Art Seen: November 16

In this week's Art Seen, Robyn Maree Pickens looks at exhibitions from Blue Oyster Art Project Space, and Dunedin Public Art Gallery.

‘‘Slow Jamz Till Midnight’’, Christina Pataialii (Blue Oyster Art Project Space)
‘‘Slow Jamz Till Midnight’’, Christina Pataialii (Blue Oyster Art Project Space)
''Slow Jamz Till Midnight'', Christina Pataialii (Blue Oyster Art Project Space)

''Slow Jamz Till Midnight'', by Christina Pataialii, is one of two exhibitions running concurrently at Blue Oyster, with Natasha Matila-Smith's ''In the Flesh'' in the gallery's second space.

Although this review will focus primarily on Pataialii's exhibition, there are thematic and formal elements that link the two shows in perhaps unanticipated ways. It is difficult to do abstraction well, but Patailalii's paintings are assured. She manages to make balance look unintentional and effortless; particularly in the large, square, stretched canvases.

Balance here is code for harmony, even though a scruffy, blue, not-quite-square in the left upper corner of one painting is balanced by an interlocking form in black outline superimposed over a light grey scumble. The grey shape reaches into the blue, or the blue square encompasses the grey trunk.

This interplay of weights: of colour, shape, line, and texture, creates indeterminate spaces of connection. Patailalii conjures the hyphen in in-between. Smaller unstretched works hang from the wall like skin. They bear fleeting gestures in black line: love hearts that could be birds, vertical stripes, a possible ampersand, fluffy clouds.

Pataialii maximises the adrift quality of the unstretched canvases with these lighter, conversational motifs. These message skins are interspersed amongst the larger, square, stretched canvases as if in dialogue. Uncertain perhaps of how the listener will respond to the live shout-out over the Slow Jamz Till Midnight airwaves.


Pink Flamingo 2, A Pool is not the Ocean, Louisa Afoa.
Pink Flamingo 2, A Pool is not the Ocean, Louisa Afoa.
''A Pool is not the Ocean'' Louisa Afoa (Dunedin Public Art Gallery - Rear Window)

A small, suburban swimming pool is not the ocean, but Louisa Afoa's two-channel video almost makes you believe it could be. Or this particular pool. Or more specifically this person: that Afoa could make the pool into the ocean. How? Through her consummate performance of fully occupying her own body.

''A Pool is not the Ocean'' is highly cinematic. The work's central image is Afoa reclining on a large, pink, inflatable swan. On the left-hand monitor Afoa rocks gently on the swan in a tropical, leafy backyard. There is no pool. This wind-ruffled scene is juxtaposed with Afoa reclining on the same swan in a small, bright blue swimming pool on the right hand monitor.

In both scenes Afoa alternates between reclining, eyes closed, and looking directly at the viewer she foresees. By looking directly at the anticipated viewer Afoa shifts the direction of the gaze, and therefore the dynamic of the set up. It is the viewer who becomes the object of Afoa's gaze, and her boredom when she closes her eye on you.

''A Pool is not the Ocean'' can be read as an act of self-sovereignty against the colonial (and arguably on-going) objectification of Pacific Island woman. Afoa's work, however, feels more powerful than merely looking back. Through her presentation of contained self-possession Afoa has gone beyond the script.

-By Robyn Maree Pickens

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