Saturday, August 07, 2010

Craft, process, materials

My Ross Island. The only finalist in the NCAA that I have permission to reproduce.

I'm sure that this year's Bold Horizon National Contemporary Art Award won't cause nearly the stir that last year's did (the pile of rubbish scandal of 2009). Congratulations to Locust Jones for his papier mache orbs (swiss -ball sized, one with text the others mostly painted/drawn images) that won the Award. It's an interesting, challenging piece that will stir conversation but probably not national controversy.

The 32 finalists (selected from 280 entries) included lots of craft-based work as well as paintings and photographs. Not to mention a sound-vent almost too subtle to comprehend, certainly among a chattering crowd. And a tiny cast of an actual ant in its own little vitrine.
I loved that there was an artist's book, a woven paper print, a french knitted rosary curtain and hand spun wool bouquet. I felt the diversity of selection was a real affirmation for all of us who are crafting in contemporary art contexts.

There were so many pieces which will reward sustained attention that I look forward to going back again when it's quiet to look (and listen) long and hard, especially at some intriguing videos, contemplative paintings, and my favourite, a mountainous intricate cardboard installation by Ruth Thomas-Edmond called Heap.

The judge, Rachel Kent, of Sydney's Museum of Contemporary Art was very good at explaining her criteria for selection and I was thrilled to hear her articulate appreciation of craft, process and materiality. She likes to see evidence of hours of work, craft and skill in exectution. And although some of the finalist's work is very slick in presentation, none of it seems glib or quick or superficial.

Rachel also talked a lot about the materials, and the inherent sensuality of many surfaces, as well as the surprising transformation of mundane materials eg cardboard, rubber bands or wool blankets into evocative objects. So many of the pieces seem to invite touch and it's hard to resist the desire to stroke mauve cardboard cliffs, plunge your fingers into a pile of twisted rubber bands, brush your cheek against fluffy blooms, squeeze woollen beads, skim the shiny painted surface of the globes, stack slipcast logs or lean against the topless table legs.

It is a remarkably coherent exhibition considering the diversity of styles. The curation is exquisite, so that you are led from piece to piece in a journey that explicates many of the conversations in contemporary art. For example, you can follow a path from the tiny ant cast in paint, to a row of hanging paint spills, to a photo of sculptured paint, to the great cardboard mountain sculpture, to my small woolen volcanic island, and they all make sense together.

A number of themes, many dear to my heart, are evident including landscape, environmental concerns, repurposing used and mundane materials and domestic life and intimacy. There's lots that is also beautiful, not something to be taken for granted at all in this context. And these works are not just beautiful but also intelligent, complex and often funny as well.

In every medium there are playful pieces, so that the whole gallery has a ripple of laughter about it. Unlike the one harsh in-joke of last year's winner, this exhibition's puns and delicate surprises allow everyone in on the fun.

PS Much as I would like to post photos of the works I've talked about, they aren't my images to share. The best view of course is in real life at the Waikato Museum between now and January. But if you can't make it to the Tron, you can look at the catalogue online, and I recommend you do.


Bronwyn Lloyd said...

Thanks for the terrific write-up of the awards Meliors. It sounds like an excellent line-up of works. I'll make a special day-trip to see it soon, the added incentive being that the River Kitchen in Hamilton was recently voted NZ's best cafe. The combination of good art and good food makes for the perfect day out as far as I'm concerned.

Joan said...

Well done Meliors. I can't wait to see the exhibition. If it wasn't such a rainy day I'd have walked down ! It's a inside the cave day today with a good book! Your Ross Island looks fabulous. (I'm a bit disappointed there is nothing startling that everyone notices!LOL)