City Gallery Wellington – May 2013

My recent weekend of visiting the Capital’s galleries included a trip to the City Gallery Wellington. There were five shows in the various galleries and I wiled away a happy few hours as each had its merit.

Moving on Asia: Towards a New Art Network, 2004-2013 is an initiative by the City Gallery to show video work by young Asian artists from Gallery LOOP in Seoul. Divided into three one month-long exhibitions, I saw the third one entitled Who Cares About the Future? It was an extensive show of 17 video works taking up all the ground floor galleries.

Often testing the assumptions about Asian culture, but also sometimes playing up to them, there were a few stand-out works in the selection. I was particularly interested in the videos by Shanghai-based collective Double Fly Art Centre. The title of this third show takes its name from one of their works in which, in their nihilistic view of their future, they adopt a rebellious stance that one does not immediately associate with Asian culture. Appropriating the form of a music video, the six eccentrically and casually-clad larrikins howl their protestations against the closed-shop art world in a drunken karaoke-style institutional critique.

In a cultural critique, Ma Quisha addresses her audience directly in Mandarin telling her story of growing up in China wanting to be an artist, revealing the societal and parental pressures placed upon her, especially when funded to study fine art in the United States. In her work From No.4 Pingyusnli to No.4 Tianqiaobeili, it becomes apparent as the video progresses that her words are recited at the risk of physical pain. The catalogue explains that it “is a confession where every uttered word cuts deeply, and to speak further carries substantial risk” (1) – she removes a razor-blade from her bloodied mouth at the conclusion of the video. A powerful message not diminished by the sometimes quite comical English subtitle translations.

A big draw card for New Zealanders and visitors alike was a pleasingly curated exhibition of work by Len Lye, titled Kaleidoscope – some old favourites and some kinetic works that I had never seen in action before. The curator, Paul Brobbel, made the decision to have the whole space painted black with coloured spotlights to illuminate the works. This worked surprisingly well.

The selection of kinetic works showcases Lye’s passion for his ‘muse of motion’. I was totally captivated by the 1965 work Zebra (2009 reconstruction) which consisted of a striped rod agitated to create harmonic curves that gave the impression of a potter continually transforming clay on a wheel.


One can see how Lye’s sculptural practice informed his filmmaking and vice versa. The movement of the painted abstract shapes and scratches on the film in the the two films shown – Swinging the Lambeth Walk and Free Radicals – evoking the same embodied emotion.

Also on the first floor was a work by Glenn Hayward with the intriguing title of I don’t want you to worry about me, I have met some Beautiful People. I had first come across this artist three years ago when he won an award at the 2010 Wallace Art Awards for his well-executed and very convincing painted wooden security cameras. His work at the City Gallery, also in this vein, consisted of a perfectly crafted recreation, down to the cellotape dispenser and phone cord, of an office cubicle challenging what is real and what is an illusion. It felt a bit like one had walked into a Thomas Demand photo shoot.


PJ MacBridges, May 2013

(1) Moving on Asia: Towards a New Art Network, 2004-2013, Catalogue, Wellington City Gallery, 2013.


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