The words come slowly at first, tested out carefully like steps on spring ice, gradually building in speed and intensity. The plaintive voice stalls on certain phrases, black-stained lips repeating and worrying at them until they separate from any sense of meaning, or until a new thought breaks in. And all the while, her chameleon eyes roll, goggle, peer, blink, twitch and squint at the surrounding blackness. This is the strange, melancholy mantra of Sang, and she can't wait to meet you.
A disconcerting envoy from the parallel universe of American multimedia artist Tony Oursler, Sang embodies his trademark fusion of fractured physicality, unexpected humour and acute unease. Since the mid 1970s, Oursler has been expanding the parameters of video art, projecting his anxious, morphing images onto fibreglass forms, walls and even (in the case of his 'psycho-landscape' The Influence Machine, which was displayed on the riverbank outside London's Tate Modern earlier this year) smoke. From neurotic talking heads and multiple-personality spectacles to monstrous outdoor projections, the selection of Oursler works Christchurch Art Gallery has brought together as part of Populate! offers a fascinating take on the grotesque as a subject and style in contemporary art.
The convention of the grotesque had its beginnings in the late fifteenth century, when a series of ancient Roman wall paintings were discovered amidst the buried ruins of Nero's famed Domus Aurea. Named after the cave-like rooms in which they were found, these grottescas featured an array of fantastical, often risqué, human/animal/plant hybrids that must have presented an electrifying contrast to the serene order Renaissance scholars had previously admired in classical art. The effect of these intoxicating visions on artists and architects was immediate and profound, and their influence has been traced from the elaborate decorative designs Raphael created for the papal loggia in the Vatican, to works produced by artists in the Baroque and Romantic periods. At the end of the eighteenth century, Francisco Goya set down his own nightmarish human/animal changelings, incorporating grotesquely altered and exaggerated figures into his Los Caprichos series of aquatint prints in order to satirise the follies of Spanish society. His later, infamous, Black Paintings were visions of an earthly hell featuring witches, warlocks and a monstrous Saturn. Since the turn of the last century, the grotesque has attained a growing currency in contemporary art, prompted, perhaps, by an 'end of times' zeitgeist. Artists such as Patricia Piccinini, for example, have responded to advances in genetic modification and cloning by taking the idea of an artificially 'corrected' species to logical, but alarmingly unnatural conclusions. In 2004, Robert Storr curated Disparities and Deformations: Our Grotesque for the 5th Santa Fe biennial, with works by Louise Bourgeois, Sigmar Polke, Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy among others (it also included Oursler's Softy, in which fragments of a distorted yellow face were projected onto a large fibreglass form, described by one commentator as resembling a giant melting marshmallow). Storr's exhibition explored the grotesque not only as a quality or subject, but as a mode of operation that places the viewer on the threshold between known and unknown, attraction and repulsion, dream and nightmare.
Such disruption of the familiar and expected can allow artists to open up new perspectives. New Zealand performance artist David Cross has suggested that the value of such incongruities lies in their ability to 'penetrate and unsettle the conscious self of the viewer'.1 In a 2005 installation/ performance, Bounce, at City Gallery Wellington he lay prone and almost completely encased beneath a brightly coloured inflated structure that resembled a bouncy castle for children. With only his eyes remaining visible, he was wholly subject to the attentions of visitors (friendly and otherwise) who were encouraged to take off their shoes but given no other direction. The work redrew the parameters of the conventional gallery dynamic (where the visitor looks and the work is looked at), and imbued a structure associated with innocent pleasure with the potential for inflicting injury. These shifts resulted in altered, and at times worryingly sadistic, visitor/art interactions.
Fittingly, the broad church of contemporary grotesque contains its share of darkness, as epitomised by the now-destroyed Hell (1999/2000) by Jake and Dinos Chapman, a sprawling panorama of the unrelenting horror of war played out in pitiless detail by hundreds of plastic figurines. The satirical works of Italian sculptor Maurizio Cattelan, too, often come with a nasty bite, as was the case with HIM (2001), which depicted a schoolboy kneeling in prayer, positioned with his back to the viewer. Those who came close enough to peer around the devout child discovered they were looking into the face of Adolf Hitler. In the tradition of those early Roman fresco painters, however, there's also plenty of fertile ground for those artists who prefer to temper their uneasy visions with a more playful humour.
For pure entertainment value, it's hard to go past the gurning, gyrating, mutating forms of Robert McLeod's electrically- coloured plywood cut-outs. Bristling with weapons, bared teeth, pop-out eyes and feral cartoon animals, Two Tongues (2001; Christchurch Art Gallery) is a chaotic and discombobulating revelation. Against elements of pure, gross-out vulgarity, the elaborate, interlaced composition projects a surprising baroque grandeur. Overriding the passivity of conventional gallery viewing, Two Tongues practically climbs off the wall to demand our attention, like a small child pulling faces, each more hideous than the next. It's a vision of life at the outer edges of the human condition, the moment after the wind has changed.
Upsetting any smug delusions of separation from our fellow animals, Joanna Braithwaite's deadpan reworkings of traditional society portraits combine humour with incongruous hybridity. In Lizard Lounge (2013), a pair of louche lace monitors regards us from a leather chair, their distinctly human postures and attitudes at once repugnant and charismatic. The initial, startling 'wrongness' of Braithwaite's painting is held in check by her eye for the small details that establish character; the turn of a head, the direction and intensity of a gaze, the casual grip on a banded tail or an ornate pipe. As a conceit, it's both patently absurd and highly seductive – as long as you don't think about the sound those tails would make slithering over the furniture. Braithwaite calls up a persuasive human psychology from her animal subjects, whether they be leering lizards, wayward fish or pious kereru, with a deft economy. It's a facility that is shared by Tony Oursler, whose projected personae establish themselves via the bare minimum of recognisable features – often just eyes, mouth and voice. Though their faces distort with alien tics, their failings and preoccupations are all too familiar. As monstrous as these works may be – and the theatrical Spectar (2006), with its roiling psychedelic colours and bickering multiple personalities certainly falls into that category – they are never monsters. It is the realisation of our unbreakable connection with these mutated and distorted beings – and the recognition of our own frailties and existential angst – that keeps us transfixed.
1. David Cross, 'Some Kind of Beautiful: The Grotesque Body in Contemporary Art', PHD thesis, 2006.
Tony Oursler: Fist
Credited with freeing video art from the 'tyranny of the monitor', Tony Oursler is regarded as one of the world's most influential artists in that medium.
Tony Oursler: Head Knocking
Credited with freeing video art from the 'tyranny of the monitor', Tony Oursler is regarded as one of the world's most influential artists in that medium.
Kamala, Astral and Charlotte, Lyttelton, March 1983
Laurence Aberhart's 1983 photograph of Lyttelton children is displayed on our Gloucester Street billboard.
When we asked Tony de Lautour to produce a new work for the Bunker—the name Gallery staff give to the small, square elevator building at the front of the forecourt on Montreal Street—he proposed a paint scheme inspired by Dazzle camouflage. Associated with the geometric near-abstraction of the vorticist movement, Dazzle was developed by British and American artists during the First World War to disguise shipping. It was a monumental form of camouflage that aimed not to hide the ship but to break up its mass visually and confuse enemies about its speed and direction. In a time before radar and sonar were developed, Dazzle was designed to disorientate German U-boat commanders looking through their periscopes, and protect the merchant fleets.
Senior curator Lara Strongman spoke with Tony de Lautour in late January 2016.
Sparks that fly upwards
Curator Felicity Milburn remembers five years and 101 installations in a gallery without walls.
Peter Stichbury's NDE
Anna Worthington chooses her favourite work from the Gallery collection.
Everything is Going to be Alright
Martin Creed's completely unequivocal, but also pretty darn ambiguous, work for Christchurch.
Michael Parekowhai: Chapman's Homer at PlaceMakers Riccarton
Christchurch's favourite bull can now be found at PlaceMakers Riccarton. That may sound a bit unusual, but these are strange times.
David Cook: Meet Me in the Square
Cathedral Square, Centennial Pool, Lancaster Park, schoolboys, punks, nuns – a photographic journey through 1980s Christchurch.
Last chance to view the Holloway Press exhibition at Central Library Peterborough this week so if you are in the neighbourhood and like beautifully printed, designed and hand-crafted books then make sure you head along.
Paul Johns: South Pacific Sanctuary / Peraki / Banks Peninsula
The consideration of Japanese whale-hunting activity and ensuing protest in nearby southern waters has led to a reflection on our local whaling past, highlighting changing and divergent attitudes to animal life.
Proceed and Be Bold: The Pear Tree Press
An exhibition of beautifully crafted, designed and hand-printed books from New Zealand's most renowned private press, The Pear Tree Press.
Max Hailstone: Book and Typographic Designer
A selection of typographic designs, including books, posters and ephemera, by renowned Christchurch graphic designer Max Hailstone (1942–1997).
Edwards+Johann: Rebels, Knights and Other Tomorrows
Combining vividly imagined photographs with sculptural elements, Christchurch-based collaborative duo Edwards+Johann present an enigmatic and playful installation laced with tension and possibility.
Shane Cotton: Baseland
Christchurch audiences at last have the opportunity to experience the complexity and ambition of Cotton's latest work in this two-venue exhibition by one of the biggest names in New Zealand art.
Daniel Crooks: Seek Stillness in Movement
Hectic city scenes transformed into contemplative meditations of extraordinary beauty.
The idea of peppering the vestigial city centre with portraits from the collection became part of the Gallery's tenth birthday POPULATE! programme, intended to remind all of us that the collection is, indeed, still here and in good shape.
Burster Flipper Wobbler Dripper Spinner Stacker Shaker Maker
A family-focused exhibition powered by the excitement of seeing ordinary things transformed in unexpected ways.
It's where we live: the encrusted surface of a molten planet, rotating on its own axis, circling round the star that gives our daylight. Geographically, it's a mapped-out city at the edge of a plain, bordered by sea and rising, broken geological features. Zooming in further, it's a neighbourhood, a street, a shelter – all things existing at first as outlines, drawings, plans. And it's a body: portable abode of mind, spirit, psyche (however we choose to view these things); the breathing physical location of unique identity and passage.
Six artists use line to investigate space and structure in unexpected ways.
New Zealand Illustrated: Pictorial Books from the Victorian Age
A selection of lavishly illustrated books from the Victorian era relating to New Zealand landscape, Māori culture, colonial enterprise and our unique flora, fauna and birdlife.
The endless newscape: Barry Cleavin’s inkjet prints
Barry Cleavin is often, rightfully, referred to as a 'master printer' – a maestro of intaglio printing techniques including the complex tonal subtleties of aquatint, soft- and hard-ground etching and the creation of 'linear tension'. Mastering these complex techniques to achieve a command over the etching processes has required patience and fortitude over a career spanning some forty-seven years.
Yvonne Todd: The Wall of Man
A succinct ad placed in the classifieds of the North Shore Times in March 2009 attracted some forty applicants. Respondents were shown a photographic portrait of an unnamed executive, and directed towards ervon.com – artist Yvonne Todd's website – to decide whether or not they wanted to be photographed. Some still did. The unfolding story might not have been exactly what they'd expected, but all who agreed understood it would be something different. Next came the eliminations: sixteen men were chosen to be photographed; twelve made it to the final cut. The resulting images were printed at varying sizes and titled: International Sales Director, Retired Urologist, Family Doctor, Senior Executive, Hospital Director, Company Founder, Sales Executive, Chief Financial Officer, Image Consultant, Independent Manufacturing Director, Publisher, Agrichemical Spokesman. This is The Wall of Man.
Bodytok Quintet: The Human Instrument Archive
An interactive installation that reveals the astonishing sounds people can make using their bodies – from lip plopping to bone clicking.
Glen Hayward: I don't want you to worry about me, I have met some Beautiful People
Real or illusory? Virtual or physical? Sculptor Glen Hayward teases out these questions in this mind-bending new sculpture, a hand-carved and painted recreation of the famous office cubicle from The Matrix.
Fernbank Studio: away past elsewhere
A selection of hand-printed books from Wellington's Fernbank Studio.
Boyd Webb: Sleep/Sheep
Boyd Webb contributes a new work to the Gallery's Sterescope programme.
Faces from the Collection
Treasured portraits populate empty spaces in our changing city.
Christchurch Art Gallery is ten: highs and lows
In recognition of the anniversary of the move of Christchurch's public art gallery from its former existence as the Robert McDougall in the Botanic Gardens to its new more central city location (now eerily empty), I've been asked by Bulletin's editor to recall some highs and lows of the last ten years. So here goes — and stay with me during this reflection, which takes the place of my usual foreword.
Gregor Kregar: Reflective Lullaby
Justin Paton: As everyone who has seen your works at Christchurch Airport will know, you often make big sculptures with a geometric quality. Gnomes, however large, aren't the first things viewers might expect you to be interested in. What's the appeal of these figures for you?
Gregor Kregar: I'm interested reinterpreting mundane objects, shapes, situations or materials. In my large geometric works I do this by creating complex structures out of basic shapes—triangles, squares, pentagons and hexagons. And with the gnomes I am interested in how something that is usually made out of plastic or concrete and is associated with a low, kitsch aesthetic can be transformed into an arresting monumental sculpture.
It’s our party and we’ll cry if we want to
On 10 May 2013, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu turns ten. Which is fantastic. But it's probably fair to say that there's a bittersweet quality to the celebrations around this particular anniversary, as it also marks two years and eleven weeks of closure for the Gallery, and catches us staring down the barrel of another two years without our home.
It's frustrating. And then some.
However, we're not going to let these little, ahem, inconveniences get in the way of our party. Populate! is our birthday programme, and it's our attempt to bring some unexpected faces and figures back to the depleted central city. Bulletin spoke to the Gallery's senior curator Justin Paton about what he really wants for the tenth birthday, what he finds funny, and what he really doesn't.
Roger Boyce: Painter Speaks
Grinning ventriloquist dummies are the stars of the show in Roger Boyce's Painter Speaks.
Tony Oursler: Bright Burn Want
The fantastically strange, inescapably human works of renowned video artist Tony Oursler.
Jess Johnson: Wurm Whorl Narthex
New Zealand-born, Melbourne-based artist Jess Johnson makes intricate drawings and painted environments that evoke other worlds and parallel realities.
Gregor Kregar: Reflective Lullaby
Gnomes are figures in historic folklore as well as garden ornaments. But Gregor Kregar has brought gnomes like you've never seen to 'the garden city' – staunch, shiny and more than three metres tall.
Camp Blood: Hand-Painted Film Posters
Drawn from the collection of Christchurch painter Roger Boyce, these promotional posters from Ghana, Africa, are movie marketing like you've never seen: lurid, vivid and emphatically hand-made.
Francis Upritchard: Believer
A New Age awakening? Or just a 1960s pipe dream? Francis Upritchard's Believer is a recent addition to her expanding gallery of hippies, dreamers and gurus.
Sian Torrington: How you have held things
Wellington-based artist Sian Torrington's site-specific sculptural installation combined ideas, images and materials that related to life in post-quake Christchurch
Christchurch Art Gallery is excited to be working with Wellington-based artist Sian Torrington on a site-specific sculptural installation that will combine ideas, images and materials that relate to living in Christchurch now.
See below for a message from Sian to find out how you can get involved.
The Gallery's latest exhibition in the Outer Spaces programme, Showhome, has opened in Christchurch, featuring the disconcertingly 'perfect' works of recent University of Canterbury graduate Emily Hartley-Skudder.
Steve Carr: Majo
Steve Carr's strangely mesmerising sound and video projection is shown after dark in an upstairs window of the old house opposite the Gallery on Worcester Boulevard.
Seung Yul Oh: Huggong
Christchurch Art Gallery has a new offsite space, and Seung Yul Oh has filled it to bursting with his comically vast balloon sculptures.
Reuben Paterson: Te Pūtahitangi ō Rehua
Op-art patterns, expanses of glitter and Māori stories of water. They're all set in motion in this dazzling video installation by New Zealand artist Reuben Paterson.
Christchurch Art Gallery celebrates its tenth birthday with a burst of art in the city – including whopping new murals, night-time projections and sculptures where you least expect them.
Toshi Endo: Wolf-Cub
The kaleidoscopic moving imagery of Christchurch artist Toshi Endo has been stripped of colour and brought to a standstill in Wolf-Cub, his contribution to Christchurch Art Gallery's Stereoscope programme.
A Caxton Miscellany: The Caxton Press 1933–58
Established in Christchurch in 1933 the Caxton Press became one of the most progressive publishers of contemporary New Zealand writing and dynamic modern typographical design.
Brenda Nightingale: Christchurch Hills 2010–2012
Local artist Brenda Nightingale's beautifully produced, hand-stitched publication features a selection of recent watercolours based on one of Christchurch's defining features, the Port Hills
Stereoscope #2: Robert Hood
Two Year of the Cyclops works by Christchurch artist Rob Hood kick off the second itteration of Stereoscope at 26E Lichfield Street.
Stereoscope: Robin Neate
Christchurch artist Robin Neate's contribution to the Gallery's Stereoscope programme is drawn from his recent series of energised abstract paintings.
Expect the rug to be pulled out from under your feet with the last exhibition in the Rolling Maul series.
De Lautour / Greig / Hammond
An exciting opportunity to see new work by leading Canterbury artists Tony de Lautour, Jason Greig and Bill Hammond
A miscellany of observable illustrations
Romantic notions of gothic leanings, the legacy of Tony Fomison, devotion to rock sub-genres and an eye to the past are familiar and sound reasons to group Tony de Lautour, Jason Greig and Bill Hammond together in one exhibition, but De Lautour / Greig / Hammond is to feature new and recent work. Could all this change? What nuances will be developed or abandoned? Will rich veins be further mined? We can only speculate and accept that even the artists concerned can't answer these questions. For the artist, every work is a new endeavour, a new beginning. What may appear to the public, the critic or the art historian as a smooth, seamless flow of images is for them an unpredictable process where the only boundaries are those that they choose to invent.
Back on 20 September 2011, when our public programmes team began setting up the Hagley Park Geo Dome for a talk with Shane Cotton, they put out about sixty chairs and would have been glad to fill them. After all, it was a cold night in Christchurch, the roads were rough, the Geo Dome was off the beaten track and the quake had long since broken the rhythm of the Gallery's old Wednesday night programme of public talks.
James Oram: but it’s worth it
Manipulating found footage of the infamous 'Black Friday' sales held by American chain stores, James Oram isolates and magnifies smaller physical gestures amidst the frenzied crush.
Stereoscope: Kristin Hollis
Drawings of two bottles - one of gin, one of water – grace the Montreal Street side of the Christchurch Art Gallery bunker in the latest offering in the Stereoscope series.
Miranda Parkes / Tjalling de Vries: Keep left, keep right
Sharing an interest in expanding the idea of abstract painting beyond its traditional borders, Miranda Parkes and Tjalling de Vries explore the creative possibilities of commercial billboards in an exhibition that combines painting and projection to obstruct and intrigue in equal measure.
The popularity of Reconstruction: Conversations on a City has led to the exhibition being extended until 14 October, and the development of a publication.
André Hemer: <del>CASS</del>
André Hemer's many-dimensioned installation for the Rolling Maul series combines painting with a range of secondary outputs to play with ideas of distance and deletion – with particular reference to a well known work from the Gallery's collection.
Helen Calder: Orange Up
Helen Calder's new work, Orange Up, provides a refreshingly bold statement on the Gallery bunker using one of the powerhouses in the range of colours: orange.
Justene Williams: She Came Over Singing Like a Drainpipe Shaking Spoon Infused Mixers
Australian artist Justene Williams uses performance and ephemeral materials to produce a sensory overload of shapes, patterns and colours in the vibrantly theatrical video work.
Ruth Watson: from white darkness
Offering a poetic commentary on the intriguing resemblances between art and science, Ruth Watson's container-based video installation combines historical footage, text and her own Antarctic imagery.
Tjalling is Innocent
An ambitious paste-up work by local artist Tjalling de Vries on CoCa's back wall (viewable from Worcester Boulevard), Tjalling is Innocent is an Outer Spaces project presented in association with CoCA.
Tony de Lautour: Unreal Estate
Painted on found pages from real estate publications, Unreal Estate, is an artist's book published by local artist Tony de Lautour and Christchurch Art Gallery.
Out of Place
Katharina Jaeger, Chris Pole, Tim J. Veling and Charlotte Watson start with structure and consider what is possible when the normal rules no longer apply.
If you've not been down to the Central Library Peterborough yet now's a good time to do it.
We're pretty pleased with what we're achieving with our Outer Spaces programme, but it's always good to see what else is out there. And I do mean 'out there'...
Laying out Foundations
Looking broadly at the topic of local architectural heritage, Reconstruction: conversations on a city had been scheduled to open at the Gallery but will now instead show on outdoor exhibition panels along Worcester Boulevard from 23 June. Supplementing works from the collection with digital images from other collections, curator Ken Hall brings together an arresting art historical tour of the city and its environs.
Phantom City: Doc Ross’s Christchurch 1998–2011
Back projected large onto a shop window in Colombo Street, Sydenham, Doc Ross's photographs create a haunting record of this city before its dramatic seismic demise.
Stereoscope #1: Robert Hood
Two Year of the Cyclops works by Christchurch artist Rob Hood kick off Stereoscope, a new Outer Spaces series housed within two black frames positioned on the street-side of the Gallery's Montreal Street bunker.
Here are the people and there is the steeple
A big bright mural inspired by the challenges of rebuilding a city. Kay Rosen turns the word 'people' into the foundation for an unexpected 'steeple'.
Michael Parekowhai: On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer
Michael Parekowhai's spectacular Venice Biennale installation returns home for its first post-Biennale showing in New Zealand.
Hannah and Aaron Beehre: Waters Above Waters Below
Hannah and Aaron Beehre's immersive new installation connects us with the transformative moments beneath the surface of the everyday.
Georgie Hill and Zina Swanson: Breathing space
Strength, fragility and connection are at the heart of the second Rolling Maul exhibition, which features works by Georgie Hill and Zina Swanson.
Sam Harrison: Render
Presenting new art from Christchurch, our Rolling Maul project series begins with a remarkable exhibition of sculptures by Sam Harrison.
A lot of water, and Lord only knows what else, has flowed under the bridge since Justin Paton and I first hatched our plans for a fast-paced, post-quake showing of new work by local artists. Rolling Maul, so far, has been quite the antithesis of 'fast-paced', and despite our best efforts, it is yet to roll anywhere – rather it has been beset by the same delays, cancellations and frustrations as all of the Gallery's other in-house plans.
Our original concept, as outlined in B.165, was based around the use of one of Christchurch Art Gallery's ground-floor exhibition spaces, which we hoped to reoccupy as soon as they were no longer required as part of the City Council/CERA earthquake response. But as we are now only too aware, we won't be showing anything there any time soon.
Elliot Collins: For those who stay behind
Keep an eye out for the Gallery's latest Outer Spaces project around town over the next couple of weeks as poster reproductions of three paintings by Auckland artist Elliot Collins appear pasted to bollards and walls throughout the city.
Ronnie van Hout: The creation of the world
A haunting video projection by Ronnie van Hout in the window of the old house opposite the Gallery on Worcester Boulevard.
Julia Morison: Meet me on the other side
Julia Morison's evocative post-quake sculptures and 'liqueurfaction' paintings return to Christchurch for a special showing in a gallery space overlooking the inner-city 'red zone'.
I seem to have temporarily misplaced my sense of humour
Stretching across a vast wall at the gateway to Sydenham, Wayne Youle's new public artwork is a shadowboard, where tools for rebuilding hang alongside many familiar but precious objects.
Matt Akehurst: You Are Here
Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Damien Hirst, Robert Smithson, Michelangelo... Yes, all the big names have just arrived on the Christchurch Art Gallery forecourt.
Julia Morison: Aibohphobia
Julia Morison has turned the Gallery's squat grey bunker into a dizzying vision in dayglo green.
André Hemer: Things to do with paint that won't dry
New Zealand artist André Hemer's colourful Worcester Boulevard intervention Things to do with paint that won't dry, appears to flow and spill down the side of the building.
Jae Hoon Lee: Annapurna
An immense and oddly surreal landscape glowing out from the Springboard over Worcester Boulevard is the latest addition to the Outer Spaces programme.
Scott Flanagan: Do You Remember Me Like I Do?
Including a wishing well and mirror painstakingly woven from reflective black VHS tape, Scott Flanagan's latest installation considers the surprisingly elusive nature of civic memory.