Welcome to the Review Repository - an archive of reviews that were originally published in the Saturday edition of the Taranaki Daily News from September 2007 – April 2008.

The reviews were written for a general audience and therefore tend to be descriptive and educational in focus.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Weaving Ideas

Art can be a like a foreign language - and like language it is often difficult to understand and appreciate the significance of an artist’s work unless you have some prior knowledge or skills that help you decipher or translate its meaning.

Perhaps one of the greatest artistic movements which has been greatly misunderstood or not understood at all is conceptual art which first began in the 1960s. As the name suggests conceptual artists decided that the idea of an artwork is more important than appearance or form. Since “ideas” were essentially their media conceptual artists didn’t need to paint or sculpt in the traditional sense. Instead they adopted a role similar to that of a manager or an architect who through carefully worded instructions, rules or formula could be responsible for the creation of something significant. It was logical therefore that conceptual art typically took the form of language, text, photography and readymade objects.

What makes conceptual art difficult for most people to understand is because it requires a lot of patience and willingness of the viewer to contemplate on what might seem as overly simple gestures. This challenging experience is important to conceptual artists because their artwork is meant to act as a trigger for ideas as opposed to a landscape painting which aims to woo the viewer with the illusion of reality. Conceptual art is more like a riddle or a crossword - you have to actively think about the artwork rather than being passively feed information or imagery. The result of conceptual art therefore might be as simple as a single word written on a wall or a specific object placed in a particular location – but despite their simplistic appearance these artistic acts can be keys to vast corridors of knowledge and rooms filled with complex meaning. The conceptual artists of the 1960s have had a considerable influence on contemporary art today. Many artists currently employ the conceptualist methodology in order to create artwork – despite whether they paint or sculpt in a traditional manner or not.

Information Given – a solo exhibition by artist Justin Morgan currently on show at the Lesley Kriesler gallery - toys with the legacy of conceptual art but does so to interrogate the authority of academia and question how we study and understand the world. The exhibition is centred around two expansive but unobtrusive works displayed on two parallel walls. The two works entitled Outer and Surface Samples 1-40, and Sample Drawings Bagged 1-51 both consist of sequential rows of clear plastic bags pined to the wall. In Outer and Surface Samples 1-40 the bags are filled with samples of various organic matter such as splinters of wood, leafs or hair. The samples appear as evidence from a forensic investigation or an archaeologist’s archive. Despite the pretension of specialist research we are not presented with any explanatory information and the specimen labels are folded over so the viewer can’t read them. Sample Drawings Bagged 1-51 features plastic bags containing simple line drawings in blue ballpoint pen that appear to reflect the contents of the other bags. Being physically situated between the two one cannot help but playing a game of comparisons trying to match the physical sample with its drawn depiction. However, this game quickly appears to be futile as it seems impossible to make positive matches.

Our understanding of the exhibition is further complicated whilst considering another work situated in the middle of the room. The work is entitled Sample Booklet 1.1 and consists of a book and a standard white art gallery plinth with a removable Perspex box lid. The book is filled with captions and technical information pertaining to images that don’t exist in the book or else ware in the exhibition. Spinning our confusion even further into orbit is the display of the book. Rather than encapsulating an artefact the Perspex lid is placed on the floor with the book on top - leaving the plinth itself with no displayed object and the book open for visitors to leaf through.

At first glance the artworks appear to be the result of some intensive study giving the exhibition an austere academic sensibility. However, after assessing the incoherent evidence on display the reliability and accuracy of what we are presented is brought into question. Indeed, this exhibition poses more questions than it answers. With no didactic explanation or logical descriptions there also seems to be no purpose or result of the displayed research. Therefore, the exhibition as a whole indicates towards the possible fallacy of academic study - leading us to question the Babel like towers of supposedly reliable research, facts and theories that saturate our information age. Facts and theories that also might support the formation of governmental policies, change how we live and influence our perception the world. The exhibition also plays on the tradition of conceptual art by using seemingly simple objects and information to weave ideas into poignant artistic statements.

Information Given closes on 1st December
The Lesley Kreisler Gallery
Gill Street above Portofino Restaurant