knowing you, knowing me

new artists show 2010
Artspace, Auckland
10 July - 21 August 2010

Curator Emma Bugden managed to cover a range of moods, styles and media within this exhibition’s stated focus on personal gestures through drawing and performance. Each medium implicates the other: drawings as documented performance or action; and performances as drawings made with the body in space-time.

Mei Cooper’s floor work in wine was—as a sticky residue—a simple example of a drawing which implies its maker’s past gesture, while the watercolour nudes of the artist were a multifaceted exploration of life-drawing. The latter piece was a collaboration with the artist’s partner—filmmaker, Mark Burrows—who photographed her in various poses which manipulated the line tattooed across her back. Here, a line, the most basic component in drawing, was performed with the body and travelled through many different media before it reached us as the watercolour reproductions of Burrows’s shots. Yet another facet to this work was revealed through knowing that the tattoo, which is a tribute to a work by Santiago Sierra, was done by the artist before she met Burrows. This was one of the most intensely personal, revealing works in the show, but remained relatively comfortable viewing, due perhaps to the layer of studied removal afforded by the lens.

This dynamic, of sincerity interrupted or challenged by the nature of display, could be felt at a range of temperatures throughout the show.

Trenton Garratt’s performed work, Model Conversations: The Last Days of a Famous Mime, was named after a short story by Peter Carey, which the artist read to Sunday gallery-goers. The Last Days… is a tale of life and art in conflict and confusion: the mime’s lovers suspect him of ‘merely miming love’—as the mime looked for ever more sincere ways to mime things, he modelled his art closer and closer on life with fatal results. The fable was well-chosen: a meditation on the paradox of that psychological ‘fourth wall’ between viewer and performer which opens up an enormous range of ways to connect, while eluding the possibility of complete trust.

After the reading, Garratt chatted to me at some length about his work; a bit of an endurance piece, he told me he was finding himself having many of the same conversations over and over again. (I bet he said that to the next person too.) Repetition was even more apparent in his painstakingly-made drawings: three sheets of paper coated in graphite scribblings that radiated from tiny, untouched centres—black holes of materialised labour.

This type of drawing was represented again in the adjacent work ‘red curls’ by Scott Satherley. It had a looser energy than Garratt’s pieces and was equally satisfying to behold: red ink ‘erupted’ and cascaded from the top and centre of a large piece of paper in tightly controlled spirals.

Tiffany Singh’s participatory installation began life as a pristine white room hung with paper containers full of spices, dyes, flowers and stones which audiences were invited to release, one by one, gradually creating a gorgeous spectrum of colour over the salt-strewn floor. The full agency supposedly granted to the audience, under the rhetoric of interactive art, was compromised by the responsibility which the audience was expected to take on, to approach the work on very specific, restrained terms. However, within these terms the participatory element was utterly generous and delightful.

Two videos from Jeremy Leatinu’u documented understated, clever performances. Again, the distancing effect of the lens made these some of the safer performances in the show. Contrasting with this, Claire Harris’s video performance Nicholas Girls—a thoughtful experiment in comedy—ended with a confrontational twist that stoked many a chortle and guffaw in the audience, with plenty staying for a second round.

Finally, in a show about drawing, it was great to see the inclusion of Jess Johnson’s illustrative, rock-n-roll-rebellious drawings and photocopied flyers. Although there was one framed wall-piece (named Don’t Trust Them! … coincidence, I wonder?), most of her drawings were presented on simple wooden constructions and on the floor in a square shape set at an off-angle to the gallery walls. Their anthropomorphic discomfort in the space reflected Johnson’s own ‘outsider’ attitude towards the institutional elements of the art community. And on that note, New Artists Shows at Artspace over the past few years have often involved artist-run spaces in various ways—with Johnson’s work, which features many posters for Hell Gallery (an artist-run space she co-directs in Melbourne), this tradition continued.

Generous and energetic, and sometimes cluttered—as with the inclusion of Mei Cooper’s large, enthusiastic text work which seemed to hover overwhelmingly over Jess Johnson’s equally enthusiastic drawing collection—the exuberance of this show seemed appropriate. It was a New Artists Show, after all; a place for vitality, diversity and abundance.