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Southside Arts Festival

: Thou Shalt Not Art on Sundays

Tuesday 01 November 2011
Words Spindle

Thou Shalt Not Art on Sundays is an exhibition of artworks made – and curated – by recent graduates from Manukau Institute of Technology.

The group’s rationale trades with a catchy opening gambit: “To explore the role of fear through art making.” Given the gallery’s own history as a church and in the absence of anything but this crisp rallying point, my mind conjured graphic images of stock horror-film nature. Should I credit this to the approach of Halloween or my inherent jitters in entering places of worship? Perhaps both; though the former is easy to dismiss in this instance. Hours of daylight increase during an Australasian October. The character of All Hallow’s Eve is significantly eroded with the presence of blossom, daffodils and a steadily-warming clime. It hardly smacks of a Carpenter or Craven.

On initial reflection the topic of fear seems an unlikely stablemate for the Uxbridge Creative Centre: an unassuming white chapel, sited along a palm-lined road in the sleepy Auckland suburb of Howick. The arts centre was founded in 1981 when the council purchased the recently vacated Uxbridge Presbyterian Church. Despite changing hands, the building still retains much of its religious flavour and, let’s face it, the connotations of a spire are hard to diminish. Given its conspicuous original function, this gallery space presents an apt context and crucible for the graduates’ thematic pursuits.

In actuality the exhibition was, well… colourful. Entering the space via the original doorway and descending among the tiered rows that formally housed the pews, visitors are immediately hit by several distinct arrangements. Four vivid artworks that deal a confident hand in luminosity line the walls and occupy the steps. Looking up, your gaze is drawn to the stage at the furthest end of the space by Deborah Crowe’s large gild-framed print (announcing – with a delicious lack of timidity – in stitched lettering “The Power and the Glory”). Crowe’s provocative sentiment acts as altarpiece to an odd sculpture by Richard Orjis; a vaguely wreath-shaped candle-holder comprised of misshapen clay arms splaying outward from a wooden pole.

This compositional compliance with the space’s past sharpens the effect. Resultantly, the reverent qualities of the church interior wield a transformative power over the array of shapes and forms on show. Many of the pieces begin to suggest themselves as talismanic objects, imbued with a new understanding of the symbolic or holy. Amy Potenger’s collaged patterns commute as such in this context. Her geometric forms, constructed from fashion magazine clippings of models’ hair and inspired by native-American designs, begin to suggest forms of ritualistic or Masonic function.

It is fitting that Potenger’s work bends so easily to the hand played by its surroundings. Speaking about her methodology, she revealed an openness about their conception – “a themeless genesis” – that allows space for the viewer to attribute their own readings onto them. Further discussion drew out an interesting philosophy; a kind of indifference by design. Speaking about the titles of her collages, Potenger allowed a brief glimpse into her deliberately-removed role as artist. “They’re all named using episode titles from Weeds” she admitted coyly.

She was less causally-indefinite when talking about the show’s theme, something fellow-curator Laura Robertson reaffirmed. “Fear is a huge catalyst in what we are doing” Robertson explained, taking stock of her own practice and those of her peers since graduating a year ago. It’s a faultless mandate: who isn’t afraid of leaping into the unknown?

This idea of fear appears suffused with the topic of religion. “Art can seem like a religion,” continued Robertson, briefly channelling Damien Hirst who has been insisting the same for years, “Artists need to be ritualistic.”

Given such devout engagements to their craft, it is perhaps unsurprising that, for some, the act of talking about their practice seemed more akin to a stint on a psychiatrist’s coach than the usual banter and patter of a private view. “I am nervous about showing what I make” admitted artist and curator Elena-Jean Scott. For Scott, this exhibition demonstrates quite a remove for her practice. Utilizing the fear she experiences in showing her work, she has imposed a rigid ruling on herself to photograph the small-scale sculptures she makes and show the images only.

I pointed out to Elena that, in a perverse way, she was showing more of her work than before. The images are larger in scale and show the work in more detail than would normally be discernable by the naked eye. This distortion has clearly hit a nerve. “I know!” she laughed, “It annoys the shit out of me! I love colour, I love scale, and not having the objects here really frustrates me.”

The artists have managed to cultivate a nicely objective response to their brief. This is illustrated perfectly in the exhibition’s name. Referencing God’s commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy, the directive turns out to be little more than a cheeky nod toward the gallery’s opening hours (it is closed on Sundays). The show is infused throughout with this sort of nonchalant and breezy intelligence, allowing the art to speak on a platform aloof from the outrage occassionally sparked by religious mimicry.

Thou Shalt Not Art On Sundays is open until 16th November. Monday – Friday 9am – 4pm, Saturday 9.30am – 2pm at Malcolm Smith Gallery, Uxbridge Creative Centre,Howick.

Todd Atticus