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City Gallery Opening of Simon Starling -In Speculum and Shigeyuki Kihara -Culture For SaleOn the final day of my vis­it to Bris­bane last Octo­ber, I per­suaded my sis­ter Lucy to drive me to the Insti­tute of Mod­ern Art (IMA) in For­tune Val­ley. It was only Octo­ber but already boil­ing hot. The IMA, with its guar­an­teed air-con­di­tion­ing, seemed liked a per­fect refuge from the heat. And so it was that we found ourselves at In Spec­u­lum, an exhib­i­tion of work by Scot­tish artist Simon Starling.

Lucy was a good sport and looked at everything with me, but both of us struggled to make sense of what exactly we were look­ing at. Cur­at­or Robert Leonard’s essay in the cata­logue sums it up with its title, “Please explain”.

There were a couple of works that we enjoyed for the sheer pleas­ure of their object-ness — Wil­helm Noacke oHG (2006) and Three White Desks (2008–09). Wil­helm Noacke oHG (2006) is a pro­ject­or in the shape of a spir­al stair­well that plays only one thing: Starling’s film his­tory of the eponym­ous Ger­man met­al fab­ric­at­or firm, which had con­nec­tions to the Bauhaus, inter­na­tion­al mod­ern­ism and — strange to put it in the same sen­tence — the Third Reich. Archiv­al pho­to­graphs and foot­age from the work­shop doc­u­ment the engin­eer­ing com­pany, which built the pro­ject­or. It’s a self-ref­er­en­tial business.

Three White Desks (2008–09), on the oth­er hand, ref­er­ences one of those side­bar art his­tor­ies. The main char­ac­ters in this story are Fran­cis Bacon and Patrick White. You’ll have to vis­it the show to read how it goes, but suf­fice it to say, the desks are stunning.

Back in Wel­ling­ton with the bene­fit of attend­ing Starling’s slightly daffy artist’s talk, I looked at the exhib­i­tion more closely at City Gal­lery and watched the two 30-minute films — Pro­ject for a Mas­quer­ade (Hiroshi­ma) (2010) and Black Drop (2012). Set in a 35mm edit­ing suite, the lat­ter tells a sci­ence story pro­pos­ing that 19th-cen­tury astro­nomers and pho­to­graph­ers try­ing to cap­ture the trans­it of Venus inven­ted cinema. There are plenty of ins and outs, of course, but it’s a good story.

Pro­ject for a Mas­quer­ade (Hiroshi­ma), on the oth­er hand, is a true story obfus­cated by a fic­tion. It lays a real-life James Bond-style art story over the char­ac­ters of tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese Noh play. What you see as a view­er is a man carving the char­ac­ter masks for the play — one each for James Bond, Col­on­el Sanders, Enrico Fermi, Joseph Hirsh­horn, Henry Moore and Anthony Blunt. So what begins as a story about Henry Moore’s Nuc­le­ar Energy/Atom Piece (1942) turns into an exer­cise of mask­ing and obscur­ing. It’s all deeply curious.

Starling’s works are built from the story up — and these stor­ies are based on research, the pro­cess of mak­ing the work, and the rela­tion­ships involved in both of these endeav­ours. They often high­light the present-ness of his­tory. But the artist also favours cer­tain stor­ies with a ‘Boy’s Own’ feel of explor­a­tion and dis­cov­ery. In Spec­u­lum provides some of the stor­ies of Starling’s recent adven­tures with art and his­tory in the Anti­podes and runs at the City Gal­lery until 18 May.

Starling_Wilhelm Noack_high res copy


May Art

Meridi­an Lines: Con­tem­por­ary Art from Te Papa is on at Pataka in Pori­rua until 25 May. It was cur­ated for the open­ing of the refur­bished China Art Museum in Shang­hai last year and fea­tures work by Bill Ham­mond, Ral­ph Hotere, Ani O’Neill, Michael Parekow­hai, John Pule, Yuk King Tan and Gor­don Wal­ters. It includes one of my favour­ite works by Yuk King Tan, Untitled (Red Masks) (1998). Anoth­er must-see is Shi­gey­uki Kihara’s Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?, a series of stun­ning black and white pho­to­graphs, also on show at Pataka until 25 May.[/info]

Mary-Jane Duffy

Mary-jane is a Paekakariki-based poet and essayist, and FishHead's art columnist. She teaches poetry and academic writing on the Whiyireia Creative Writing programme, torturing students with half-rythmes and pantoums, zombie haiku, and line breaks, referencing and structure. Duffy has a background in museum and gallery work, making a lucky escape from the basement of the City Gallery Wellington in 2002 and opening the Mary Newtown Gallery with Paula Newtown in 2004. Art (across all the disciplines) feels like the closest thing she has to religious experiences - seeing, reading or hearing things that make her brain fizz.

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