Art seen: December 24

Owens Rd [Spying], (2019), by Felix Harris
Owens Rd [Spying], (2019), by Felix Harris
"In Good Company", various artists

(RDS Gallery)

The term "in good company" can also mean "in unexpected company" — or so it would seem, in the best sense — with the current exhibition at RDS, which brings the year’s programme to a close and extends into the new year (January 9, 2021). "In Good Company" is an eclectic, yet complementary exhibition that reprises some works from recent RDS shows by artists Madeline Child, Peter Cleverley, Michael Greaves, Felix Harris and Marie Strauss alongside new (to Dunedin) works by Neil Lowe and Valerie Hammond. The exhibition also includes one work by recent Dunedin School of Art graduate Maria Sutherland.

The complementary eclecticism of the exhibition can be seen in the formal, cross-gallery associations between Sutherland’s abstract acrylic painting on aluminium (in two parts) and the vertical rays of Lowe’s yellow-and-black monotypes. The grids of Sutherland’s work, in particular, function as a type of close-up to Harris’ urban scenes and experiences. His Owens Rd [Spying] (2019), as the bracketed title fragment suggests, evokes a garishly eerie suburban "daymare" of streets patrolled by a "hollow" car and houses barricaded behind black fences.

The thread of orange that yokes together Harris’ suburbia is amplified by an abstract canvas by Greaves, in which the edges are painted fluorescent orange. At right angles to Greaves’ abstract painting is a large hand-painted, linocut print with collage by Strauss, in which the eyes of fantastic beasts flare with gold.

Glukupikron, (2020) by Kushana Bush
Glukupikron, (2020) by Kushana Bush

"Glukupikron", Kushana Bush

(Brett McDowell Gallery)

In the journey from Sappho’s Archaic Greek to contemporary English, the word "glukupikron" underwent an inversion from, as Anne Carson notes, its literal translation of "sweetbitter" to "bittersweet".

This linguistic inversion lies at the conceptual heart of Bush’s extraordinary gouache and watercolour works, in which, for example, the body of a deceased person is luxuriously swaddled in a ream of Hermes fabric then cinched with a Fila bum-bag, and has a burial urn tied around their lower torso. This is but one elaborate scene in an extraordinary painting (Glukupikron) that tugs at the edges of conceptual, formal and technical impossibility. It would take many lengths of Hermes fabric to fully describe the squatting monkey restraining an ornately dressed figure with a green lasso, and the bright red crab paused mid-scuttle on animate rocks, which appear to draw breath via the softly bruised effect achieved by watercolour.

These uncertain relational exchanges across species take place in one small area of this expansive painting that perhaps gestures towards the collision of the bitter and the sweet as personified by two bulls in the centre. Or perhaps the anticipated clash of the writhing bulls attests to mythological and aesthetic representations of their virile conflict — which has certainly been characteristic of this year (among others).

The heightened polarisation, conflict, and death is evident in Extinct People, Memento Mori. Yet, is there sweetness with Mirangle?

E-Kasino, (2020), by E-Kare
E-Kasino, (2020), by E-Kare

"E-Kasino", E-Kare

(Blue Oyster)

At the E-Kasino Royale on Friday, December 11 — one of the many public-programming events hosted by E-Kare and Blue Oyster as part of the participatory art installation E-Kasino — Piupiu Maya Turei and Blue Oyster staff were commenting on the amount of money that had been made and stuck to the wall. Visitors were invited to sit around a communal table in the front gallery space and create their own money. That night, Turei was present as one half of art-music duo E-Kare (with Gerrit Jos van Beek), and alternated between facilitating the conceptual and aesthetic intentions of the project and performing as a musician in the evening’s gig. E-Kare, with Joanne Francey also created the video projections in the darkened section between the money-making table and the simulated poker machines.

The dissonance of a handmade, "cardboard" casino is at once unavoidable and intentional. Turei herself sustained this dissonance by simultaneously fulfilling the optimism of a CEO repeating mantras on what a successful business it was, and turning the gallery into an exceptionally welcoming space for visitors to enact relationships with money, especially those promoted in gambling environments. Through a combination of parody and sincerity, E-Kare and Blue Oyster created a relatively rare opportunity to conceptualise and experience the pitfalls of gambling without judgement. Furthermore, in partnership with E-Kare, PGF provided counselling support for those struggling with gambling issues.

Robyn Maree Pickens

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