Back from the Wilderness - originally posted in PhotographyMatters.com, February 2009.
My apologies for not posting to this blogsite for a time. And I guess the last couple of postings were a little lame, judging by the lack of comments. My excuse is I have been preoccupied with Paranormal Investigation lately. You may have seen the coverage in the Herald’s Canvas magazine supplement, among other things in the press, and I’ve been diddling with the website (using old-school html, version 0.5 or something) www.strange-occurrences.com
The other reason for the lack of postings is that, frankly, things in the photography world have been a little dull lately. Nothing has got me fired up. OK, there are great new products around, but there are plenty of other forums and websites about the latest technological offerings and their pros and cons. No, I just haven’t found anything to get my teeth into.
Having said that, I’m still a little steamed at the demise of the NZCP. Their collection of photographs and other photography-related items is in the process of being deacquisitioned; that is, being picked over by others. It’s probably for the best, because although the collection is being broken up, its better part will be rehoused in public collections with storage facilities and public and internet access that are better than the NZCP ever had. What continues to irk me is that all this has been done behind closed doors; there has been no information circulated by the board of trustees to the subscribership of the NZCP, many of whom have been long-term financial supporters and some of whom have even donated valuable items to said collection. What a shambles!
So I am now going to resort to reviewing an exhibition currently showing in a gallery I own and half-run (not Photospace). It’s an installation that, among other things, seems to be about photography. It’s only on till March 3rd, so not many people will get to see it. And some of those who have seem completely mystified, walking out wondering if it’s an exhibition at all and not just something halfway through being installed. The review follows in the next posting - maybe tonight (but there’s some good telly on) or maybe tomorrow. [See below]
Current recommendation: Peter McLeavey is showing an exhibiton of photographs by Laurence Aberhart. Although being a long-time fan, I have sometimes found Aberhart’s photographic approach a little dry. However, McLeavey’s selections of his work are always enjoyable and lively, and this exhibition perhaps shows a loosening of approach, a more humanistic view. I wonder if there has been a little reverse-influence on the master by the acolyte (you know who I mean). I only saw the work during the opening and so will have to revisit when the gallery is quieter.
P.O.A. Collective Installation at GMG
The P.O.A. Collective are: F. Emera, R. Chival, Sue Denholm. Soundtrack by Wellington Analogue Noise Kollective. The installation “Divided by Zero” is at Gilberd Marriott Gallery, 37 Courtenay Place, Wellington, until March 3rd, 2009.
www.gilberdmarriottgallery.com for gallery info, and
http://www.photospace.co.nz/_gmg_pages/poa/POA-installation_photos.htm for installation photos. I have lifted a few of them for this review.
I understand the title of the exhibition is drawn from its soundtrack. Mathematicians know that dividing by zero is more than an error; it makes no sense whatsoever. So when you place an antique Hewlett Packard calculator atop a detuned radio and instruct it to divide by zero (zero, enter, divide in Reverse Polish Notation) it gives an error signal, a flashing zero, which interferes with the radio signal in an annoying, obtrusive rhythm. Fuzzed out, this forms the background of the first half of the ambient soundtrack. Other devices employed, I am told, include lowering the recording device (ironically, a digital voice recorder) into a cannon shell (”Shellcase”) and raising it out again. These guys sound like performance artists. I for one would be intrigued to see a performance by W.A.N.K. in the gallery installation, but it has proved impossible to arrange.
The installation itself is somewhat hard to pin down, as it seems to be concerned with two seperate issues: the demise of conventional photographic practise and the sacrosanct but temporary nature of the exhibition space itself, in general. Let’s deal with the latter aspect first. The blue screen (actually a photographer’s paper background roll supported by a pair of studio poles) seems to await some non-existent video projection. It is cordoned off by an arc of cheap plastic chairs in such a way that if you want to be seated (to view what?) you must move one of the chairs. But the chairs are supposedly part of the artwork, so one should not touch. Also, placed neatly on the chairs are the exhibition catalogue sheets. Help yourslef to one? No: each sheet is signed S.D. and edition-numbered. Are they then for sale? It appears, on a second visit, that people have absconded with some of them. Does this rate as an art theft?
Also apparently a part of the installation, flanking the blue screen and propped on more plastic chairs, are a couple of coreflute signs saying No Throughfare. Don’t they mean No Thoroughfare? I’m sure I saw signs like these around Courtenay Place during the recent carnival, and they don’t appear in the photo above, so perhaps they are a recent addition; a testament to the illiterate nature of signwriters or just a couple of patches of yellow to contrast with the large area of blue? Either way, they declare at least a part of the gallery room Off Limits. Rules of engagement? Disengagement?
Now we get to the more obvious photographic theme. This box, previously a light-tight container for silver-gelatin black & white photographic paper, appears to have been used, several times, to freight precious, finished photographs from photographer to gallery. It probably once belonged to eminent photographer Mark Adams, and has travelled through McNamara Gallery, one of NZ’s two specialist photographic galleries, and most recently contained photos by Andrew Ross. It has now been signed by Sue Denholm (Anyone get the pun? Each member of this collective seems to have a pun for a name!) and hung in a gallery, so does that make it a piece of art in its own right?
The same question could be asked of the almost-empty bottle of developer, signed by F. Emera and placed on a plinth with a couple of spotlights shining down on it.
The Geoff Sparrow Camera Repairs sign carries no signature; the contribution of the even-more-mysterious third member of the P.O.A. Collective, R. Chival, perhaps? Geoff Sparrow is a repairer of mechanical-type cameras and is recently retired; much like the things he worked on. With the move by many photographers towards the latest digital cameras and printing materials, this small collection of relics from the age of the darkroom takes on the significance of a museum collection. It reminds me of the stuffed birds you used to see at the National Museum on Buckle Street, Wellington; the moa, the huia and other recent extinctions. (Ilford clings on like the notornis while century-old Agfa went kaput two years or so ago.)
A less-noticeable part of the installation are the pencil marks on the wall pointing out nail holes from the previous exhibition that need to be filled and painted over (before the next ‘real’ exhibition?) and the can of paint and other decorating tools lying or hanging about. Something to do with the temporary nature of a gallery exhibition, perhaps? Each exhibition is written over, erased like videotape, by its successor. So are works of art in a gallery really ephemera, or need they be archival in order to be saleable, collectible, to spend the rest of their lives in some private or public collection; or to endure a century in the dark recesses of a basement storeroom, awaiting future art-archaeologists. “Who the hell would sign an old plastic bottle?” they may well ask.
It might be that he most telling aspect of this installation is the acronym of the creators of the soundtrack: Wellington Analogue Noise Kollective.
by james | 28 February, 2009
Photography Matters II