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The Remarkables and A Group Show of Sculptural Work

Thomasin Sleigh

Visual Arts


I’ve totally left this to the last minute, so please don’t expect any amazing revelations this week. Although, I did enjoy the shows. The Aaron Laurence gallery is a contemporary art space downstairs on Lambton Quay. I reviewed a show there earlier in the year. At the moment there are two exhibitions on. One of Wellingtonbased artist Clem Devine’s work, entitled The Remarkables, and a group show of emerging/more established artists based around sculptural work.
I’m not too familiar with Clem Devine’s other work, so it is hard for me to place these pieces within any sort of context. The title, The Remarkables, refers to the ski field of the same name in Queenstown. Two works, the ones I thought of as a beginning point for some reason, Elevator and Escalator, are created out of bits of battered skis. These are broken up, split apart, rearranged, and stuck onto plywood by way of presentation. Devine has dropped in clues (there are still bits of writing visible) so that we are able to recognise these objects, but they are totally removed from their original function. Instead, chopped up and broken, they are now appreciated for their aesthetics alone; for their shape and colour. Indeed, they reference the sort of geometric abstraction practiced by the likes of Kandinsky or Moholy-Nagy. Except these works are 3D and extend out of the picture plane into the space of the viewer.
These works, which use the actual skis, are referenced by those surrounding them. The works TNT and Shady Lane are ultrachrome prints that depict the broken skis, and the geometric shapes they have been arranged into. As the artist introduces each manipulation of the object, we are moving further away from the original function step-by-step. In TNT, the skis are lurid pinks and oranges, shattering the picture plane with their angular edges and sharp lines. They become akin to a graphic design, almost as if with commercial purposes, like a T-shirt design or advertising image. In the print Shady Lane, the artist is exploiting the high contrast of the black and white and using it to confuse and distort this space.

Homeward Bound, the largest work in the show, is painted enamel on aluminium. It uses another medium, but is still using the same sorts of shapes and patterns. There are large broken words and plain areas of colour. Devine seems to be exploring the aesthetic possibilities of a single set of objects, how they can be manipulated and what effect that medium has on a set of ideas. Homeward Bound also references a long history of New Zealand art which plays with words, signage and text. The size of the letters were very McCahon-esque, but any meaning is here effectively removed. We are able to know where these sets of symbols came from, but they are rendered useless in these art works. Their original purpose of advertising, branding and selling is cut up and deleted.
Round the corner, in the two little back rooms, there is a group show of sculptural work. Here I found other artists who share Devine’s interest in geometric shapes and their effect on space and form. I found Gabby O’Connor’s work, Extreme pressure: avalanche series, extremely interesting. In the corner of the room is a kind of cascading collection of paper. On closer inspection it is made up of the envelopes. These are all cut and folded into repeating forms, stuck together and arranged to fall down the wall and out onto the gallery floor. They invade the space of the viewer and creep insidiously outwards. The title of the work, Extreme pressure: avalanche series, implies a great force and an impending doom from this small creation. It is distinctly at odds with the actual delicate nature of the piece. The paper is obviously very light and fragile; its connections are not held together by extreme force, and cannot of course create any real pressure. There is a funny disjunction of what an avalanche should actually be and what it should cause, and what this paper avalanche can tentatively achieve. Just a quite rustle across the floor, not a thunderous boom as may be expected.
In her other works in the show, Extreme pressure: avalanche series: blue and Extreme pressure: avalanche series: red, both water colour on paper, O’Connor goes on to explore the same sorts of geometric relationships. Here, the carefully painted shapes float in white space; they are not so intimately related to each other as in the sculpture on the wall/floor. Their inside space is just as important as their exterior. They do not present a façade but instead reveal their inner workings to the outside world. Shameless really.
Another artist in the show, Douglas Stitchbury, also examines this idea of inside and outside space. His work Ghost Ship is a small model of a ship, standing out slightly from the wall, and is also simply outlined by connection sticks. There are no large planes to divide the interior from the exterior. Its ethereal emptiness (and total failure to perform in the way a ship should perform) makes it very much a ghost ship, devoid of functionality and stripped bare to the outside world.
Finally, Terry Urbahn has created for this show another one of his matchstick monuments. His clumsy tower, stuck together with wax, sits in the other back room. Again, there are geometrical shapes and forms, and a lack of distinction between interior and exterior space. The tower is simply a haphazard outline; it takes no solid form and makes no bold claims about itself. The artist is here poking fun at the traditional, monumental function of sculpture. This work would just as rather fall apart than stand firm. The fact that it is made of matchsticks also refers to its inherent self-destruction. If it wanted, it could burn itself down.
Suck on that.
5 September to 7 October
5 September to 7 October