Francis Upritchard was the deserving winner of the Walters Prize, but she might have been pipped at the post if Peter Robinson’s Ack, rather than his Humours, had been in competition. Bursting Artspace’s seams, Ack delivers the punch that the Humours promised. Literally: there’s a hole in the wall where Robinson’s enormous polystyrene blocks have bashed through. The sheer chunky size of the work awes, in spite of its throwaway medium.
Ack is a conglomeration of amorphous white landscape-creatures, with blue accents that mimic ducks’ bills or spatulate surfboards. There’s a cartoon-like violence implicit in the awkward creatures, their relationship to one another, the room and the viewers, who have to worm their way around the omnipresent work. The ducks’ bills bring to mind Wittgenstein’s duck-rabbit perception problem, but Robinson’s ducks are more delinquent than clever, and more Howard the Duck than Dr Seuss; there’s a definite sense of debauchery, even in this pristine white environment. Ack is like being on an acid trip in a polar-bear enclosure. It doesn’t seem to mean anything beyond its own thingness, and that’s Ack’s greatest strength. Robinson’s shapes are big, dumb and intensely satisfying.
Also positively experiential, Martin Creed’s Work No 329: Half the air in a given space, at Michael Lett Gallery, couldn’t fail to charm with its room full of pink balloons. On the opening night, children of all ages frolicked in the pink. Balloons popped and many floated onto the streets; mums in cars snaffled balloons for deserving kiddies at home. Though one friend lamented more rubber in K Rd’s gutters, most were excited by the generosity of spirit such a simple event unleashes. Certainly, it was fresher than the supposed attempts by Creed to be “real” at his Auckland Art Gallery auditorium appearance. Combining guitar and harmonica with pot-plant mutilation and a video of people vomiting, Creed’s presentation felt tame and rehearsed. The balloons, by contrast, are as new as their locations and participants.
Also on the experiential tip, Phil Dadson has a video retrospective at the St Paul St Gallery. Works 1971-2006 is a broad survey, from the simplicity of Breath to various complex studies in rhythm and movement. Dadson’s aural acuity shines, not least in his opening-night performance, which featured two piano accordions on ropes being winched above the audience’s heads. In an echoing atrium, the hee-hawing accordions danced like hyperactive grubs, possessing a freshness sadly missing from Creed’s stale repartee.
But enough about the big boys. Recently, Auckland has suffered the loss of two artist-run spaces, Canary on K Rd and Special on Customs St. Though I rarely made it off the beaten path to their shows and, sadly, never commemorated them in print, I enjoyed knowing they were there at the coalface of contemporary art.
Canary was famous for the serendipitous name of one of its founders – James Wallace – and so they held their own annual Wallace Awards. Wallace was known for inventions – backyard rockets and paint cannons. Among a series of performances, Kah Bee Chow cooked and served noodles and afforded visitors the opportunity to type messages for insertion into bottles, later floated in Auckland’s fountains.
Chow also had a memorable recent show at Special, featuring tradescantia snaking from ventilation shafts, and a giant circular hole in the wall (this became the perfect frame for the final show’s selection of artists’ favourite books).
There are still artist-run spaces in Auckland, including the longest-running of all, Rm 103, also on Customs St. My last trip there involved a pleasant encounter with a hanging silk parachute and doctored slide machines making rotating psychedelic wallpaper.
Even further under the radar, the dep_art_ment window in the Miss Crabb boutique on Ponsonby Rd is full of surprises. Last month, Fiona Connor, a bright spark who has just left these shores for postgraduate study at UCSD, exhibited a perfect replica of Miss Crabb’s doors. The visual doubletake was disconcerting, and the craftsmanship, as usual with Connor’s replicas, was stunning. Despite some galleries closing their doors, the energy level of young Auckland artists is high and climbing, keeping the rest of us on our toes.