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Forum > Reviews


Sarah jane Parton at The Physics Room
19 Apr 2007 - 13 May 2007

by Creon Upton
Article of the Month May 2007

According to each hit on the first page of a Google search, this installation is "a critique of the future as it has been imagined in the past."

Now, it is an unofficial truth of our century that if you can it find it on the internet, say, ten times, without an impressive-sounding rebuttal from a source somehow associated with a university, it must be true. I find no such rebuttal here, so I guess I'm wasting everyone's time and should, like the good people at Scoop, The Big Idea, CNZ etc, continue my copying and pasting and alert you to the fact that "through an exhaustive investigation of all attempts at social engineering, the artist has conceived the ultimate hybridised ideology for how people should be."

And how should we be? A good question, but not good enough to stump this artist: "Ultimately flawed and yet ultimately perfect" is the answer, and in this spirit Guidance offers us "the true way of the future."

Now, I’m in love with this installation, and I'm not wanting to malign Sarah Jane Parton here, and I really hope she's not responsible for these words, because this to me takes the grand prize in the modern quest for the ultimate write-up betrayal of decent and unpretentious creative work.

What's with all the grandiosity? Why the "exhaustive investigation"? Why the "ultimate hybridised ideology"? Who out there is buying this inanity? Is there one lonely soul who isn't at least glanced, even if not struck, by the ever-so-slight bathos, after such a build-up, of the (yes, I am going to say it) platitudinous "flawed-yet-perfect" line.

Where are we, people?

In the land of the made-for-tv-movie? Where we can endlessly rehearse what we never quite found the time for until we should have started knowing better?

Why can't it just be a good bit of art?

The funny thing is that I like this work for probably more or less the same reasons that are explored so succinctly in its ubiquitous write-up.

I mean, I didn't myself actually quite notice the research into social engineering that lies behind the work (except, well, this is culture we're dealing with, which kind of engineers socially always, so maybe we're just talking about history anyways), but the congruent strength and fragility, the absurd brilliance of purposefulness that the artist evokes in the video piece is, I would be the first to admit, something like an image of the flawed perfection that we hope to find in ourselves and each other, sometimes even calling it love—but I have a feeling that this has possibly been noticed by someone, once, or maybe twice, prior to last week.

And absolutely, that purposeful absurdity, that genius of fulfillment in possessing, and against the odds somehow making your own, the shabby detritus of your culture's productions; the moment where we lay claim to what alienates us and what we never asked for to begin with—yes, that's in this work. Dignity I think is a word for it.

And it's all so well put together: the sound, the choreography, the lighting, the acting, the actual boxes holding the tvs: hate to say it, but it's a visual feast. It's absolutely beautiful. In part, I want to praise it just for looking so damn good.

I’ve been back twice, and I'll go back again. I actually think I’m slightly addicted to this video piece. It could easily become a kind of daily need: peaceful absorption in sweet sentiment that doesn’t leave me feeling ill.

It is sentimental I think.

But that's mitigated somewhat by the slide-show on the other side of the wall. Hardly a show, it consists of only four slides. Here I guess you’d say irony is more free to shake her curls. Four slides, set up for viewing through an old-fashioned projector, with a mat to sit on and lovely, embroidered cushions. Four slides: it’s like those stories of a crucified Santa in some Japanese department store, or, on the other side of the same token, some white guy with kanji that he can’t read tattooed on his biceps. In other words, it’s like some crazily mismanaged attempt at an alien form.

The form, in this case, is the holiday slide-show. Was that a form that tried to imagine the future? Like most post-war distractions, it’s certainly arguable that it was. And where is it now? And who misses it?

These slides are brilliant. 1. A lounge: God, do we live in those things? We imagine the flowers wilting as the holiday proceeds. 2. Holiday shot: sunset, belt-bags, t-shirts and kids. Yes, we really can’t help buying into this tacky shit when we’re the ones doing it, however much we might attempt to inflect it with irony. 3. Back seat of a car, shot through an open door: I love this image for its simple statement of the unfulfilled promise and alienation represented by the motor vehicle. 4. Freako Family in seeming East-European military-style gear. Ah, social engineering....

And somehow this installation works really well as a whole. That searching East-European aesthetic seems somehow, to my eye, to run throughout, and that helps as a kind of thematic glue, but it’s more than that. It’s the way it dignifies the absolutely mundane, which is why I call it sentimental; but it doesn’t pretend that it’s not mundane, which is why you should ignore whatever I or anyone else has to say and just go see it.

Sarah-Jane-Parton-1MG4316 Sarah-Jane-PartonMG4304

1 to 20 of 27
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005

Any chance of some images, Creon? Danae or Sarah Jane might have some.

I take it this installation explores what a desirable 'humanity' should be by focussing on physical appearance, gesture and living environs. That's it?  Maybe I've missed some crucial part of the description?

22 comments since 20 Jun 2006
I think Warren Feeney made a similar point in The Press a whiles back , if I recall correctly (the article is now offline), about the current state of art reviewing in the paper, commenting that it much of it was just regurgitating the galleries' press releases.

So isn't it good we have artbash.co.nz where such abominable laziness is spurned?

The article in question was discussed in a previous thread:

2 articles & 162 comments since 25 Mar 2006
Warren Feeney's article referred to a supposed past golden age when art reviewing was fierce and informed and fabulous. Doubt it! It was just the same sporadic mixed bag of pretentiousness and hokum and influence-peddling and pseudo-intellectual willy-waving it is today. The only difference is that today's galleries do put out press releases - they didn't use to. I would imagine that reviewers of the past would have been delighted to receive a press release to assist them with their writing. Eh, John?

That aside - I am also feeling somewhat exercised about the practice of reviewing the press release rather than the show. (This is a different art-crime from Creon Upton's observation above that silly press releases continue to be regurgitated in various other contexts. Good article.) OF COURSE there are lies and half-truths and grandiose claims contained in art gallery (and artists') press releases and marketing. You would be naive to believe otherwise. Their function is to get people into the gallery to see the show. They are not intended as interpretive texts in relation to the works themselves. It's asinine to think that they bear a direct conceptual relation to the show itself - or at least one which is worth banging on about. And it's lazy. Derrida has A LOT TO ANSWER FOR.
2 comments since 24 Apr 2007
writing in galleries is almost always poor, by contrast it almost makes the stream of conscious ejaculations in these forums seem articulate and concise
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005

er um, Sooty, you are blaming Derrida for over zealous gallery staff writing fanciful blurbs for shows? Tut tut....There's no connection. Dealer galleries are not university theory departments and most carefully avoid being mistaken for them. I imagine most buyers are not remotely interested in continental theory.

Or are you actually rabbiting on about university galleries? They seem quite reasonable to me...not excessive at all, except perhaps when art history students take over. That depends on what one thinks the role of a university gallery should be. It would be natural that students try and please their teacher and maybe use essay material in a press release...

Or are the villains the 'alternative' spaces? Well they are meant to be experimental, aren't they? That's their job, and taking liberties with language and thinking is part of that brief. Their clients expect it.

2 articles & 162 comments since 25 Mar 2006
John, you have misunderstood. I am rabbiting on about a certain kind of art writer who critically reviews press releases put out by dealer galleries or public institutions (or indeed alternative spaces, though that's not so common), rather than reviewing the shows themselves. ('Reviews' as in writes critical appraisals OF THE PRESS RELEASE.) Or who compares the claims of the press release against the show and feels pleased with themselves when it doesn't measure up. And I am suggesting that this is a rather boring and tiresome practice. I am not castigating the writers of the fatuous press releases themselves, who are only trying to get people to visit their shows. Fair enough. Personally I like grandiose claims and ridiculously inflated rhetoric. (Your stuff's great.)

Derrida as you might recall suggested that everything was a text. This is all very well in principle but it leads to a lot of old cobblers in practice.
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005
For a stream-of-consciousness ejaculator, Chamber, you are doing surprising well. Most artbash readers are coitus interruptusators who at the last minute pull back and decide not to inseminate their thoughts in cyberspace
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005
So Sooty, you are really talking about laziness aren't you? These writers don't want to look at the work. Ils sont paresseux.
2 articles & 162 comments since 25 Mar 2006
I don't know what that kind of writer wants, apart from their name in big letters. Lazy? Maybe. But it's a certain smartarsey & smug brand of laziness which relies on the supposed endorsement of, as you call it, continental theory for its intellectual agenda. Which is not very fair to continental theory.
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005

I thought the discussion was about writing about the blurb when it doesn't match the work. It's not lazy to use theory if it is applicable to the work. Nothing wrong with being smartarsy or showing off. Artbash needs more such writers.

Clarity might be an issue. An interest in theory doesn't mean clarity has to be abandoned. Depends on how skilled the writer is.

Chris Taylor
1 articles & 308 comments since 30 Apr 2006
This thread reminds me. Is the catalogue for Prospect 2007 out yet?

Seeing as the show closed in the weekend.
2 articles & 162 comments since 25 Mar 2006

Jeez, John, you have a talent for getting the wrong end of the stick today. Did I say that I thought it was lazy to use theory? Hardly. I said that it might be lazy to review the press release and pretend that continental theory gives one some justification for doing so. It is certainly the action of a smug smartarse to do so.

I should also point out that I am not referring in my comments to the author of the article which started this thread. I think what Creon has written is extremely thoughtful & interesting. It prompted me to chip in with some further thoughts about the relationship between press releases and art exhibitions. Talk about readings and misreadings...

John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005
Yes it is out Chris. Prob on sale at City Gallery, Parsons, or Scorpio.

Sooty you keep muddying the waters. Creon can handle it if you say what you really think (a joke, honest).

Who are the culprits with these poorly written press releases? It is good that press releases are being written now. But who started the habit? I think it was Greg Burke.
2 articles & 162 comments since 25 Mar 2006
Concentrate, John, please. It's not the press releases that are the problem. Press releases are generally written by galleries' marketing and promotions staff, and have b-all to do with the show itself. That's my point. Where a gallery is too small to have pormotions staff, then they're written by the director or whoever with a marketing hat on. Their purpose is to get people to vsit the gallery.

It would be the action of a madman (or woman) to let a curator near a public gallery press release. Since when did curators have the common touch? Did you write press releases when you worked at public galleries John?
2 comments since 24 Apr 2007
well, who wrote the piece for 'Guidance'? I missed it when I visited the show which, if I'm to believe the award winning article above, obviously improved my viewing experience. I did read the Zina Swanson one though, which was fairly wish-washy and , upon reflection, unmemorable- suitably invisible.
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005
I got your point, Sooty, about press releases, and indulgent writing about them, but I still think you are unduly obssessive about continental theory. Reminds me of a Peter Leech review I once read in Art NZ theoretically about a Philip Trusttum show, where he spends much of it ranting about Derrida. It's very funny.

Lots of curators can write clearly, and do good press releases.
Some of those same curators also write weekly newspaper articles about works from the collections of their institutions, or items on display from visiting shows. I used to do that, and it was one of my favourite jobs. I was damn good at it.
2 articles & 162 comments since 25 Mar 2006
But John, be fair; you were a journalist before you were ever a curator. You had a head start.

There's you, John Coley, and Keith Stewart in this category. Must see if I can think of anyone else.
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005

Surely Justin Paton is a clear writer, and a best seller too. I do acknowledge there is a problem in that many art historians/curators don't know how to communicate clearly. They write too densely with no air. They try to say too much too quickly and have no rhythm in their phrasing.

There's Andrew Clifford at Gus Fisher. He's a whizzo wordsmith. A brllliant features writer who is immensely knowledgable, esp on matters aural. Makes me sick with envy.

Also most writers (ie. 99%) need a good editor around the place they can talk with. It's hard to do yourself because you are too close to the text. You need someone who can trim excess ruthlessly, suggest better structures, and spot typos.

19 articles & 495 comments since 9 Aug 2005
To return to the actual work, I loved it - but then I love any celebration of the underdog. It fair screams a paeon to glorious failure and earnest-but-flawed utopianism - sorta like the vid for "Praise You" by Fatboy Slim.

Come on people! She's singing "Paradise City" in Esperanto - what's not to love?
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005
In Esperanto? What a peculiar person. Why didn't somebody say?

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