Artists making non-narrative videos are commonplace but Grant Stevens' work cleverly ties emblems to intricacies of language. In Crushing, which is part of an exhibition sponsored by the Australian Government at Wellington's Civic Gallery, he used cliches in clear white lettering on a black background to convey the outward expression of a heartbreaking emotional conflict.
The works that make up Hold Together, Fall Apart at Starkwhite are much more pictorial. They show the knitting of speech and visuals in three different ways.
White lettering is part of Tranquillity Falls, one of two small works. Added to the text and sound is a braided waterfall continually pouring over a high cliff. It hangs like big hanks of white wool. Against this is a mass of words spaced like a free-verse poem. The spaces between words reflect pauses and emphasis in the recorded text, which is a flow of cliches about self-advancement.
There is an edge - "Wealth is sexy and powerful" - but mainly the words are about how anybody can do anything if they try hard enough or want it enough. Everyone can succeed.
The message is full of conscious virtue and recalls many gung ho speeches, particularly for the young. The flow of sentiments is just like the waterfall.
The point is that it is a portrayal of an attitude, not a message. It is depicting the kind of self-improvement speech that is part of our culture. The irony is unstated but we are aware there are always winners and losers and this pure white flow of words will not change that.
The second work, Haven, has a completely abstract image - a circle of blue and light that gradually dissolves into a circular haze. This time the message is spoken in a soft female voice that croons about meditation. It discusses self-pity and self-absorption. Its three minutes of instruction gets increasingly general and ends in condescension.
The largest and most recent work occupies a whole wall and is projected without framing. It has two channels. One shows a musician fingering and testing harmonies on an electric guitar. The other part shows an earnest young man alternating with a wide-eyed young woman. They speak directly to the viewers about the difficulties of finding their way in the world while the musician's fingers seek chords on the guitar.
A gradual crescendo begins to take form and melody until it ends with a loud crashing of sound before fading away. All the time the attractive couple talk of trying to understand how the world works. "Time is too large," they say.
The three presentations are compelling representations of the realities of life. They portray modern uncertainties. Language is used to cope with situations but its inadequacies make both talk and life ambiguous.
In the most recent exhibition by Fatu Feu'u, upstairs at Warwick Henderson Gallery, the telling quality is the way he has altered the gaze of his paintings of the Samoan spirit world. In the past, the triangular masks he uses to convey this pantheon have been colourful but remote. Here, he has given his masks clear eyes that engage the viewer challengingly. The effect produces much more involvement in the various moods the figures maintain.
The paintings are done with a good deal of authority and attack. Orator shows three faces where colour suggests earth, sea and sky. Fetu Ao has a green and placid spirit face alongside a fierce and angry red. Both are linked by suggestions of foliage and the patterning is Polynesian in style and related to tapa cloth.
The brushwork is decorative and some works suggest a looser and even more energetic style. Feu'u has helped in a major way to make Samoan culture and art enhance the variety of life in Auckland. This exhibition shows he continues to expand the modes of his expression.
Lily Laita, who has been off the scene for a considerable while, is finding her way back in a show at Whitespace with small emblematic works with mixed imagery.
At the same gallery, young artist Rebecca Harris is having her first exhibition in Auckland. Some of her work is unconventional flower painting. The flowers are gathered into bunches but in Bouquet they take flight, driven by a force that drives them up the picture. The most impressive of these complex paintings have tangles of roots and growth that writhe together in tortuous patterns, suggesting dark, secret undergrowth. Above them are pregnant clouds. Works like Groundswell with its curious hill or Melancholy with a bare tree take on a genuinely surreal quality.
This is sometimes pushed too far. The magic mushroom in Golden Eye is too explicit and loses the strangeness of the rest. Nevertheless, this is a confident start.