Too Hard Basket : Kit Lawrence, Lesley Knight, William Hsu & Lee Cunliffe. 18 MAY -4 JUNE, 2005

A four way blind date in The Too Hard Basket: Lesley Knight, Artbasher, Kit Lawrence, William Hsu : suggestions for strategic spectatorship (in severance of synthesis):

William Hsu, Loanscape: driving music. The aesthetics of socio-economic realities. Landspace as zone characterised by the widening space between affordability and expectation. Like the thick grey substance that seeps from the roots of the chemically altered teeth in the artist’s previously executed sketch, the image seeps and bleeds around its central subject. Historic Romanticism’s codes are updated as annex to the popular, its like a lovesong selling you a motor car, the sublime hijacked as advertising strategy, with the distance between the ideal and the real, an image sold in the Auckland suburbs, more a long car trip than a short bus ride. The photographic image, treading an unstable border between the starkness of the banal, of documentary, with all it’s ‘far go’ kiwi underdog-ism, and the glossy, misty(fied) aesthetics of the soft focus. Winding through the miles of landscape-cum-shopping mall, the potential buyer smears the lens of their expectation with unwitting desire.

Lesley Knight: poised between craft and the conceptual, an object-lesson in the impossible: sewn up and embroidered photographs, after Austrian philosopher Alexis Meinong’s model, of ‘non-existent objects’. Previously, prone philosophers were stitched by the artist into affilliative iconography (and whose gang were you in? The Ubermenches?) Here, conversely, we have no pageant of thought-stars, but an artists’ manifestation of a normally latent language game, the object as slippage, into the mythic, the rumoured, the speculative. These inscrutable images trade on the old (Socratic/Platonic) distinction between philosophy (as pure abstract speculation) and art (as interrupting this flow in order to press objects, communicative gestures, markings into existence). There is no private language, as Wittgenstein would have it, and it’s true: from that lofty David Friedrich mountainside even the chosen one must concede to speak, if only in the treading between presence and pun, in the idea’s manifestation in cryptic and decorative stylistic embroideries.

Born 1972. Graduate of the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts, double major, print making and art theory.

Artbasher: “came for the beer, stayed for the debate”. Not one to let those golden aces fall from the sleeve too soon, Artbasher, if he concedes anything, lets us see how close to home the onus lies, that, without the viewer’s considered response, there really is no work at all. This time, the artist is no narcissist, the portraiture has fallen from the wall and the frame has taken over, to be paraded by all who care to take up its hollow baton. No intention here to hoist even imaginary objects to the attention of the browsing ‘public’, but rather to construct the template of an ethics of community, for your personal and individual response, for you to log into at will: (“talk loudly! be brave!”) An artwork only by nature of its gallery placing, and more a gesture toward accountability and expansive self-critique, like a circle in which the artist absents himself in order to let the artist/critic become ‘everyone’, this theatre’s fourth wall is missing, and in its stead only you, the audience, remain, either watching attentively, or looking somewhere else entirely: “if this play gets boring, let’s just review the audience!”

Kit Lawerence: Years of coughing on the dusty and clogged layers of the past led to a hoarse throat. The artist had become a walking socket and education had fostered seething eyes, eyes that had chosen to bore into the soooul, leaving an unsightly sty.
‘Book shelves that groanUnder tomes
Best not trying hard, happens it goes quite nicely. Unexpectedly the artist found himself free of representational trolls, bedroom analysis and tyrannical library head. After revulsion passes, the grotesque enamours its creator and becomes amiable visual gonk, studio partner, and valued dinner guest. From Tzara totems are whittled Daumier totes, which are offered as a boon to all. And like the beast from the car park, the good doctor and I, we
have a laugh.
Kit Lawrence was born in 1977 in the UK. He has exhibited internationally
since leaving university in 1998. This will be his first exhibited work in
New Zealand.

Loanscape - William Hsu

Loanscape is concerned with the recent rise of the loan industry and the social situations and geographies securing its rise in Auckland. Commutes from the suburban sprawl are made necessary by an infrastructure long in favour of private car ownership over public transportation. The project grows out of the ‘buy now pay later’ promises that frequently gloss over staggering interest rates and looming repossessions. The closeness linking car trading and the loan industries in Auckland (with each binding its customers in a Faustian tryst) becomes all the more apparent in the work where the car yards provide its visual metonymy.

The series of photographs frame the Auckland suburban car yards revealing them as desolate locations that illuminate middle to lower class hopes and aspirations. The images do not focus on luxury or “sports” vehicle dealerships with their glassy facades and carpeted showrooms skirting the central fashionable shopping districts. These pictures are of places separated from that fantasy by a serious motorway and the seriousness of the proposition (no deposit, beneficiary, learner’s license; walk away with a car today).

The images combine the formal codes of early Romanticism with the clarity and detail of documentary photography; this indeterminacy between realism and expressionism belies the duplicitous nature of the subject. What is real and what is fantastic becomes literally blurred in the dreamy vision of the viewer/client. The relationships of hope to desperation, of release to entrapment, of leaving to having remained tempers kitsch readings with the solemnness these dependent binaries entail. The photographs provoke questions of how one can live in the contemporary urban/suburban city; revealing the hidden costs of the limitations imposed by urban planning and related transport requirements.

Katy Lyon

Kit Lawrence in conversation May 18, 2005

The wall motif has appeared recently in your work, where does that come from? One assumes Guston or maybe something earlier, Max Ernst or DeChirico. Obviously it has been altered somewhat from theirs.

Can I get a word in? Fuck! You would assume that wouldn’t you. The wall, walls, are a symbol of power… suppression, mystery, absurdity, depending on where they appear. They represent an ambiguous intent. No one builds a wall by accident. They can be sinister or utilitarian, which again can be sinister…

(Interrupting…) The banality of evil?

Jesus! Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Do you know the one man made object visible from outer space?

Disneyland. No, hold on...

The Great Wall of China. It can be viewed from outer space in the way we look at the Olympus Mons.

Is that in some way telling of our achievements? Is that part of the reason for the theme?

No. That’s totally arbitrary. Soon enough there will be other buildings visible from space, and then in 100 years our great grand children can point them out to their children and say ‘Look, that’s where we used to live, before we fucked it up.’

So the walls can be read as a comment on the futility of plastic or concrete achievement? The Great Wall of China is after all still there, while the order that created it has passed, objects live on in a way we cannot.

We will be judged by our folly as much as our success. My primary school was built on Hadrian’s Wall. The area I grew up in (Stanwix in Carlisle, Cumbria) has a Roman name. When I was seven they dug a bit up under a hotel opposite my house when they were making a car park. Me and my friends were in the paper. After Rome fell the centurians left but by then they found they were all English anyway. People forget England has been colonised, the Vikings, Saxons, Normans, Romans. I’m a hundred percent English, whatever that means.

So with the tools of oppression the English go off into the world when they feel big enough and create an image in their own selves, and the effects of colonialism are what we are now living with.

To think that ripping up the borders of a country or building walls between them won’t create problems that can be solved in a generation! It’s myopic to say the least, and it’s happening now, although the wall is not always visible. At least the Romans left straight roads and central heating.

As modern people we put up walls ourselves, to redress the balance nature creates. Shy people become aggressive and put up a wall of indifference.

Let me ask you a question. What does it mean to live in a permissive society in which your ideals, not to mention personal freedoms are rarely impinged?

Would that be what the poster (‘Friend, the land is connected to our feet by our hearts’) is talking about? But what use is a call to arms if in a tongue we cannot decipher?

At any one time there is a struggle going on, unreported and impossible to convert into a five minute news article. You have to report on that from the ground, imbedded if you like, for years if not decades, which is how the artist works. Truly understanding a problem inevitably involves taking a stance. I meet a lot of people who couldn’t care less, either way, whatever, about anything. Beer is a uniting force, gallery owners understand this. Art can be divisive, you have to take it in and decide how you feel about it, more often than not over a long period of time. It always amuses me when someone proffers an opinion within a few minutes of seeing a piece of work.

You can do that with music and film to some degree but as the discipline gets more involved the more work you have to do to find real understanding.

And enjoyment! Both left wing and right wing have used the fist, the wall etcetera to illustrate their cause. Your experience with images will colour your reading of it. It’s unnecessary for the language on the poster to be implicit, you are aware of the content from the image.

But that can lead to misreading!

(Laughs) Exactly! I used to go to hardcore punk shows, when I was at art school, the proceeds of which went to the Zapatistas (outlawed Latin American left wing guerilla group).

And you saw no problem in your money going to an organization that could use it to kill another person?

I imagine most of the money would’ve gone on postage. (Laughs) Opening an account at a high street bank is a quicker route to enabling injustice than supporting a right wing political party these days. You can turn off to a degree when a politician is speaking, but not when you are in arrears and your house is at risk due to redundancy.

But to put yourself in the position where you are essentially a benefactor of a terrorist group, as they would be viewed today, is not a paradox, it’s na├»ve. Someone dies and they are grieved, whichever side they are on, and if they are in the army then they are probably just trying to draw a wage.

At the same time working to maintain the order of an oppressor? In the same situation could you take someone’s life to gain freedom from a government that had taken your family, welfare and future? We are blessed not needing to consider these factors.

But can that kind of situation ever lead to personal liberty?

…and where does being a supporter of a movement lead? What does it mean to have blood on your hands? Are those who vote factored in the blame for the choices a government makes? What are the degrees of separation involved?

The moneyed western worlds reaction to problems in unfamiliar places is to throw money at them rather than influence the infrastructure with pragmatism. We feel aggrieved but happy to help out, isn’t that our role as the first world?

In some ways those who take up the call are invariably worse off than they were before, as they find out very quickly that the fight against injustice, poverty, corruption, disinterest… (pause) bad painting etcetera, is endless and awful, and once you are in possession of that kind of knowledge you can’t take it back. Eastern Europe is about as unstable as it’s been since WWII in many ways, Central America is perennially emerging from bad times to slip effortlessly into worse, usually aided by the IMF. African nations are so complex but Africa is usually dealt with by the media as a whole.

Walls block one thing off while shielding another.

The question that is posed is whether it’s foolish to create elaborate constructs that can be hard to operate within, or overcome, politically, socially, aesthetically. That is the question you ask yourself as an artist when considering what medium is to be used to address a specific problem or idea.

So how do you resolve the conflict of enjoying a capitalist society with the freedoms of economy and leisure as well as taking a left wing stance, make a painting?

As long as it isn’t a bad painting.

Your description of your contribution to the show (Too Hard Basket) reads:

Years of coughing on the dusty and clogged layers of the past led to a hoarse throat. The artist had become a walking socket and education had fostered seething eyes, eyes that had chosen to bore into the soooul, leaving an unsightly sty.

‘Book shelves that groan

Under tomes


Best not trying hard, happens it goes quite nicely. Unexpectedly the artist found himself free of representational trolls, bedroom analysis and tyrannical library head. After revulsion passes, the grotesque enamours its creator and becomes amiable visual gonk, studio partner, and valued dinner guest. From Tzara totems are whittled Daumier totes, which are offered as a boon to all. And like the beast from the car park, the good doctor and I, we have a laugh.

The text appears to state that you have found relief from representational issues and outside influence, is that the case?

Maybe just taking a break.

The imagery used in The Good Doctor And I We Have A Laugh is almost totally abstract, as is the character in Goobody Zvtznatit. Your previous work has been highly figurative and referential to the art of the subject’s time, and to the history of representation in general.

Which is why I included the painting of the artist’s tools (Talk About The Past), which can be seen as tools that build or dismantle. The elements holding the newer paintings together lay themselves bare as the viewer deconstructs the images. Take heart from the titles in order to gain insider knowledge of my deuteragonist. Max Ernst had Loplop, superior of the birds. Sherlock Holmes had the Black Fog or the Black Dog or something. I have of late been in the company of the good doctor.

But both Loplop and Sherlock Holmes’ depression were bad things, to be overcome. Does that mean you have come to terms with doubt and are ready to embrace failure as part of the process of success?

The failures are the successes. When I lived in Berlin (during 2002) I had just left London and had been working for an architectural practice on large scale government funded regeneration projects, working in areas that had deep rooted social and economic problems. I think I felt a sense of guilt in choosing to eek out my own artistic idyll rather than staying and helping out, even if mine was a small role, with hands tied and endless red tape to work through. Walking with an artist friend I had been questioning whether it wasn’t wholly self indulgent, if not ridiculous to be an artist at moments like these, this was set against recession in Berlin and a gloomy climate in Europe after September 11th with war looming and everything. He felt being an artist was no less absurd than anything else in life and that really that is the point.

That what is the point?

I don’t know.

Portrait of… well, really me dancing drunkenly in front of Michael Clark. You know, that party in Berlin, 2002? If I knew it was him maybe I wouldn’t have danced so hard, but they were playing ‘Blue Monday’ is a lighter piece when considered with the rest.

It was a good party.

There’s reference to your earlier work, the work that immediately pre-dates this series.

He is more than the sum of his parts, but he refers to various things. Bauhaus teaching, the Hacienda nightclub and Post Modernist architecture, things which were highly influential in their epoch but which are now defunct, that live on in a kind of fan club way, I’m a fan anyway. They enjoyed a painful birth and a painful end.

How has your background in recent European art served you during your time in New Zealand?

Contemporary art is a discourse which is taking place now, everywhere and anywhere, sometimes the conversation is familiar and sometimes not. Ultimately the things that go into painting are human experience and aesthetic influence, which are currency in any country. If you need an air ticket to understand a painting then the artist has failed. However exposure is always better than a library card. And there seem to be more Joy Division fans here than in the UK.