Protection : Daniel du Bern. 1 - 19 February, 2005

Daniel du Bern’s PROTECTION at High Street Project (HSP) is… black.

Black cross marking an iconic picture; black flag strung on white gallery wall; black beer can drunk by young white urbanite dressed in black, discarded in corner. PROTECTION is an overt investigation, according to du Bern, into how “nationalism and xenophobia sit alongside environmentalism and romanticism” in the construction of New Zealand’s national identity. Through the black/white dichotomy employed in the work, du Bern constructs an ironic play which aims to highlight the power and structure of signs and symbols that surround us, and represent us.

Swastikas, acid tabs, dope leafs, Kakapo recordings; Peter Jackson, picturesque landscape, black flag, white helmet. It’s intense, and it’s hot, bloody hot, up HSP’s eight flights of stairs – in the middle of summer. Towering over the city, blinds pulled, black PVC swathing the ends, floor to ceiling. The opening could be likened to a human hangi - there is a foetid heat, and stagnant air lingers in the space.

Du Bern is a perfectionist, as PROTECTION highlights. From the laser printed, impeccably perforated by hand acid tabs in Trips, to the carefully considered installation in the space which leaves little room for alternate perspectives – he has a message that he doesn’t want missed. The symbolism, whether appropriated from Google, from his own imagination, or from encounters with New Zealand iconography, is razor sharp and it hits a cord.

In contrast to the emphatically dark and black site of the back gallery, the front gallery is white (read pure). In a simple museum-type manner, du Bern has compiled an all male regiment of iconic New Zealanders. The individual portraits, drawn with pencil on lined refill are titled to make sure you know who they are, in case you couldn’t guess. Looking like drawings of once much admired heroes, the works and their interpretations are explicit, and easily recognisable to the majority of our homogenous Judy Bailey, John and Carol New Zealand society.

Standing in front of the works Straight-Edge and PURE one can’t help but make a connection to the advertising campaign ‘100% Pure New Zealand’. Here, the New Zealand landscape sets the scene to what many residents consider a not so pure environment that is becoming increasingly scarred by the influx of tourists. The work constructs an idea of what it is to be a New Zealander and du Bern’s interpretation of the New Zealand leisure lifestyle that filters through the tourism industry is one of rebellion, a clean chaos that demonstrates his concern, or perhaps distaste, for the society that he inhabits.

In PROTECTION the highs and lows of our nation are revealed - contradictory symbols are overlaid to absurd proportions. He wants you to get it, but to work at it too, and in his deft approach to materials, he succeeds. The installation is as much about the construction of national identity as it is an introspective look at the artists own constitution. The idealistic and chauvinistic aspects of New Zealand culture are brought to the fore, and sit uncomfortably beside du Bern’s critical analysis of the society he inhabits. Daniel du Bern is a force to be reckoned with, watch this space.

PRESTO review by Vanessa Coxhead