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.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Perfection Issues

Photo: Ben Davis

Art is a language without a dictionary. This is due to the fact that it's actually impossible to have one fixed meaning with art – since it is equally fair game for both the artist and viewer to make sense of art how they wish. However, this hasn’t stopped artists trying to communicate beyond cultural boundaries or attempting to uncover the true essence of the world. In this discussion you cannot overlook the importance of modernist abstraction of the 20th century since it was the exactly the sincere attempt of such artists to attain the essence of all things which conversely revealed that such a pursuit is unattainable. From the 1920s De Stijl movement and their reductive pursuit of turning impressionistic landscapes into black lined grids and flat planes of primary colour - in order to derive a universal skeleton structure of the world. To the specific objects of the 1960s minimalists who attempted to create the perfect relationship between raw industrial materials and geometric forms in relation to an objects surrounding environment – with the purpose of grasping the essential understanding of ones physical being in the world. The legacy of modernist abstraction has attempted to attain perfection via the use of geometry with the understanding that mathematics and science is the one true undeniable universal language. What they did not question however, is that even geometry is riddled with history, cultural significance and is open to many different understandings and symbolisms. In our current age geometry is mostly associated with corporate logos, industrial design and synonymous with power and wealth. However, despite the disillusionment of modernist utopianism a fertile legacy has remained for contemporary artists to explore the complexity of geometric abstraction and its slippery meanings.

One such artist who has positioned himself in the thick of this artistic discourse is local artist Matt Henry - currently exhibiting at the Fishbowl gallery. The Fishbowl is located in a regular domestic garage that has been converted into an art gallery sealed behind a glass wall so that you view the art from the street. Henry’s exhibition entitled Fresh Hoki at the Fishbowl deals with the makeshift context of the Fishbowl gallery while also toying with and unsettling the serious pursuit of geometric abstraction and minimalism.

Fresh Hoki at the Fishbowl consists of two oil and canvas paintings, a section of varnished concrete floor, a black painted window, a1kg block of cheese and a wall mounted bottle opener. The installation appears to hinge on one painting of a yellow square on white background entitled Homage to the ZBP1165. Obviously the result of laborious layers of oil paint achieving a pristine surface almost the quality of porcelain. The brilliant canary yellow beams like a headlight upon its white ground and acts as a definitive focal point to the installation as you peer into the Fishbowl from the street. However, as the title hints to us there is more going on in this painting than the ritualistic application of paint and a visually stunning yellow square. Homage to the ZBP1165 sounds like the model design number of some industrial product suggesting that the painting is a representation of a much loved appliance. The unconventional waist high hanging of the work also indicates that the painting is an abstract depiction of a domestic appliance. One that is valued for its hardedge modern design - judging on the paintings attention to precision and proportion.

Further domestic reference is made in neighbouring works. A readymade wall mounted bottle opener is positioned at the correct functional height in order to open a beer bottle with just the right amount of leverage. A significant residue of Stella Artois bottle caps are strewn below – evidence of a night on the booze. Not just any boozing mind you – this beer denotes a certain demographic since not everyone can afford the extra few dollars to purchase such a brew. Or even feel socially comfortable with the fashion associated it. On the opposite wall is a standard supermarket 1kg block of cheese. By either tinny luck or ridiculously divine fate the cheese fits perfectly into the cavity of the garage’s exposed studs.

Throughout this installation Henry mixes the common and profane with the quasi sacred and profound. The result pushes and pulls our understanding of the work from contemplative appreciation of Zen-like perfection to humorous in-jokes and serious art historical references. The significance of these inherent contradictions draws our attention the problematic slippages that occur by using art as a visual language, the cultural subjectivity involved in ascribing value to objects and how this reinforces social hierarchy. This exhibition qualifies the Fishbowl as New Plymouth’s most innovative alternative contemporary art space and hopefully this standard continues – it is rumoured that there will be more exhibitions over the summer period.

The exhibition is viewable from the sidewalk in the weekends only from 10am-3pm and closes on the 23rd of December 2007. The Fishbowl is located at 31 Young Street, New Plymouth.