T J McNamara on the arts

T J McNamara is a Herald arts writer

TJ McNamara: A journey through history

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Ancient techniques and modern technology collide in three exciting exhibitions running as part of the Auckland Arts Festival

The Red Chamber by Liu Dao. Photo / Sarah Ivey
The Red Chamber by Liu Dao. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Exhibitions that run during the Auckland Arts Festival should have some special factor that lifts them above the run of the mill.

The interactive work by Jin Jiangbo at Starkwhite has this quality. He is the dean of New Media at Shanghai University, and the work combines imagery and sounds from traditional Chinese and Japanese art forms.

Basically, the work is delicate brush and ink landscape painting re-worked as a computer-driven projection that occupies the full length of a large wall in the gallery.

It is a journey through a landscape - mountains, rivers, trees and bridges by the sea, so boats can be included. It draws comparisons with the famous 15m-long landscape scroll done by the Zen monk Sesshu in the 15th century using the same techniques.

What this modern work adds to the traditional style of rapid brushstrokes is movement. Not only does the work scroll across the screen, but the artist appears as a silhouetted figure raising the forms as if by enchantment.

At times a dragon undulates across the screen, and peacocks and other birds dart across it.

The effect of a journey is signalled in the early stages by the inclusion of a monk setting out on a mule. There is also a change of seasons, with rain and snow at times. It is a lovely, delicate thing, fascinating in its scope and detail.

The special factor is that it is interactive and the spectator can change the forms.

If you come between the projectors and the landscape you appear as a dark silhouette, just like the dancing artist in the scroll but much larger. Even better is to move behind the projector, then you appear as a phantom shape and alter the nature of the landscape, so anybody passing becomes a participant in the landscape and can modify the journey. The interaction brings an ancient art form right into the present.

A similar combination of ancient technique and modern technology is seen in the work by collective Liu Dao (island6) in their show The Garden Beneath the Streetlights at the Bath Street Gallery. Each of the nine works is the result of a combination of skills under the overall direction of Thomas Charveriat.

A typical collaborative work is Carry Careen, where the background is a sheet of beautiful mottled paper. In the lower part, a paper-cut in black is collaged on to the surface. This is an outline of the skyline of Shanghai.

Above the city and shining through the paper background is an LED display of a woman on a swing. As she swings back and forth, she reaches down trying to reach a tall tower. Image, materials and technique make an enigmatic work of great charm.

Sometimes the spectator is actively involved, as in the amusing How Much is that Doggy in the Mirror?, a big circular mirror in an opulent frame.

When the viewer approaches the mirror, a dog lying on its side suddenly appears. A little bit closer and the dog sits up and looks directly at the spectator.

The most delightful of these inventive works is the simplest of all.

It is called The Red Chamber, and features a lovely collaged vase of painted paper. Two butterflies flit about the vase, then they are lost inside it. After a moment or two they emerge and continue their dance.

This work uses the technological addition of colour and movement in a way that supports the framed and painterly permanence of the image. Another work like Tweeters on the Line, colourful birds on power lines, is cliched by comparison.

The quality this exhibition contributes to the festival is charm.

Much more piquant is the work by Francis Upritchard at the Ivan Anthony Gallery.

The major pieces are three of her extraordinary figures, which are much more effective indoors than their counterparts on pedestals at the corner of Wellesley and Symonds Sts.

This is partly because the colour matches the mysterious strangeness of the figures.

In Winter Dance, a vivid blue robe emphasises the forward movement of the figure, which appears beautiful and dangerous.

This figure wears motley, the jester's costume, here seen as makeup - half the face dark, the other half bright; one pale arm, one dark; one pale foot, one dark. It adds a sinister feeling. Curiously, a more colourful patchwork on the feet and face of the cross-legged figure called Music Lover somehow adds to the meditative quality.

The most striking figure of all is a tall, strange, priestly woman with eyes partly closed, clad in a russet red robe, with her naked body painted the colours of the jester.

Her hands and feet are wonderfully articulated with a great sense of the bone beneath the skin. It is full of character but truly strange. These figures are accompanied by long narrow collages, which also manipulate subtle combinations.


At the galleries

What: Rules of Nature, by Jin Jiangbo
Where and when: Starkwhite, 510 K' Rd, to April 4
TJ says: A Chinese landscape painting scrolls across a screen, with additions of animated figures, the artist at work and the capacity to interact with viewers.

What: The Garden Beneath the Streetlights, by Liu Dao (island6) collective
Where and when: Bath Street Gallery, 43 Bath St, Parnell, to March 30
TJ says: Framed works that combine aspects of painting, collage, photography and display technology to add movement and surprise to elegant images.

What: Three Figures, by Francis Upritchard
Where and when: Ivan Anthony Gallery, 312 K Rd, to March 30
TJ says: Three superbly modelled and coloured figures, bizarre, solemn but with great presence, supplemented by a series of collages of individuality and force.


For more gallery listings, see nzherald.co.nz/arts.

- NZ Herald

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