Monday 15 June 2009

Anything but scared

A trip to New Plymouth in the weekend, and the happy discovery that the collection hang which the website says closed on 31 May was still up.

The conceit of the show was that collection works were paired with each other, in variously happy and indifferent relationships: Francis Upritchard and Octavia Cook (crafty); Francis Upritchard and Rohan Wealleans (colourful); Billy Apple and Michael Stevenson (fluorescent lights and distance).

Once again, as with the Don Driver show, the curators have built extra walls and squeezed works in cheek by jowl. Of course, this means you get to see more of the collection - which, with the lack of a collection publication and the online collection still a WIP, is no bad thing - but the works simply don't get enough room to breathe, and the sightlines of the upper galleries are obliterated. It kind of makes you sigh for the days when the Gallery would give a whole floor over to Pae White's paper sculpture.

These quibbles aside, it was great to see some old friends. After spending quite a lot of time last week at Te Papa immersed in the two recently-acquired McCahons from the 1976 Scared series that have been put on display in the Level 5 galleries ( Mondrian's last chrysanthemum* and I am scared; I stand up) it was fantastic to compare these two with the Govett's Am I Scared, and get all connoisseurial over the brushstrokes and paint splotches & use of acid yellow. I would love to see the all six works from the series on display sometime.

It was also fantastic to see Shaun Gladwell's 2004 video work Multiple Descent [Taranaki] again. The work is very simple, and very beautiful - one after another, on a repeating loop, Gladwell accompanies two skateboarders to the top of the Centre City carpark in New Plymouth, filming their ascent in the lift and descent along the parking levels and ramps, lit by the late afternoon sun, the skateboarder going first, Gladwell following on his own board with a handicam. The only editing effects seem to be the slowing of the film, and the screening of sound so only the skateboards' wheels and the occasional indrawn breath can be heard.

One of the things I love about the video is that occasionally you catch sight of Len Lye's Wind Wand, but the work - which has become central to New Plymouth's new foreshore-focused identity - is treated without any ceremony, and is as much of a side-issue as the lone shopper caught pushing her trolley to her car. Instead, all the focus is on the two lanky teens; the slow scrolling motion of the leg that propels them forward, the way their hands hang from long thin wrists when they're not in use, the minimal lean and sway with which they navigate the concrete passages. In its own cool, self-contained way, Multiple Descent [Taranaki] is a very sexy piece of work.

Sadly, I can't find decent clips of any of Gladwell's video works online. Here's a stolen snippet of Storm Sequence (2000) though, complete with visitor commentary.

*The colour in that photo doesn't do justice to this work, it's definitely worth making an effort to see it in the flesh

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