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February 28, 2016 | by  | in Visual Arts |
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The Things We Miss

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On finding an unexpected moment of intimacy at the cool art party that is Julian Dashper and Friends.

If you have already been to see the City Gallery Wellington’s latest group show—Julian Daspher and Friends (on until May 15)— you may have come across a small piece of text. But probably not. Almost everyone I have spoken to who has attended the show has missed it. The exhibition focuses on the late Julian Dashper and a star-studded list of his friends, influences, students, and contemporaries. The majority of the work is conceptual and abstract. Curator Robert Leonard admits freely in the exhibition catalogue, “Daspher’s work was full of in jokes. For outsiders, it could seem dry and arcane.” Even as somewhat of an ‘insider’, the show feels a bit like being in the midst of a very-cool-party where you know no one.

Amongst the loud, well dressed, witty, and aloof party go-ers (slash artworks), I found something that surprised me—a small (A6) invitation, printed on creamy paper, with tiny inky text, mounted on a badly installed floating white shelf, at an awkward height, on a large white wall. From certain angles it blends away, easy to miss around the other works in the space. It is presented with very little context and no explanatory note, unlike the rest of the works in the show. Apparently it was forgotten during installation, only to be reinstated a few days post-opening after an eagle eyed host noticed the discrepancy. What can I say…all this made it all the more endearing.

The slip of card is an invitation to attend an exhibition at Teststrip, an Auckland based artist run space active in the mid 90’s. Dashper takes over the particulars of the invitation, filling the space with a proposition/request; to forgo the public ritual of an opening, the party, the banter, the networking, the free wine…for something more intimate. To spend the hour from 6.00pm–7.00pm on the day of the opening “developing with [a loved one] a deeper level of communication, vulnerability, openness and conscious nurturing of the relationship. It turns the opening from an art world game, into an intimate performance for two. As he has done throughout his career, Dashper works the line between tongue-in-cheek and absolute sincerity. He simultaneously pokes fun at the gallery and the rituals that make it exclusive, whist inviting an intimate, sincere response.

This isn’t the only piece of ephemera-turned-art in the show. Dashper often appropriated collateral material from the art’s signage, advertising, packaging material, documentation, and hanging mechanisms. Directly next to the inconspicuous exhibition invitation, hangs an enormous banner which shouts JULIAN DASHPER AT NO.5 GALLERY, an absurdly grand gesture created for a show in a relatively small space in Auckland. The proximity of the tiny invitation and the banner was perfect, each intensifying the other’s difference in scale and intention. One work shouts from the rooftop, with an expensive and indulgent banner calling all attention to the artist as brand, the artist as hero. In the other, he turns any focus away from the gallery, the artist, the artwork, and the ‘scene’, asking the audience to find meaning in the intimate, the personal, and the private.  

What’s on this week: The Performance Arcade, Wellington Waterfront, 2–6 March.


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