T J McNamara on the arts
T J McNamara is a Herald arts writer

T.J. McNamara: End of the word as we know it

Imaginative exhibitions at galleries around town are an arts festival must-see.

Destroyed World by Santiago Sierra, showing at Te Tuhi in Pakuranga. Photo / Supplied
Destroyed World by Santiago Sierra, showing at Te Tuhi in Pakuranga. Photo / Supplied

As part of the Auckland Arts Festival, Te Tuhi is showing Destroyed Word by internationally renowned Spanish artist Santiago Sierra. This is a 10-channel video installation that records a work of art carried out in 10 different countries following Sierra's instructions. Te Tuhi was a participant and is only the second place in the world where the complete work has been shown.

Sierra, whose work is about the structures of power, has already circulated a large number of cities with an installation of the work NO as a call to disobedience. The work in Pakuranga is the word KAPITALISM, which occupies the entire wall of the largest room.

Each letter is demolished in a different way in each country and the letters, all 3m tall, are constructed out of a primary product of each country.

Te Tuhi's contribution is the second A, built with shelving that contained more than 100 plastic bottles of milk.

The huge letter was destroyed by gunfire from a rifle club that first emptied the bottles, then wrecked the structure. It takes surprisingly long.

Other letters are destroyed by chopping, sledgehammers, a chain saw, pigs who eat an S made of pig food or by demolition equipment. Most spectacular of all is the fierce blaze of the K made of old fence posts in Australia. Most resistant is the letter I, made of twin baulks of hardwood cut down by an axeman in Papua. As all this happens at once the sound track is a wild cacophony.

Filmed in black and white, the result is spectacular and achieves the artist's symbolic purpose of making an elaborate gesture against capitalism and the financial crisis, although some participants are enjoying it as an art game rather than a solemn political statement.

It does not have the cruel force of Sierra's earlier art acts indicating society's power over the poor. He has done such things as tattooing a line across the backs of four prostitutes bribed with heroin and he has enclosed people in cardboard boxes as a metaphor for immigrants who do not have a working visa. These works and others are on the artist's website projected in an adjoining room.

To take part in and exhibit this spectacular art shows considerable imagination by Te Tuhi and it is a great contribution to the festival.

More conventional are the paintings by Tony Lane at Black Asterisk. It is some years since Lane had a substantial exhibition in Auckland but his style is instantly recognisable.

The pictorial elements are stylised mountains with sunlight and shadows in the valleys between them and floating pools of blue or green.

Some titles such as Rangipo suggest New Zealand but conceptually they are landscapes of the mind, visions with the utmost tops of the mountains levelled off as places unknown or uncharted.

Lane uses metal leaf with gold for emphasis and schlagmetal as background. Rounded edges give the paintings the feeling of solid tablets and add to the sense of permanence of the images.

His earlier work often had strings and necklaces of raised gold beads. There is a return to this element in the very impressive work The Planets, which has mountains and a deep space hung with stars and planets and a line of gold diamond shapes that emphasises they are to be thought of as jewels.

This show is a strong return, complemented by a number of attractive smaller, less solemn but more colourful works in gouache.

Next door at Objectspace is an exhibition by Jo Torr that is irresistible in its detail and scope. The exhibition comprises clothes made by the artist who considers herself more a sculptor than a costume maker. They are an artistic expression of cultural exchange between Europe and the Pacific in the form of immaculately made and embroidered garments.

Pieces range from a ball gown in the European style of the time when Captain Cook was sailing the Pacific. Called Transit of Venus, the gown is made of tapa cloth and decorated with cowrie shells. As a counterpart a modern dress is decorated with the same shells but done in printed cotton based on tapa patterns.

The materials are all symbolically important in the interaction between cultures. A splendid late-Victorian dress is made of recycled blanket material that once was currency. Brightly patterned printed cotton is used in the marvellous Gauguin Dress. Beautiful Empire dresses in tapa, linen and silk are decorated with Polynesian fern patterns. The fine things extend to a corset with whalebone stays, embroidered with a whale. It is a must-see part of the festival.

At the galleries

What: Destroyed Word by Santiago Sierra
Where and when: Te Tuhi, 13 Reeves Rd, Pakuranga, to July 14
TJ says: A vast 10-projector work that noisily shows the destruction of a word made of 10 letters, each one 3m high and made in a different country. Te Tuhi built and wrecked the letter A.

What: We Must Inhabit This Place by Tony Lane
Where and when: Black Asterisk, 10 Ponsonby Rd, to March 31
TJ says: A show of new visionary landscapes with stylised, moody forms made precious and monumental with metal leaf.

What: Islanders by Jo Torr
Where and when: Objectspace, 8 Ponsonby Rd, to April 27
TJ says: A fascinating exhibition of beautifully made and delightfully embroidered clothes in historic European styles, often in Pacific materials such as tapa cloth. A fascinating show of cultural exchanges with layered meanings.

- NZ Herald

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