Art Seen: October 12

In this week's Art Seen, Robyn Maree Pickens looks at an exhibition curated by Holly Aitchison, and works by Blaine Western and Nichola Shanley.

‘‘Let me know by next week’’, curated by Holly Aitchison.
‘‘Let me know by next week’’, curated by Holly Aitchison.
‘‘Let me know by next week’’, curated by Holly Aitchison (Blue Oyster Art Project Space)

Blue Oyster director Chloe Geoghegan, artist and educator Holly Aitchison, and the six artists involved in ''Let me know by next week'' have together forged an exemplary model of collaborative practice, which has resulted in a group exhibition of striking originality.

Following a proposal by Aitchison to Blue Oyster, Saskia Leek, Ed Ritchie and Desi Liversage worked with Darryl Breen, Heather Jarvis and Kellie Shaw over a period of months at Art Space, which, run by IDEA Services, provides art services for adults with intellectual disabilities.

Aitchison, an educator at Art Space was motivated by the quality of her students' work to seek a broader audience for it, and Blue Oyster was able to facilitate an exchange that successfully manages to encompass able and disabled artists, without co-opting or instrumentalising the latter.

At the micro level of collaborative art making, it is the sensitivity and respect of painter Leek, who worked with painter and drawer Breen, emerging artist Ritchie with poet and zine maker Jarvis, and textile artist Liversage with Shaw, who together have created vibrant textile sculptures, bold drawings of animals, planets and faces with unique colour lineation, and refreshingly raw poetry and collages.

Blaine Western’s ‘‘Grammars’’ exhibition.
Blaine Western’s ‘‘Grammars’’ exhibition.
‘‘Grammars’’, Blaine Western (Dunedin Public Art Gallery)

With ''Grammars'', Blaine Western has enacted a series of precise, multilayered interventions at all levels of art institutional practice: interventions that simultaneously provoke exquisite formal and experiential relations between the exhibited works.

On display in the Sargood gallery, Western's most immediate intervention for those familiar with the space is architectural. Partitioning walls have been removed to expose four columns around which freestanding walls are newly arranged.

The old floor markings retained by Western act as lingering architectural traces, and as formal, relational designations for other works in the exhibition.

A photograph depicting a glimpse of a leg from the knee down relates to a handcrafted chair into which the viewer must bend their knees to sit, which in turn triangulates with a photograph of a wax model of the famous Wrestlers sculpture, in which the combatants are bent, tangled in struggle. Western's careful juxtapositions provide many similar revelations.

The artworks in ''Grammars'' are not by Western, although he has directly intervened (with permission) in one instance by reconfiguring a work by The Estate of L. Budd.

With other works, Western creates new conceptual and experiential moments by displaying works differently (particularly the bracelets on either side of a freestanding wall), and by so doing he raises engaging questions around institutional collecting and authorship.

‘‘Spirit Jars’’ by Nichola Shanley.
‘‘Spirit Jars’’ by Nichola Shanley.
‘‘Spirit Jars’’, Nichola Shanley (Brett McDowell Gallery)

The most prosaic sounding statement one can make about Nichola Shanley's exhibition of sculptural vessels is that they can hold water - which indeed they can.

But to appreciate the incongruity of this statement you must see these strange and utterly captivating vessels in the flesh.

Imagine towers and urns covered with giant spores, wreaths, barnacled seaweed; hybrid human-animal entities with simian faces, leonine faces, griffins, the Green Man of architectural ornamentation; skull and crossbones, and all manner of surface decoration resembling amoebic squiggles, indentations, striated lines.

It is this very exuberance of surface adornment, and the family resemblance of adapted motifs and forms, that nonetheless unites each character into this otherworldly community.

Inside the very base of Bones from the Port with its scaly interior, lies the archaeological remains of a skeleton, while Keepsake wears a chain of skulls interspersed with large owl eyes on the outside.

Other vessels are loaded up with unexpected protrusions that variously resemble a theatre stage box, the prow of a boat, or a pool to hold libations.

To these life-spawning surfaces, Shanley has applied a variety of clay slips, glazes and lustres that illuminate a face, a heraldic motif or swim wetly over coils of seaweed.

Shanley has wrought a compelling anarchy against the smooth porcelain surface.

-By Robyn Maree Pickens

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