Curated by Natasha Conland, this courageous and enigmatic exhibition explores the unknown and opens up questions about the role of the artist.
The title is taken from artist Bruce Nauman's groundbreaking 1967 neon work
"The true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths".
A fresh new generation of artists has renewed the search for abstract truths. Their works play on the tension between our desire to experience the unknown and our inherent scepticism.
As part of the work by artists Mikala Dwyer, draw a tree and have your future told by a "tree reader".
The exhibition is accompanied by a comprehensive catalogue and programme including talks, films and events including an opening weekend performance by UK artist Olivia Plender.
Mikala Dwyer (Australia)
Omer Fast (Israel)
Laurent Grasso (France)
Loris Greaud (France)
David Hatcher (NZ)
Joachim Koester (Denmark)
A.P.Komen/Karen Murphy (Netherlands/Ireland)
Maria Loboda (Germany)
Liz Maw (NZ)
Annette Messager (France)
Dane Mitchell (NZ)
Bruce Nauman (USA)
Olivia Plender (UK)
Jennifer Tee (Netherlands)
Mungo Thomson (USA)
Barbara Visser (Netherlands)
Thomas Zipp (Germany)
(born 1959) Australia
How can plastic plants and branches tell the secrets of the unknown? Dwyer's materials are not divine in origin; rather, their structures are indicative of the attempt of the material world to transcend matter.
In Superstitious Scaffolding, as with many of Dwyer's sculptural installations, the viewer is compelled by the transition of recognisable, playful and even popular symbols of other worlds-spirits, ghosts, vortexes-to act as guides beyond the framework of the real. By imbuing form with belief, the emphasis shifts away from individual belief systems and onto the external world, to the arena of experimentation. In this work, the invitation is direct, as a professional medium sits within the structure ready to guide you 'into spirit'. Nonetheless, the challenge is larger than the trade in experience-our so-called rational minds, the things we use to evaluate and inform, are forced to work via the language of unreason
(born 1972) Israel/Germany
The footage in Godville was compiled from interviews Fast made with actors resident in Colonial Williamsburg-a city founded in 1699 as a model for ideal living in the new world, and today a living museum of this history and ethos. He began the interviews as if in the past, with the actors in costume and character, and then moved to the present, capturing their lived experience of this place, and their thoughts and beliefs related to contemporary existence.
The strange disjuncture of watching a woman dressed in eighteenth-century costume discussing Bush's America is further exaggerated by Fast's re-editing of the scripts and narrative. By weaving past and present together, he distorts time and place so the viewer has few ways of getting a bearing on the content and context. Reality loses hold and the result is an eerie sense of fear and confusion around the medium of documentary, and its ability to create a point of true reference.
(born 1972) France
When conversing with Laurent Grasso, he calls up an archive of facts about the paranormal which are drawn out in the hope of proving the fantastical is existant. He works with the idea that science itself might lead to a paranormal belief. Grasso has a particular interest in the science of perception, pointing out that 'neuroscience shows that when we watch something on cinema, our brain believes we are also physically involved'.
Grasso's cinematic works often distil movement down to one action slowing time so that there is a disconnection between the object on screen and the usual conventions of space and time. In Projection, an hypnotic effect is achieved through the digitisation of a simple cloud mass rolling very slowly down a street. Partly due to our expectation of the force and speed such a mass might carry, this cloud appears to defy the physics of motion. Its force comes from an immeasurable space of poetics and future probabilities.
(born 1979) France
Gréaud's objects and performances are like generators employed to shift our metaphysical condition. In the opening to his 2005 exhibition, Silence Goes More Quickly When Played Backwards, a drum kit was played continuously for three hours, activating enough power for the exhibition lighting. Gréaud's point was as much to experiment with an action that caused effect long after the music stopped...
In Topsy, Gréaud makes reference to the aberrant and anti-utilitarian history of the machine. Mechanical devices have been used throughout modernity to attempt contact with the 'other dimension' through the benefits of scientific developments. Although a newly fabricated telephone, Topsy masquerades as a melted-down device from this previous generation. However upon lifting the handset, the receiver calls up an electronic voice from the ether, whose characterless tone recites a haunting blend of 1980s pop and art house lyrics and sensibility, inviting a response: 'call me!'
(born 1973) New Zealand
is a new extension of Hatcher's project Oedipal Manouvres in the Dark. OMDbegan as an archive of drawings by philosophers, which Hatcher pushed into the context of counter-culture with his first experimentation with blotter art. Blotter art is the cult of illustrating sheets of LSD paper tabs. Hatcher borrows the form of tab-art, subjected these small philosophers' drawings to their conventions until we get a kind of Wittgenstein on acid.
Hatcher's ongoing work with the OMD archive finds affinities for these sketches with unlikely candidates from IKEA wrapping, to Mr Men books, to a baby's ceiling painting. In Om Message, he takes Wittgenstein's sketch of the human face and transfers it to the visual language of comic art and commercial sign-writers' paint. Wittgenstein is most famously renowned for his book Philosophic Investigations, which was of enormous importance to Bruce Nauman amongst others. Here Hatcher uses his simple facial outline and transposes it into a Mr Potato head character with empty speech bubbles. The mysterious genealogy of a 'man's mind' and thought is reborn to effect in the hungry language of popular culture.
(born 1962) Denmark
Joachim Koester's three-part work for Mystic Truths, is part of his ongoing artistic investigation into Occult activity. Morning of the Magicians centres around Koester's exploration of cult leader Alister Crowley's occupation of The Abbey of Thelema in Cefalù, Sicily. Crowley and a small group of devotees lived in Cefalù in the early 1920s where they lived in bleak conditions, aspiring to 'ideal life' via Crowley's version of hedonism, magic, drugs and sexual rituals. The cult group's activity was eventually shut down by Mussolini-although they were largely tolerated by locals-after the death of a member due to a fever contracted by impure drinking water. After initial public notoriety, the house and activity faded into obscurity until avant-garde film-maker Kenneth Anger uncovered the murals again to use as a film set for hisChildren of Paradise (1945).
Koester's photographic essay deploys the technical clarity of documentary realism to reveal what remains of the house and 'room of nightmares' today. However, further to his presentation of the factual remnants is the inescapable haunting of the activity which took place in this house. His film and video work extrapolate from a realist mode, proposing a further abstractions and fictional happenings in a timeless zone of the present. Koester says 'everything around us is designed to appear in a certain way... I believe most human activities leave traces in space. In one way or another, spaces are transformed by human action, and in my work I am, if you like, ghost-haunting spaces.'
A.P. KOMEN / Karen MURPHY
(born 1964 and 1968)
The Netherlands and Ireland
In Too much reality the conventions of popular television are turned on the subject of a superstitious experience-a haunted beach hut in Thailand. The story is of a group of friends who are each asked to spend a night in the hut with the camera and decide themselves whether the hut is haunted. What emerges in the meantime is soap-like narrative with character, motive and plot, and, in the end, their total story has a chaotic result. The open question is what influence has the hut had on the outcome?
The visitors to the exhibition are asked to physically inhabit the story by entering a one-to-one replica of the hut. The hut is a conduit to both the narrative and the repeat experience of superstition-the visitor has their own unwritten question to answer: are you a believer or a cynic? Our navigation of this question is forced through the conduit of sculpture and 'reality' TV-the pop-culture medium for unmediated experience.
(born 1980) Poland/Germany
Common to mystic thought is the mystery of the other world and potential state of being that resides there. Secrets are there, things that we cannot understand through everyday means. The question is: what tools, forms and practice will provide the access points? Maria Loboda plants the secrets within our reach, offering a guide or vocabulary within the known and recognisable language of decorative form-a bouquet of flowers.
By supplanting our world with the rules of the 'second world' she corrupts known logic but provides a key (if you can find it) to that eternal question-what will happen? In her works Guide to Insults and Misantropy and HE, Loboda embeds the mystics of everyday society into a simple book of colloquial expressions and bouquet of flowers based on the Victorian art of flower arranging, which communicates secret messages to the initiated. She laces the flowers in insults rather than messages of love, so that the bouquet develops a toxic bloom.
(born 1966) New Zealand
In the quiet areas of Liz Maw's paintings, you will find mysterious dusting-droplets, beads, shadows, stardust. It creeps into the shadows or sensitive parts of the body, hands, or soles of the feet, or highlights a concentrated area of symbology.
The people in her portraits are hybrids of living and symbolic characters, already part this world and part another universal order. She finesses them with techniques drawn from the displaced traditions of kitsch realism, pop culture and symbolism-drafting contemporary icons from life and affording them surreal affect. Although they are mostly universalised, her subjects are also friends, a lover, or figures she admires. They are then distilled, and offered up to myth, to the material of religious story, and to archetypal matter, some of her own invention. Maw ascribes fantasy as wielding a certain kind of power, a new order with its own reason and logic
(born 1943) France
Towards the end of the 1990s, Annette Messager's words began to get a physicality to them which exaggerated their body-big words in animated fabric, netted, stuffed and accompanied with images and objects. Messager views these words as images which evoke sound and feeling. The spidery hand of Secret refers to the mythical unknown which is ritually explored in children's stories of spiders in association with places of uncertainty.
Messager is keenly aware of what we do with language, how we make it, how we weave it into substance. She has said that all her work speaks solely about the body, yet it connects to culture through the language of myth. In 1988, Messager wrote the words 'ruse', 'secret', and 'promise' out of strands of hair which she framed and suspended. This new Secret is more playful, and less directly associated with thereal world or real meaning. It is charactered enough to be a cartoon rather than a fetish, but retains human association through its hand rendered materiality.
(born 1976) New Zealand
For Mystic Truths, Dane Mitchell pulls together devices to measure and account for the hard facts of the exhibition structure-the walls, the floor, the architecture, the storage facilities. He demarcates and amplifies them for the audience using thermometers, microphones, lights and... a good witch. In order to move beyond the physical structure and test the spiritual resonance of the space, Mitchell moves to the services of a guide, someone professionally capable of opening up a portal to the other side. It is difficult to adjust to the tone of his exploration because we assume his tests will fall short of results, so it appears as a cynical endgame. We assume his entry point is a rational overview of the irrational, yet the artist hasn't prefaced his work with a smile. The experience of the work is more foreboding and it is there that we test our assumptions.
(born 1941) United States of America
This street sign is addressed to you-pay attention. Originally made by American artist Bruce Nauman as a personalised street sign, exhibited outside his storefront studio and in direct competition all public and commercial signs. It is a sign not a sculpture, but a statement. We are used to statements of truth in advertising. Even forty years after this work was made, it is uncommon to find a proclamation of a genuine belief, in this instance that an artist can achieve the unachievable. How will you read this?
At the time that Nauman made this sign, neon was associated with the cheap and tasteless-motels, bars and beer signs. He toughened this phrase by rendering it in a once-kitsch material not in keeping with 'genuine' belief. However, the grandiose suggestion of the word 'mystic' and its contrasting neon form is both troubling and reassuring, so that we do pay attention. Greater than these together is the confusion over what the statement appears to offer-a simple solution to the nature and function of an artist's role, a working definition for the believers or sceptics.
(born 1977) United Kingdom
Olivia Plender's interest in the modern Spiritualist movement traverses into the development of the romantic movement and the position of the modern artist. Within romantic thought it was accepted that Spiritualists, like artists, were to transgress certain social norms in order to do divine inspiration.
The title for Plender's installation The Medium and Daybreak is taken directly from a nineteenth-century Spiritualist newspaper, while the contents are reconstructed materials from the People's History Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. In the context of the exhibition, they are recreated as a fictional interior of a Spiritualist church. As a museum display, these objects and stories have a renewed legitimacy not afforded to the history of spiritual movement.
The unusual happenings of spiritual encounters are further fictionalised by Plender in her comic strip The Masterpiece, which has been re-enacted in a performance forMystic Truths. Plender draws a tangible thread between this late modern performance, happenings of the late 1960s, and devices used by spirit mediums to connect audiences with the unobtainable.
(born 1973) The Netherlands
In the preamble pages of Jennifer Tee's Sao Paolo Biennale catalogue, whereCovert Entwined Heart was first exhibited, there are notes sitting in amongst the illustrations which read: 'making a sculpture out of a moment. Moment: outburst of passion in de tussenstaat. Tussenstaat: a soul in the state of limbo.' Tee's moment is pre-activity, and pre-art-making. It's a fragmented state which sends the soul into limbo-the in-between land. The sculpture, then, might be described as a form and series of actions to call back the soul and this moment of passion.
Tee's Covert Entwined Heart is the ritual form which guides us to and from limbo. Its aesthetic form takes shape according to a host of existing matter from 'our' world. this entwined heart borrows from universal totems for dance, passion and mystery-things used across cultures to signal a shift in mental and physical being. Small and enticing things like chandeliers, seed-pods, tattoos, gardens and rhythm.
(born 1969) United States of America
Bumper stickers usually support definitive beliefs, political imperatives, or non-partisan wit. But Mungo Thomson's decision to put the phrase from Bruce Nauman'sThe true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths on a bumper sticker rearranges the typical context for such statements. In its new location, the reading of the phrase is all wrong. Bumper stickers are deliberately read at face value, because in keeping with their consumption, they are absorbed in 30-second traffic bites. But this sticker is too inconcusive for traffic-light consumption.
If neon tubing was once the language of commercial culture, Thomson goes a step further by introducing Nauman's phrase into the contemporary culture of throwaway belief. Nonetheless, it is still possible to read it as a political statement-is the artist empowered in contemporary culture? Thomson's work frequently creates this kind of disorientation. Taking everyday objects and altering their prior use and context until they obtain an aura of the occult.
(born 1966) The Netherlands
Both works in the exhibition, Actor and Liar and Mystic Truth (Calling Bruce), involve kinds of searching and myth-making which interrogate the logic of an idea-rational or irrational-to conclusion. The effect of the psyche on perception has been a working problem for Barbara Visser through many aspects of her multi-disciplinary work. Visser's exploration of myth and counterfeit reality provides a platform from which to explore just how differently ideas are interpreted and explained.
In Actor and Liar, she began with the extraordinary story of a man who sold the moon. The journey finds her documenting his interview, then re-scripting it for an actor to read once as the fraudster, and once as himself. The grounds for understanding the story are completely distorted and distanced from fact, yet all of the pieces are still in place-we read character, plot, and emotion-as if we were watching the real man at the heart of the story. In Mystic Truth (Calling Bruce) is a torn-out page of a telephone book listing Bruce Nauman's phone number. The page was collected in America while Visser was travelling in New Mexico as a graduate. Not expecting this somewhat mythical figure to be listed, she backed out of calling, but retained the paper. The page retains a charge, as Visser says, because it holds the possibility of information and connection with someone admired but assumed to be absent and unavailable. Here Nauman is himself an idea, sought and subjected to the laws of unknown psyche.
(born 1966) Germany
The title Samoan Christ, like many used by Thomas Zipp for his paintings, seems to signal something obvious and evident, yet there is no personification in the image, and no place to search in history. There are not many clues in the painting, except mood as defined by colour and a clear horizon. The guide for our wondering mind is this simple landscape motif-the horizon.
Zipp's Samoa is undergoing an anarchic psychic expansion into the mind of historic Europe. In the series of paintings from which this work emerges, bombs drop in the form of pills, botanic specimens flower from scarred landscapes, explosions form the tune of futurist cries, and the faces of anonymous men in black and white photographs are given dadaist reconfigurations, crying the mechanised sounds ofeee and rrrrr and tumb. This vision of history falling back on itself rewrites one of the most imaginative moments of modern exploration-the idea that Wonderland really was somewhere in the antipodes.
- Curated by
- Natasha Conland
- New Gallery
- Free entry