3 in 1 2011
single channel DVD
LIGHT SWITCH AND CONDUIT
The Jim Barr and Mary Barr Collection
9th Apr 2016 - 14th Aug 2016
There is nothing like part of a staircase and its three-panelled wooden bannister ripped from an interior and placed in an art gallery, to remind you of home . . . that is, if your home was in a converted office block and you were a talented New Zealand art collector.
Although the two slabs of staircase appear like concrete, they are actually cleverly crafted polystyrene replicas of a staircase in a building that devout art collectors and supporters Jim and Mary Barr once lived in. Stairs in Series (2008) is made by Fiona Connor and is part of a Light switch and conduit – a show at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery displaying recent acquisitions made by the couple.
The gallery have had a connection to the Wellington-based couple since 1997 when they gave 120 works to the Gallery on long-term loan and gifted 30 works to the Gallery’s permanent collection. Nationwide, Jim and Mary Barr have revered relationships with many artists and dealers.
Private collection exhibitions are like walking through fur coats hanging in the closet and finding yourself in someone else’s art fantasy. This time around the fantasy is tremendously hip. Almost every artist in the show is a celebrated, challenging and/or cheeky contemporary New Zealand artist. It’s a name-dropper’s paradise. I tiptoed up Connor’s stairs into the apartment of the fantasy world that is suggested in the white walls and empty space between the works.
The repeated image of the tasteless floral curtains behind the artist and his mum seemed to stitch together, until a memory (not quite my own) of sitting around eating wine biscuits surrounded by the elderly in a stuffy room burned into my eyes. But sticking around to watch each video revealed something profound. I gradually became moved by the pair. As time went on and Paterson’s struggle began to set in, I watched each slip into their own private thoughts. Occasionally, Paterson’s mum giggled. Then, when Paterson could bare it no longer, he disrupted the looming pensive mood by placing his mum on her feet again.
Tucked into a corner in another part of the show is the fantasy apartment’s man cave formed by two Michael Parekowhai works. On the ground is Canis Minor (2016). Its base is a section of gold and royal blue axminster carpet. On it lies two bronze cups, golf balls and in the middle is a protruding bronze stand on top of which is another golf ball. On the wall beside the carpet, almost appearing like a reflection of the elevated golf ball, is a very dark photo of another golf ball that is so hard to make out that it looks like the distant moon.
Turning away from the ad-man with almost a religious devotion to golf, I was lured across the room by calming elevator music from Deep Sea Vaudeo (2009), which is a video work by Simon Denny. The video shows an arrangement of different dated televisions depicting videos of fish. The televisions are in the dark and contextless, until a light switches on and a voice in German starts to explain Denny’s exhibition (English subtitles run along the bottom of the screen). It’s somewhat of a meta experience when the work itself explains itself. I wasn't sure what to trust.
Through a corridor back towards Connor’s stairs, there is a display cabinet filled with Kate Newby’s work, including Saturday Morning (2013), which consists of speckled yellow, jade, cabbage- purple pebbles made of ceramic and glaze. I almost missed the morphed glass dew drops on the floor also by Newby and called oh good how I love to dream let alone sleep (2015).
The playfulness and preciousness of Newby’s works, which more than anything in the show I wanted to touch and hold, is echoed in the sculptural work by Xin Cheng called String Shelf (2011) that hangs on the wall behind the cabinet.
Two shelves display five indiscernible objects each. These include or incorporate a found finial from Arthur’s Pass that survived the Christchurch earthquake, a pork bone, a paper model of a bookstand with rocks inside, found turned wood vase, an unfired clay replica of Neolithic Scottish carved stone balls and dried coconut from Indian grocery stores. String is attached to each end of the bottom shelf and roll of duct tape hangs around it in the middle making the string form a triangle. It is testament to the very notion of interpreting sometimes very much everyday objects into art; it is a humble shrine.
There are numerous works in the show, each deserving careful scrutinising. There are more by the artists I have already mentioned, as well as by Dan Arps, Luke Willis Thompson, Oscar Enberg, et al., Hany Armanious, Rohan Wealleans, Andrew Barber, Rose Nolan, Peter Robinson, Glen Hayward and Matt Hinkley.
But attempting to contemplate each work in one go is when the fantasy becomes overwhelming. Unlike ensembles of work made with a show in mind or chosen to fit a theme, this show is an accumulation of work that a couple have, over recent years, mulled over and discussed with the artists and/or the dealers. Although the curator, Lauren Gutsell, has thought carefully about how works might link or juxtapose, I think really understanding the theme of this show would, at least partly, involve understanding the interest and drive of Jim and Mary Barr themselves.
Light switch and conduit is, at its most fundamental, a show about knack. Most of us will never have the knack to pursue and collect the art that will come to define our contemporary art scene. But, at least we have shows like this one that allow us to enter someone else’s art fantasy and momentarily imagine their knack as our own.