Embody

27 February – 19 April 1998

Contemporary sculpture, painting and photography by some of New Zealand's leading artists feature at the McDougall Art Annex in Embody, an exhibition examining body-referencing works from the Gallery's collection.

Contemporary sculpture, painting and photography by some of New Zealand's leading artists feature at the McDougall Art Annex in Embody, an exhibition examining body-referencing works from the Gallery's collection. The artists in Embody all, either overtly or obliquely, use the human body as a tool with which to both suggest and reference the outside world.

Vessel shapes are used in many cultures as symbols of tribal or genealogical continuity and the phallus-like forms of Christopher Braddock's Vessel have strong connections to the fertility symbols used by many ancient societies. Making reference to the boat, or vessel, used by Charon to ferry the bodies of the dead across the river Styx in Classical mythology, Vessel represents the journey from bodily existence towards spiritual life, the transition upon which the Christian doctrine of the crucifixion is based.

In other works, the body is suggested through its very absence, creating an atmosphere of alienation and isolation. Grant Lingard's Flag and boots makes playful but poignant comments about the homosexual experience within New Zealand society, using symbolism which is both political and highly personal. His flag, made up entirely of Jockey Y Fronts, counteracts the enforced invisibility of gay culture with what Giovanni Intra has described as 'a secret matrix of erotic communication,' its unrelenting whiteness suggesting society's obsession with homogeneity and intolerance of variation. The sheer number of underpants stresses the individual lives which are often blanketed by a single overwhelming stereotype. Lingard's football boots modelled from scented white soap, link the apparently unlinkable – femininity and rugby – in a poignant reminder of the highly prescribed and cliched nature of gender in this country.

Caroline Menzies' Flotage, which consists of a breathing mask, a life jacket, deflated lungs and a kind of corset (all fashioned from kelp), provides a curious life support system for an absent body, using the body in water as a metaphor for life and death. Menzies' work is deeply ambiguous – water is represented as both essential to life and as a threat to it, and the valves and masks we use to keep ourselves alive when underwater or in old age are just as capable of restricting the flow of air. A Menzies anchoring device can keep us safely moored, or drag us down beneath the waves. Flotage's suspended state on the Gallery wall is equally enigmatic – has it been washed up on the beach with all the other flotsam and jetsam of wreckage or simply hung up to dry until it is used again?

This exhibition was held at the Robert McDougall Contemporary Art Annex in the Arts Centre.