archivedestruct: New Plymouth
Govett-Brewster Art Gallery
13 May - 11 June, 2006



Aaron Kreisler, NZ Listener, July 1-7, 2006

How to be surprised in New Plymouth.

Having visited the Govett-Brewster a couple of times in the past month, I have had the opportunity to catch a couple of its quick turn-around projects. The first, David Clegg: Archivedestruct, was in a number of respects familiar territory. An earlier version had appeared at Litmus – a research initiative that comes out of Massey University and of which I am a member. I have also written extensively on Clegg’s art practice, so I brought more than a few preconceptions with me into this installation.

Archivedestruct was laid out across three wood veneer tables and surrounded by eight well-used nondescript vinyl chairs, an ensemble that receded into the terracotta tiled floor – especially when you looked down into this gallery from one of the many other viewing levels. This is not simply a chance result: these props had been carefully selected for their utilitarian, ubiquitous and chameleon-like quality-think et al, but without the added layer of information or grey for artful effect. The tables and chairs were a necessary device that would easily return to their former functions in the everyday realm at the end of the show.

Conversely, what was on display or, to be more precise, made accessible on the tables was a series of audio and photographic files of New Plymouth that had been collected, edited and collated by the artist. For the duration of the exhibition Clegg produced a series of recordings of generic urban locales such as cafés, bus stops, waterfronts and arcades. Despite the seemingly mundane nature of these public spaces, there was something compelling about them once installed, as this framework provided an important distance from the original source while the archival system focused the nuances of each recording.

In certain respects, Archivedestruct is an absurdist game, but at another level it seems to be presenting a way to understand/see our world not as a series of random effects that impact on us, but a stream of events to engage with directly. What is fascinating about this experience is that this artist makes us aware of the processes that shape the way we navigate, evaluate and understand the seemingly simplest interactions – it is the slippages between image and audio excerpts that for a moment allows us to witness our own “foreignness” in what is familiar terrain. New Plymouth becomes exotic for even its own inhabitants.

If there is a certain dryness to the delivery and formality of Clegg’s artwork, the same cannot be said of Leonie Smith’s Version 1. In Smith’s hands the same gallery space is transformed into a strange viewing contraption. Participants are encouraged to either select from a series of oddly formed head apparatuses and enter the maze-like installation or literally put their head in the wall so that they can watch others traverse the exhibition space. In both cases the viewer is being tested or placed in a vulnerable position: the headpieces are awkward, claustrophobic and nearly impossible to navigate with and the porthole-like incisions in the wall completely dislocate the head from the body – so one is left kneeling or standing in the gallery thoroughfare while fully immersed in this dysfunctional wonderland. In this respect Version 1 sets up various junctures to experience the work, but they all share a playful if not disturbing interest in dislocating the simple process of observation.

In a number of ways Version 1 is an inversion of Archivedestruct. It is slightly raw in its presentation, theatrical in its treatment and even whimsical in its effects – particularly the wearable camera obscura. But having said this, it is completely comfortable in this terrain as these are not the results of chance but the designs of an acutely aware artist – they share a quiet and determined belligerence that defines Clegg’s practice. In both there are deeper strategies at play that seek to engage or isolate the underlying fundamentals of the gallery-going experience – perception, corporeity and human cognition. Yet again, the Govett-Brewster provides the element of surprise.