This afternoon, I went to A sense of dislocation, a dance/installation performance at Pah Homestead, an art gallery which is pretty much in my hood (Roskill/Hillsborough). I arrived late, but the performance, which featured music by Jed Town and movement by Elise Chan, Jeong Yeun Whang and Kristian Larsen, was earthy and quite discomforting, especially in the polished-wood surrounds of the Homestead.
The performance was related to an exhibition called Transformance, part of the just-started Auckland Festival of Photography.
The exhibition takes just two small rooms in the sprawling mansion. The works, by recent arts graduates from AUT, are linked by their exploration of the body/image as representations of self. Significantly for me, two of the artists in this exhibition are immigrants from Asia - part of the '1.5' generation (not born in NZ, but moved here early enough for NZ to have some impact on their worldview) which is increasingly gaining presence on the visual arts scene.
Jane Loo's video work is confrontational. She presents 'case studies' of Asian migrants (or children of migrants) - each character is presented staring face-on into the camera. Loo uses moving, scrolling and blurring text to give them their 'voice' - the tales, of an Anglo-Indian man who is not reemployed, he suspects, because he doesn't "look like a New Zealander"; a young woman who struggles to get an explanation of "adequacy" from her trusted tutor; and a young waitress who is chided by a "local woman" for her poor english - these are all familiar stories, but presented in a fresh format which is haunting in its spareness. There are touches of humour - misspellings which are hastily corrected - but overall this is a sad work, with no conclusions as to where to go from here. Perhaps it is enough for now to give the silent a voice, but I wonder where a follow up project might go.
Grace Chai, who moved to New Zealand from Taiwan at fifteen, shows off a series of manipulated digital prints of nude male bodies bonded together and augmented with machinery and natural materials. Beautiful, grotesque, and slightly erotic, she references classic myths in their titles. Unlike Loo, there is nothing directly "Asian" about her work, but perhaps her background pushes her to look more closely at the myths of "body" and "appearance"and how this limited view is restrictive, creating monsters of us all. Her work is more subliminal, challenging how we perceive, market and response to images of flesh: perhaps she is asking why we would judge one thing as beautiful and another as ugly? (or for that matter, how do we choose what is art and what is just artifact?)