Everyone Talks to Everyone at Dowse

MARK AMERY
Last updated 05:00 31/03/2013
Dowse
SEDUCTIVE SELECTION: Alvie McKree's The (f)utility of belief and (re)housing of ideology, 2011, at Dowse Art Museum.

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The other weekend, I attended White Night at the Auckland Arts Festival. For this gargantuan city-wide event, dealer galleries and institutions stayed open late.

There were hundreds of accompanying free public events, substantial backing from business, free public transport, and the streets were full of public art and people. Lots of people. There's a carnivalesque magic to it all.

It was a delight then to attend the Big Day Dowse at the Dowse Art Museum in Lower Hutt last Sunday.

The museum and its neighbouring park were packed with people of all ages, enjoying music, food and art.

One thing I really like about these events is how everyone is on the same level. Gallery staff in their T-shirts muck in, sharing the experience as part of one big community.

I was particularly impressed with the engagement of a wide range of people with the exhibition by curatorial intern Ane Tonga, aptly titled Everyone Talks to Everyone.

This group exhibition combines a wide range of work from emerging and established artists working across art and design. This is a pretty standard curatorial premise currently, but it was the intimacy and elegance of the conversations Tonga set up that was so engaging.

The gallery was darkened and comfortable, suggestive of a domestic living-room. This was heightened by the work selected: Niki Hastings-McFall's plastic- flower-covered chair and ashtray, for example, near Michael Parekowhai's photograph of a flower arrangement, and Sean Kerr's flickering lamp with Facebook on a MacBook on a desk, taking on a viral life of its own.

Each served the room itself: one of those living-rooms housing that eclectic range of objects and decoration that make up a peculiarly personal portrait.

Central is an installation by Alvie McKree at the far end. It's a darkened grotto full of handmade and appropriated objects of many different cultural sources, arranged with the kind of shrine- like bling people often employ for things we hold of symbolic value.

An overdressed gothic fantasia, complete with large gilt frames, it melds excess cheapness with reverence - guaranteed to appeal to those from Boganville. As a whole, it was too decorative for my tastes, but certainly seductive.

A particularly nice pairing is works by Sofia Tekela-Smith and Fiona Pardington. Tekela-Smith's slim black bust sculpture makes personal, through adornment, the archetypal domestic exotica of the silhouette of a black person. Pardington's photograph is of a black plaster life cast of the head of a Samoan chief, Tou Taloa, made in 1839 by the French. In their elegant reappropriation, both have a grace and peace about them.

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Typeface, a work by Maila Urale (with Johann Nortje), provides a physical conversation between visitor and artwork.

As White Night bore out, there's quite a lot of this kind of digital art around - your movement effecting the abstraction before you on a screen. Much I find banal and a little empty, but Typeface successfully turns viewer into dancer. It gets you thinking and feeling with your body.

Inspired by Polynesian tattoo designs, Urale uses the punctuation marks to be found on your keyboard for her patterns, suggestive of a coded conversation, and reminiscent of Len Lye's handmade painted film work.

The viewer appears as a purple silhouette within the mesh, their presence activating some irresistible audio beats.

As for White Night, there's no reason why this programme wouldn't, with some big-picture vision, work marvellously in Wellington.

THE DETAILS

Everyone Talks to Everyone, Dowse Art Museum until June 9

- The Dominion Post

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