This review is a personal response to the work of my Left-field peers; Anna Scott, Elle Anderson, Caroline Griffin and Toni Mosley, and not their statements. My reactions come purely from my own learning’s, perspectives and experiences and, I hope, that what they get from it will just be a variation of our group critiques. As a newcomer to compiling a written response, I hope in return they will critique me. Our Awk word Land is presented in Nathan Homestead’s Gallery; a quintessential public exhibition space that I have, unfortunately, experienced as overlooked. As a council gallery there is no individual website and I feel this limits the exposure of exhibitions and its artists. It is my intention that this response contributes to the exposure I feel these artists deserve for their hard work and dedication. Concealed upstairs, this charming gallery is amidst a labyrinth of studio spaces and consists of four small spaces that are ideal for segregating Our Awk Word Land, allowing each artist their own individual niche for their differentiating mediums and perspectives. Brendaniel Weir accompanies the Left-field artists in this presentation that explores the Auckland environment.
I have to say Scott’s sculpture Fingers in the Pie? steals the show and I am not the only one to express this. A rectangular box embellished with hundreds of wax fingertips it is monumentally empowering as the first work that you lay your eyes on and essentially as the biggest work (approx 4 x 6 ft.) it encompasses a large portion of its allocated space. Scott is without doubt positioned as a sculptor but of late I have known her to play on a smaller scale and that is where this work started. With her gas bottle, micro crystalline wax and fingertip moulds, which she acquired from friends and family, Scott spent hour’s repetitively making wax finger castings while being the first of our Left-field artists to accommodate the Left-Field cabin. The final outcome was, to say the least, unexpected as Scott let out no clues to their finished presentation and successfully pulled them altogether into a stunning tangible conglomeration.
The micro crystalline wax that Scott has acquired is an industrial wax generally used by foundries and references her background work with foundries and its relevance to sculpting. Originally dark green, Scott has added a black dye to the wax in varying amounts, giving off a heavy and dense impression that when hit by strong light glows an uplifting emerald green. The addition of the black dye makes the wax resemble black wax, a modelling medium that is used for casting by jewellers. Appropriate, seeing that it is representing a body part that is heavily associated with jewellery and is a medium that Scott dabbles with on the side.
Fingers in the Pie? is aesthetically pleasing, and like any art done on a large scale has dominance that naturally draws us in before anything else in the room. This can often be a downfall in sculpture because as quickly as its scale captures our attention, it can lose it, because it has to have something else that holds us there. Scott has managed to hold us nicely as we are tempted run our own fingers over its textural surface and exam the fine detail, repetition and variation of the castings. Simultaneously it has a strong sense of loss, as if there is a population of people out there that are trying to surface from a dark muddy depth no matter what their age, race or gender. The fragmentation and colour eliminates the origin of the individuals but the wax holds their individual mark; their fingerprint. The large box, with its multiple blackened fingertips gives us a sense of densely occupied spaces and feels somehow organic with a sinister bleakness. Like something from a horror movie it looks as if it has been cut-out, risen and solidified from something that’s been buried. Scott has succeeded in making me wonder, along with the exhibition focus, are Aucklander’s feeling as if they are submerged in some sort of dreadful depth, grappling for exposure?
Unintentionally mirroring one another, Griffin and Scott have both placed cast fragments, from completely different processes, on top of a boxed support where the colour between the objects and the support merge. Griffin’s collection of relic like clay casts, taken from surfaces around Auckland, is modestly situated in a space that initially feels concealed and comprises of four plinths, one topped with a glass case.
The space Pressed into Service encompasses is tight, leaving only enough room for one person to comfortably stand between the supports so that if more than one person is admiring the collection of artefacts, they need to negotiate their path. Similarly, I expect Griffin had to negotiate the paths she chose to take through the city to accommodate this fragmented documentation of the city’s surfaces that embed history. Negotiating a path is something that most Aucklander’s do on a regular basis , through its meandering streets and highly populated spaces, often due to heavy vehicle and foot traffic especially at peak times and the position of suburbs in conjunction to one another. These well-trodden urban spaces hold details that are mostly overlooked and Griffin successfully brings these surfaces to our attention as you find yourself examining the fragmented imprints that are familiar yet specifically unknown.
The physicality of Griffins, Pressed into Service, not only holds indentations of Aucklands municipal past but of an bodily presence that is suggested by some pieces left purposefully face down, so that instead what you see are Griffins finger marks where she has carefully but sturdily held the once soft clay, moulding and pressing it into its current shape. The positioning of these manmade fossils creates an interesting conversation around the ideologies of both sculpture and artefact, where we are generally governed by the more traditional galleries and museums, not to touch that which is seen as original or precious. Sculpture, where I feel Griffins work sits, historically was intended to be touched and its sensual bodily replications caressed. Likewise, Griffin obviously wants the viewer to touch; by placing certain pieces so purposefully she hopes to engage a sense intrigue that will tempt us to lift it to see what is hidden underneath and become part of her process. Griffin, concurrent to her sculptural past, is inherently concerned with contemporary jewellery, recently developing a series of small sculpted rings. The New Jewelry movement of the 70s is known to have originally questioned wearability and demonstrated that an object held is an object worn.
Simultaneously, it is not by accident that Griffin has chosen clay as her medium, her mother was a potter, and clay therefore something that she is overtly familiar. The clay contradicts its museum like longevity as it is air dried, not fired and shows no signs of age. Consequently the pieces don’t pursue any permanence as they are subject to Griffin’s belief that they are ephemeral and will at some point become something else. With all of this in mind it is not surprising that Griffin has accordingly created a body of work that crosses disciplines and challenges establishment rules. She then continues by presenting in the antiquated and organised fashion of a museum that has dropped its cataloguing.
Griffin definitely succeeds here in connecting us as individuals by emphasizing visually mapped and fragmented associations that we are all exposed to as occupied communities. No matter how culturally and sub-culturally grouped we maybe there is always some common ground.
Anderson’s practice is relatively new to me and essentially sits in print but she has pushed Now, SOON by juxtaposing her small monochromatic prints with a stacked construction of transparent Perspex boxes that are about 15cm square and occupied by varying amounts of the iconic Cadbury chocolate coated, Jaffas. It appears to be a metaphorical ‘tongue in cheek’ comment referencing Auckland’s progressively congested living conditions. Living south-east of the CBD, it isn’t hard to notice new properties expanding into our rural communities where the dwellings grow skyward while the land they occupy shrinks. People are living in a lot closer proximity and our suburban sprawl becoming concrete jungles. What happened to the classic ¼ acre section with fruit trees, tomato plants and meandering grape vines? Are we all really becoming too busy to maintain this now retro life style?
I cannot help but also responded with a bit of black humour as there is definitely some irony in Anderson’s use of the Jaffa, as every New Zealander also knows the word Jafa as an acronym for ‘Just another f……… Aucklander’. I say irony because a few years back Cadbury threatened to take the chocolate Jaffa’s off the market, but the public uproar won and they still exist as one of our kiwiana favourites. Maybe this could also be a simple resolve to our city’s congestion if Jafa’s just simply stop being made. There is also some contradiction between New Zealand’s proven admiration for the Chocolate Jaffa, as opposed to non Aucklanders obvious dislike to the “Jafas “ . Anderson literally invites us to eat the chocolate Jaffa’s on display to relieve congestion and hypothetically help to dissolve the Supercity’s over populated places but personally I can’t say I want to eat the people I share my living environment with or my community, even though sometimes this maybe something I feel like doing, in order to get Aucklands population under control. I don’t think I would savour the taste, as I would the chocolate Jaffa and over indulge, I would be more likely to chew them, gag, then spit them out!
Mosley has been a printer for about the last 17 years and supports her practice by teaching art to young Aucklander’s at Nathan Homestead and also to a wider periphery. Assortment consists of a handmade concertina book that sits on a plinth with its pages flowing onto the floor below and a series of panoramic, traditionally framed prints titled Cross Section. Mosley’s content is simple, fun and delicate, consisting of rows of relatively uniform caricatures. The framed pieces appear to have been coloured by hand and vary from monochromatic to having bright interventions of colour within their clothing. Admirably, Mosley has no fear of using simple contour lines, a fundamental drawing technique, for her prints and uses them repeatedly to the desired effect.
Over the last year Mosley has been printing self-portraits with great satisfaction and recently exhibited them at Wellingtons Academy of Fine Arts. Assortment references these with one of her caricatures holding above its head a box similar to a suitcase, a preloaded symbol that frequently pops up in her self-portraits. Knowing Mosley, the book will be her baby and once again is self-referencing to herself as a maker, as she has created a few of these complex concertinas before.
I take these caricatures as representing Aucklanders but I can’t help but wonder why all the caricatures appear relatively uniform in size, height and weight, although I must thank her for putting one in that is shorter than the rest seeing that I am myself vertically challenged. With size in mind, it was only yesterday that I was chuckling to myself as I parked next to a car in Manukau that had an extremely weathered sign on it advertising Samoan Health care and I couldn’t help but notice the empty 150g potato chip packet sitting on the back seat. If anything Assortment has intrigued me; statistically, where do Aucklanders sit nationally in terms of obesity, considering the amount of fast food chains the Supercity accommodates?
Mosley also seems to be addressing Auckland’s multi-cultural communities with her title Assortments, which makes me think of liquorice. Comparable to Scott and Griffin, Anderson and Mosley seem to have some sort of ESP between them and their work, the latter being in terms of sweets.
Last but by no means least, Weir is the only one of these artists that I really don’t know, but listening to his confidence and knowledge of the Supercity, when he spoke at the opening, his conduct is enjoyably entertaining, flamboyantly filling the room. Adjacent to Anderson’s Now, SOON is Local Boards, Weir’s collection of 8, A2 sized, glossy acrostic-poems. They are hung directly on the wall in a linear fashion, each print curling slightly at the bottom with the text printed in the culturally significant colours red and black. The fonts vary with each print so that they sit comfortable on the paper. Each Poem is constructed from a central red word; Rodney, Northshore, Waitakere, Auckland, Manukau, Papakura, Franklin and lastly Supercity. Cleverly well considered, Weir has put together words that have relevancy to each individual place and are applicable to the people and the issues that populate those specific areas. Weir appears quite excited about this politically loaded project and sensitive to the individuality of each of these once separately governed communities.
After going back and having a second look at Our Awk Word Land, getting another Jaffa fix and finally reading each artists statement, it confirms for me that what was important for all of these artists, above all else, was their concern for the individual and that is apt for an artist. Equally as individuals it is not essential for us to try and interpret the artist’s exact thinking; the strength in all of these works is the ability to allow the viewer our own connection to it and be something that stays with us well after we have left the gallery.
Edited by Lucy Pierpoint