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By James Dignan
(Brett McDowell Gallery)
The first thing that strikes a viewer of images by Joe L’Estrange is the sheer meticulous detail which goes into her art. Whether painting cats, flowers, or views across Dunedin, the images are filled with life and with unexpected, finely depicted detail.
In her current exhibition, ‘‘Corstorphine’’, cats are absent but the artist’s other key subjects remain in a series of work focusing on the blooms and foliage of her Corstorphine garden, accompanied by three views from the garden looking across the suburb. The images are not photographically representational, but neither are they intended to be. However, what they are is perfect slices of time in a much loved suburban garden.
L’Estrange’s trademark style, which verges on naive art, provides flat yet realistic friezes of plant life filled with quirky but precise details which allow the viewer to return to them again and again: the dead leaf or small insect that might have been ignored by a ‘‘pretty’’ painter has been deliberately and lovingly displayed, making the garden scenes more realistic than they might otherwise have been.
Similarly, the suburban views, under deep sombre skies, capture the life of the suburb, warts and all, complete with men on scaffolding and half-completed road works. The essence of life in a slightly dowdy suburb is evoked beautifully.
There are deep narratives running through Russ Flatt’s artfully staged photographic studies.
These group portraits are enigmatic, depicting moments in the lives of their protagonists which are open to multiple interpretation, but in all of them there is a sense that we are invading the space. There is an uneasy voyeurism in our gaze, as if we are disturbing moments of intimacy. This is, of course, deliberate; the scenes are designed to depict moments of awakening and awareness.
The images speak to us on multiple levels, of relationships between adolescent males and females, and relationships between Maori and Pakeha youth. Most importantly, though often simply implied, they speak of a search for non-heterosexual identity in a society where, for youth, such a course is still one undertaken with trepidation.
There is a strong artistic lineage to the works, with influences ranging from the unsettling undercurrents of Gregory Crewdson’s photographic essays to the Rembrandt-like lighting of ‘‘He Taonga Te Tamaiti’’. This latter work is a masterful image, the new mother and baby infant surrounded not with warmth but with shadowy implied figures and the cold clinicality of the hospital ward. As with all of the works, the technical aspects on display are as impeccable as the images are luminously striking.
(Blue Oyster Art Project Space)
Orissa Keane and Min-Young Her’s ‘‘Made from Local and Imported Ingredients’’ is an exploration of identity and memory.
Using a common East Asian greeting (‘‘Have you eaten rice yet?’’) as a launching pad, the two artists have created a web of text and recordings. Over a series of shared meals with friends and strangers, Keane and Her have built up a spiritual library of recollections of place, time, and synaesthesia. Thoughts and comments by those attending the meals have been assembled into the audio and video recordings which make up much of the exhibition.
Simultaneously, the spiritual and economic importance of local rivers and waterways has been evoked, and an analogy has been drawn between the flow of waters from a river’s mouth and the flow of thoughts and words from a person’s mouth. Each is shown as a vital resource for mutual existence and for mutual understanding. This symbiosis has been carried to its logical conclusion by the artists ‘‘feeding’’ the floor of the gallery by waxing and polishing it. This not only has the benefit of koha to the gallery, but also suggests the possibility of being able to track the movement of gallery visitors through patterns of floor wear, allowing a further layer of psychogeography to be invoked.