T J McNamara on the arts

T J McNamara is a Herald arts writer

TJ McNamara: Strokes on a broad canvas

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Current exhibitions demonstrate the scope of artistic endeavour.

Portraits of Mass and Transmission by David McCracken at Gow Langsford Gallery. Photo / Kellie Blizard
Portraits of Mass and Transmission by David McCracken at Gow Langsford Gallery. Photo / Kellie Blizard

This week demonstrates the range of activities considered valid as art. At one end of the spectrum is monumental sculpture; at the other end, work so immersed in philosophy it is reduced to simple gestures accompanied by long, written explication.

The monumental work is in the Gow Langsford Gallery in Kitchener St. David McCracken has engineered massive sculptures in Corten steel with its rich, rusty surface. Romantic Portrait of Mass and Intersection is a section of a large arc that begins at the floor and curves up to intersect with and press against the wall. The Romantic element is the deep clefts that cross the massive curve, suggesting a history of struggle. Much more simple in effect is a cube that sits heavily on the floor. It is called A Waiting Mass, though it too is slashed by cracks and valleys.

Other works give more sense of being fabricated, though the welding is skilful and unobtrusive. These are giant works that suggest cogwheels or crushing machinery. They are loops but twisted out of their circular shape to add extra tension and emphasise their sculptural quality.

The huge tyres on earth-moving machinery are also referred to in the titles, Portraits of Mass and Transportation.

The sculpture with references to machinery is matched by a more abstract work, Portraits of Mass and Separation, that builds itself rhythmically in curves toward the ceiling. In this work, as in some of the others, the surface of the steel is enriched by textures that come from exposure to rain.

These works have the size and strength to be grand public sculpture.

There are two exhibitions along Karangahape Rd by recent art school graduates. Artspace performs its proper function by staging this New Artists Show, as no commercial gallery is likely to.

Karin Hofko is a performance artist. We are left with the material of her performance: a script, a microphone, the ladder that was addressed as a participant, a note of thanks and autographed photographs of the artist.

The PowerPoint images used in the performance are obscured by a curtain. The literature provided says the performance explores the limits of the body and the possibilities of the mind.

A work by Lance Pearce features six bookcases, each with six shelves. The bookcases are rendered useless by being slung from the ceiling so they do not rest on the floor. We are told this displaces certainty and resolution. Ella Sutherland shows sheets of stickers and a book, thin in design and content, following Hegel's philosophy that the content of art is the idea.

Much more visual is a curious little film by Shannon Te Ao and Iain Frengley. It takes place in a cave, tunnel or drain illuminated by candles, often snuffed to total darkness. The person travelling through the tunnel is black. He faces problems and meets them with decisions as he wades through water. He stops to take nourishment. He whistles in the dark to take courage. The mythic element is thin but, at moments, quite touching.

Further along K'Rd at Ozlyn, Dawson Clutterbuck has installed two modified coin-in-the-slot grab machines. They are seen as a form of social action to counter the passive way that art is commonly encountered. This idea, born from Duchamp, makes art a trivial game.

The element of art as a combination of making and ideas is found in the work of Rohan Wealleans at the Ivan Anthony Gallery. His highly individual art is composed by excavating layers of paint. He makes amazing use of this technique, particularly in two big works, Spiderbitemare and Reptilian Brain Keeper Cage. The first is a big work in relief. Its black background has excavations which reveal layer upon layer of brown and white with touches of green. The surface expands into two great forms that thrust out in high relief. These are linked by a web made of chunks of paint strung together. Each chunk is different, carved out of thick layers of paint. The whole is nightmarish but fascinating in every part.

The other big work has different overtones. It is an idol - a monkey god holding a baby.

The variety of surfaces is remarkable, with the colour ranging from shimmering peacock blue to shades of green. Once again all the surfaces are marked by hollows that reveal different strata of paint but because the hollows are smaller the effect is of weird jewellery.

The surprise in this exhibition is another way of layering paint. A series of drawings is called 3D Aboriginal Painting Model. These are fascinating, with layers of thin colour imposed on each other with faint pencil lines trailing through them, almost like charged wiring. The surprising thing, given Wealleans' taste for grotesquerie and unease, is that they are very beautiful.

- NZ Herald

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