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, 26 January 2008

Down the rabbit hole

Andalucía (detail) 2007 by Maddie Leach (Images courtesy of the artist )

We currently live in a digital wonderland. By this I mean that for many people reality is mediated via audio and visual representations of the world through TV, internet or computer enhanced imagery. The internet is the most prevalent simulated reality of our age. Perhaps the most extreme example is Second Life. Second Life is a completely virtual world where people can live out alternate lives. It even has its own currency called the Linden dollar allowing users to buy and sell virtual goods such as cars with real money.

In the 1980s the philosopher Jean Baudrillard (1929 – 2007) coined the term simulacra to describe this from of hyper-reality. He argued that humans create meaning based upon the perceived relationship of valuing one thing above another or distinguishing one thing apart from another. Thereby simplifying the world so that we can find meaning in life. In the process, according to Baudrillard, we manufacture a reality that is in fact a type of delusion. This is what Baudrillard calls the simulacra were the simulated becomes perceived as being more real than the reality. Baudrillard’s philosophy influenced the popular science fiction film the Matrix which depicts an idyllic but virtual 1990s American urban society created by a super computer to enslave humans. In fact, the climax of the film illustrates Baudrillard’s point that such simulated realities that are far too cohesive and simplistic inevitably become week and dysfunctional - resulting in the delusion to dissolve.

On show at Te Tuhi Centre for the Arts is a multimedia installation Entitled Andalucia by artist Maddie Leach that toys with the escapism of simulacra. Te Tuhi is located in Manukau City in Auckland and has a dual role being both a community art educational centre and a contemporary art gallery regularly exhibiting temporary shows and installations. Leach’s installation is comprised of two works based in and adjacent to Te Tuhi’s sculpture court. Te Tuhi’s sculpture courtyard is a very modest patio area paved with grey concrete bricks – which bears more similarity to a recreational area in a prison than a venue for art.

Andalucía (detail) 2007 by Maddie Leach

The main component to Andalucia could be easily overlooked which is surprising because it consumes a large area of the courtyard. Not so surprising is that the artwork is actually a hole in the ground. After simple observation we become aware that this is actually a rather particular hole. Approximately 1m in diameter and 2m deep the cylindrical hole appears to be excavated with surgeon-like precision. The concrete bricks have been carefully removed in a hexagonal shape exposing an undisturbed grid pattern etched into the underlying sand. Sectioning off the exposed area and hole is a hexagonal fence of fluorescent orange plastic fencing mesh staked with unblemished black painted steel warratahs. Nearby is a tarpaulin containing a mound of dirt from the hole. There is also carefully spray painted purple lines on the surrounding pavement indicating buried pipes or power cables. It is obvious based upon the pedantic cleanliness that this excavation is no standard operation – indeed such a result would not be expected of even the most proficient tradesmen. The hole therefore could be considered an idealised hyperrealist hole in which the actual creation is more fantastic than a “real” hole would be.

The hole we learn after consulting the wall label is actually the meager beginnings of a grand tunnel to an olive grove in Cortijo del Granadal, east of Olvera, Andalucia – the sculpture courtyard’s exact antipodal point. To ascertain this Leach used the website Dig Holes which utilises Google Earth technology allowing the user to select any point on the globe from which to tunnel through the core of the earth and pop out the opposite point – virtually speaking of course. Therefore, not only are we presented with an idealised hole but also a symbolic and virtual hole that triggers our imagination -proposing an escape from the present reality of a drab patio. This internet induced escapism is as Baudrillard would claim a delusion - that simplifies the more complex reality that it is impossible to dig right through the earth.

Andalucía (detail) 2007 by Maddie Leach

(Images courtesy of the artist)

Equally idealised and delusional is the second component to the installation. Located on the inside glass door entrance to the courtyard is a video work presented on a wall mounted plasma screen. The video is of a golden setting sun sailing across a serene amber sky. The overt candidness of the video is of no surprise when we read that it is actually stock footage purchased via the internet. However, despite the cliché romanticism and clipart unoriginality - the suggestion of a Spanish setting sun nevertheless seduces us.

The ridiculousness of the hole to Andalucia leads us to a humorous understanding of how digital media has greatly influenced our perception of reality. The work could also be seen as a comment to the insecurity many New Zealanders feel of being stuck on an island at the bottom of the world. An anxiety which inspires Kiwis to escape to more exotic or exciting foreign lands. Andalucia could similarly be a political art statement about the great ambition but limited opportunities of New Zealand artists in this country.

Exhibition closes 28th February
Te Tuhi Centre for the Arts
13 Reeves Road, Pakuranga,
Manukau City