhawking) vocabulary.

A conspiratorial tone resounds through both McLeod and Wilkinson's work (each artist attached a Stealth bomber to the ceiling as part of his contribution to the exhibition). Wilkinson's meddling with the contents of cans and packages recalls the kind of extremist attacks on consumerism that have motivated the rise of the 'tamperproof' seal. Both artists are involved in a kind of recycling of parody and satire which has progressed to the extent that parody and satire no longer adequately describe what is going on. Cleaning Up looked something like a contemporary version of the small town colonial museum packed with rusting farm implements, Victorian cooking utensils and cracked chamber pots. McLeod and Wilkinson 's hoarding of the debased remains of Pakeha modernism and corporate packaging contains an irreconcilable longing for tradition alongside an enthusiasm for the absurdities of Disney-style cultural concoctions.

Like any good comic duo, McLeod and Wilkinson play off each other to intensity contusion. This was evident as they turned their attention to the possibilities of genetic engineering within the cultural sector. McLeod's Genetic, a parody of a warning sign for a danger zone, mirrors McCahon's prophetic 1981-82 painting, Storm Warning (which was the subject of controversy earlier in the year when it was sold by Victoria University to raise funds for a new campus Art Gallery). While McLeod raised the spectre of the genetically engineered artist, Wilkinson honed in
on deeper geographical dysfunction. His Double Arch took global genetic mutation to the landscape by inserting a perfect double arch hill formation within a perfect double arch embellished McFries box. Inspired by Mclibel, airport business books and Chomsky's polemics about the advance of corporate globalism, McLeod and Wilkinson suggest that now is the time to pick over the cultural dumping ground.