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It is good and okay to be very sincere. In her essay on awkwardness, Elif Batuman charts the latter half of the 20th century as a collapse into irony; from capitalism as Christian morality in the ’50s, to countercultural resistance in the ’60s, moral bankruptcy in the ’70s, to capitalism as faith unto itself in the ’80s, to the vague disingenuousness of the ’90s. We are living now, according to Batuman, in irony’s wake. And it expresses itself ungracefully.
There’s a perverse comfort in situating my own social ineptitude within a wider historical narrative. But this isn’t about me (he lied).
The Peter McLeavey Gallery lacked nothing in sincerity. It lacked, rather, the self-confidence to commit to its own project. It so insistently advertised itself as belonging to somewhere else. The descriptor of “industrial, New York style” gallery felt a little embarrassing. As if everyone involved still considered themselves parochial in relation to the metropole. And we do, but that’s not the point. The point is that, to a degree, they were right. Spaces like that – high-ceilinged, wide, airy, concrete-floored spaces – don’t really exist in Wellington.
Consider This an Offering takes place in such a space. The exhibition, which is being staged by four final-year Massey students, describes itself as a “playground for mindfulness” and features four installation works as well as a screening room displaying video work.
At the opening, about three drinks in, I made a note on my phone which read, “David Koch’s sponsorship of the Met is not killing art. Pirate costumes, tie-dyed baggy pants, and animal pants ruin art.” Provided one enters the exhibition at the right time, one is first met with projectiles, bouncy balls, ricocheting off the ground, the walls, other bodies. For all its playful violence, Louise Rutledge’s piece operates most effectively as an interrogation of public space and its uses. The piece’s most interesting element is not its tactile nature, nor in the negation of the commodified art object in the presentation of something so easily dissolvable (and stealable, not that I did), but the ways in which interaction with the object, and the object’s relation to the space, is mediated by one’s comfort in the space. Hence the pirate-costume man, and the tie-dye-pant man, both of whom seemed so jubilous in their attacks by virtue, perhaps, of their existing eccentricity. Rutledge’s object does encourage the momentary dissolution of social order, yes, but it does so in a way that reveals the ways in which breakdown is mediated by gender, by costume, by an awareness of other bodies in a space, and by the lack of awareness of one’s own among others.
Ruby Joy Eade’s billboards, as an anthropological exercise in scavenging disembodied text from break-up forums, can be hostile. There’s a risk that their presence in the gallery space is malicious, ironic, a snide laugh at an abstract other without the right of reply. I choose to believe, however, that there is nothing disingenuous about them. (Full disclosure: I may be biased; I’m friends with the artist’s friends. Ruby and I once yelled at each other at a party. I think about Adorno, or my iPhone. I can’t remember.) They position themselves closer to Miranda July, Jenny Holzer and Koki Tanaka’s unapologetic earnest faith in humanity. There’s something almost invasive in their banality. The profound sadness of decontextualised clichés – “take me back”, “i feel lost and confused”, “it’s tough seeing him so cold” – from a speaker both incorporeal and undeniably present. Eade has previously sewn phrases to garments in op-shop changing rooms, and erected billboards next to election campaigns. All contexts alarm, but in different ways. In a gallery, they offer a sense of the uncanny, born from the ambiguity of the text’s source; it’s unclear whether they act on the presumption of universality, or in the conquest of pathos towards an absent speaker.
The other two works in the show operate both architecturally and ritually. On one side, Elisabeth Pointon’s piles of salt arranged in a circle (the remnants of a performance I missed); on the other, a large sandpit with a rake presented by Robbie Whyte. They’re quieter than the other works, allowing for meditation in the small rearrangements of existing objects. Accompanying the exhibition is a selection of books and zines from Art Print Space, relics of the artists’ research process. The exhibition, more than anything else, is generous, not just for its invitation to participate, but in the ways the works correspond with each other, and the ways in which the additional content provides many different points of entry simultaneously.
PS I rearranged your books so that Alain de Botton was hidden from view. Love your work, sorry.
Consider This an Offering is on display at 24 Marion St until 24 September.