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Yvonne Todd molvah prayful one from Christians 2007I was in a grey mood the after­noon I vis­ited Yvonne Todd’s Creamy Psy­cho­logy exhib­i­tion at City Gal­lery (on until 1 March). In the back­ground of my day, a lov­er was play­ing stu­pid games, and the wind and rain, unabated for days, made everything annoy­ing. I felt depressed and fed up.

The pho­to­graph­ic images in the West Gal­lery mirrored my feel­ings. On the walls, rows of women with dis­ap­poin­ted faces looked dis­il­lu­sioned and bit­ter. The Bel­levue series on one side of the gal­lery, actu­al por­traits of cos­met­ic sales reps, faced across the room to the fic­tion­al Sea of Tran­quil­lity works — the air of vul­ner­ab­il­ity and sad­ness in the ‘real’ por­traits amped up to hope­less­ness and pain in the fic­tion­al ones. None of the women smiles. I moved to the next room.

Here, along­side the child beauty queen series, were some of my favour­ite Todds: Advan­cia, Fract­oid and Envy Log. Wheel­chairs and crutches dom­in­ate with strange glam­our. I read the text pan­el. In her child­hood, Todd had been envi­ous of the atten­tion the dis­abled receive. A child in a wheel­chair wears a crazy wig. Des­pite myself, I smirked.

In the East Gal­lery are some oth­er favour­ites: the series based on images from Lydia of Purple, a web­site that sells “mod­est home-school­ing Chris­ti­an cloth­ing”. These girls are fant­ast­ic­ally kooky in their skinny ribs and Little House on the Prair­ie dresses. Deirdre Bar­low glasses top off the look. I was start­ing to enjoy myself.

Most artists are obsess­ive in some way. Todd’s obses­sions date back to her child­hood. Upstairs in the North Gal­lery, dis­play cases filled with eph­em­era cata­logue these obses­sions and provide the back story for the works. There are sketch­books and Play­boy magazines, Jac­queline Susann nov­els, 1960s Vogue pat­terns and a let­ter from Auck­land Hos­pit­al invit­ing Todd to an appoint­ment to dis­cuss her eat­ing dif­fi­culties. On the walls of the gal­lery are pho­to­graphs by Diane Arbus, Bernd and Hilla Bech­er, Mor­ton Bart­lett and Mike Dis­farm­er — mak­ing Todd’s influ­ences clear.

The friend I was with wondered if this con­tex­tu­al mater­i­al took some of the magic away. I liked it. It filled in some gaps. The pho­to­graph of six-year-old Todd with the inscrip­tion “a very spe­cial young lady with bucked teeth and dan­deli­on ears” made sense of all the por­traits of bucked-teeth girls in the exhibition.

By this time my mood had trans­formed. I was upstairs in the South Gal­lery, look­ing at the Seahorse series, when I received anoth­er text from the trouble­some one. I ignored it. The work, based on Martha Graham’s inter­pret­ive dance, seemed to give me per­mis­sion to. Mel­an­choly women prance in flesh-col­oured body­suits — is this what I’d become? A cipher of a woman? It was time to say good­bye. And I haven’t men­tioned the design­er dresses. Don’t miss the exhib­i­tion. Really.


Feb­ru­ary Art

Pos­sibly Wellington’s smal­lest exhib­i­tion space is the Turn­bull Gal­lery in the Alex­an­der Turn­bull Lib­rary, on level one of the Nation­al Lib­rary. It turns over a reg­u­lar pro­gramme of inter­est­ing exhib­i­tions cur­ated by lib­rary staff. A Child’s War — words and pic­tures from World War I (until 27 Feb­ru­ary) is the cur­rent one. It con­tains pho­to­graphs, books, let­ters, a slide show of images and draw­ings from the Turn­bull col­lec­tion that doc­u­ment the way chil­dren were per­suaded about, and enlis­ted in, the war effort.[/info]

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About 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.

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.