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T.J. McNamara: Snow falls on time and place

Author: T.J. McNamara 2015-10-17

Non-narrative video film illuminating some unexplored corner of life has become a significant art form. The three films by Chinese artist Yang Fudong at Auckland Art Gallery are each completely different in tone and subject.

In the stylish The Nightman Cometh the past and present are linked by winter, which always returns, rendering beauty, valour and grace transient.

Its style is stark black and white. The setting is a snowy landscape with mountains in the background, referencing traditional Chinese painting. The word for landscape in Chinese combines mountains and water. The snow is a seamless harmonising factor joining place and time.

Amid the wreckage of smashed wagon wheels stands a beautiful young woman in traditional dress. She encounters two deer and delicately feeds one of them. A wounded armoured man and his horse appear. A fugitive from battle, he thrusts his spear into the snow. It stays as a presence in what follows.

A woman in modern clothing appears, walking uncertainly in high heels. The symbolism of past, present and continuance is subtle but telling. Then an effete young man in a pure white modern suit appears. He is alone and lost.

The deer step delicately through the snow. Slender bonds between animals and humanity are established. The soldier and his horse depart. The women remain but they too are transient, unspeaking and silent. It is a tender and poetic work, visually delicate, and completed by a haunting soundtrack.

The second film, The Fifth Night, has a different, darker tone and concentrates on one place at one time seen through seven cameras. Also in black and white, it is darkness where the other was all light yet it is equally enigmatic.

The seven screens show activity looking across a film set of a Shanghai city square in 1936. The unspeaking movement in the square ranges from traditional work on an anvil to modern welding whose flashes punctuate the film. The time, established by a sign, is also hinted at by a pile of logs and a horse. Two women, possibly prostitutes, walk the pavement. Transients with suitcases appear lost. It is night but the constant activity - people, limousines and rickshaws - never stops.

This is the fascinating detail of anonymous life in the city but it goes deeper into feelings of the isolation of the individual.

The third film, New Women II, is set nearer the present and places great emphasis on colour, with the inclusion of planes of transparent bright tints used as screens. The scenario is populated by attractive young women. Their beauty of face and body, clad in fashionable, sometimes revealing, bathing suits, is constant in all five screens. The activities they are part of are glamour publicity photos. Their charm is evident but in the middle of visions of luxury they are mistrustful, although they live in a world of vivid colour and charm. It makes for a tellingly fertile ambiguity.

All the works are made potent by the sensitivity of their making, alongside the complex environments they create.

A video (Work No 1701), part of an extravagantly expansive show by Martin Creed at Michael Lett, takes us into modernity. His ironic point of view is that everything is art when it is done by an artist.

The film is shown in the downstairs vault. The floor and walls are lined with carpet and this is a separate work (Work No 2556). The video film shows people crossing an intersection in London: hopping, crawling, stiffly walking or limping. It is everyday life with handicaps. Also downstairs is graffiti done with spray paint. Upstairs the comment continues with ironic, philosophical gestures redolent of Duchamp. Theory says sculpture should be monumental. A stack of three mighty steel beams is as heavy as you can get (Work No 2557). Eight graduated sections of the same commercial rolled steel girders make a tapering tower (Work No 2558). It is an archetype of any tower anywhere. In a large abstract expressionist painting on the wall, commercial paint in a full range of colours is splashed in rhythmic patterns and allowed to drip. Jackson Pollock rides again.

Plastic bags make a colourful collage (Work No 2563). Linear works on the wall are done in pastel or marker pen and paintings hang from the ceiling. It all makes a challenging exhibition befitting the artist who won the Turner Prize in 2001 by having a light switching on and off, summing up the whole binary basis of our computer-controlled life (Work No 227).

Evan Woodruffe's spectacularly colourful abstract paintings at Orexart are poles apart from the dark, moody people and landscapes that were his subjects until now. Energy and masses of complex detail in swirling, colourful forms make an extraordinary and effective painting such as 25th July and a long jump into contemporary style.

At the galleries
What: Filmscapes by Yang Fudong
Where and when: Auckland Art Gallery, cnr Kitchener and Wellesley Sts, to January 25
TJ says: Three video films that are visually stunning in tone, subject and approach, illuminating mutability, place and the role of women.

What: Sculpture, painting, drawing, film by Martin Creed
Where and when: Michael Lett Gallery, 312 Karangahape Rd, to November 7
TJ says: Former Turner Prize winner uses everyday material and situations to make a series of witty and ironic points about all aspects of art today.

What: Here Comes Everybody by Evan Woodruffe
Where and when: Orexart, 15 Putiki St, Arch Hill, to October 31
TJ says: An established, talented painter makes a complete change from dark and gloomy images to abstractions with masses of detailed, rich and vibrant effects.

Related Artists:
Related Exhibitions:
Yang Fudong: Filmscapes


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