T J McNamara on the arts

T J McNamara is a Herald arts writer

TJ McNamara: Inflated sense of wonder

Add a comment
Seung Yul Oh at Starkwhite Gallery. Photo / Chris Gorman
Seung Yul Oh at Starkwhite Gallery. Photo / Chris Gorman

Two immense balloons fill the space at Starkwhite. The installation called Huggong by Seung Yul Oh is the outcome of an extensive stay in New York under the Harriet Freidlander Residency Program.

The larger, an intense yellow, crushes the red balloon against the staircase at the far end of the gallery. The balloons exert pressure and press hard against the ceiling. As the space is divided by tall iron pillars, the yellow balloon in particular bulges out from between the uprights and projects a sense of intrusion as well as an amusing buttocky quality.

The intrusion is amusing, not menacing. The balloons look immensely vulnerable to anything sharp because of the tautness of the vinyl skin. Even the mouldings on the newel post of the staircase, which make indentations, seem a little dangerous.

The yellow balloon is inescapable. The result is very playful. You have to hug the walls to get around it. A genuine sense of wonder makes this transient installation well worth while. It is all of a piece with his collection of egg-shapes in Teed St, Newmarket, that bring happy shiny life to that area.

The artist has also made a video of people blowing up balloons until they burst. All of them know the balloon is going to pop but there is always a startled reaction when it happens. Edited together in quick succession it sounds like gunfire.

There is no sound in the work of Nic Moon at Whitespace Gallery. The show, called The Silence, is born out of contemplation of the natural environment and some of the threats to it.

The work is in four sections. One builds on previous pieces where long-handled shovels were laser-cut into leaf patterns.

Here, more elaborately, in Chorus, a series of pitchforks have their steel tines spread out and added to, making a pattern of roots such as the forks might have cultivated. The long handles are polished and each is topped by a carving of a face and shoulders singing. They are a hymn to cultivation by hand.

A second group called The Forest is arranged in a ritual circle. It is made up of nine standing figures, each triumphant over old circular saw blades.

The figures are tall totems; each is wrapped in natural material except two constructed from torn Swanndri shirts.

These figures take on the quality of traditional straw dolls made in the past at harvest time. No II made from harakeke (flax) and ti kouka (cabbage tree) fibre is particularly fine. Each one has a special quality but they work best as an ensemble.

Much more traditional is a group of tiny paintings called Murmur. In the centre of a dim circle of trees stands a tiny figure adapted from Millet, Rodin or even Giacometti. The only piece that does not work as well is in the front windows of the gallery where an installation based on cow dung is shaped into a pattern of branches.

There is a folkloristic magic about the extraordinary paintings of young women in Spindle by Sarah Dolby at Orex Gallery. These singular portraits done with immense care for the detail of hair and clothing could be illustrations for an uneasy, modern version of a folk tale by Angela Carter.

These tall femmes fatale recall stories involving wicked witches and stepsisters and leave an uneasy feeling. Snow Goose shows a woman in clothing decorated with feathers but with modern pantyhose pulled up to her waist.

Alongside her is Catherine, the plainest but the most intense. All of these characters look directly out but her stare is particularly challenging. She could well be a portrait of Emily Bronte, given her sense of dark power.

Others are much more baroque. Esmeralda's dark eyes are surmounted by a towering, intricate hair-do that suggests her opulence and, somehow, her greed. A fox lost in the woman's hair in Fox and Maiden links the character with the natural world.

The title work Spindle reminds us that in the past many women spent much of their day spinning thread - hence the word spinsters. This everyday task expands into legend and myths of the Fates or the Norns spinning the thread of life.

Behind the woman in Spindle are wheels that might have been more suggestive of spinning wheels but the character remains strange and her passions are evident in the heavy shadows under her eyes and her ageing beauty.

This is an unusual show. The dark Victorian frames support the mood of the paintings but it is an exhibition of real depth and considerable power.

- NZ Herald

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 21 Dec 2014 06:42:05 Processing Time: 327ms