Nick Austin Not haiku
03 Feb – 05 Mar 2011
Not haiku is a collection of work that mixes the literary with the literal. The exhibition includes a series of new Aquarium paintings, visual poems presented as draft manuscripts, and an assemblage caricaturing the postal service. Somewhere between concrete poetry and New Yorker cartoons, Austin’s paintings and sculptures are concerned with the tools and detritus of one’s work habits. Often using paper as both material and subject, Austin’s work circles around ideas of composition and contemplation, reflecting both the material and thought processes used in their making.
Nick Austin (b. 1979) lives in Auckland, New Zealand. Recent exhibitions include: Last Ride in a Hot Air Balloon: The 4th Auckland Triennial, Auckland Art Gallery, Auckland (2010); Two Man Shoe, Peter McLeavey Gallery, Wellington (2010); Retirement (as part of Simon Denny’s Deep Sea Vaudeo), Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Cologne (2009); Thing Locator, Hirschfeld, Berlin (2009); Paperwork, Gambia Castle, Auckland (2009); Austin and Petherick, Neon Parc, Melbourne (2009).
With this exhibition we see Austin has deafly leapt a small but quantum leap ahead of critics and curators and their (read-out-loud) novel.
Wit Not HighKu But Not LowKu Ether
I confess I haven’t actually seen this exhibition in the flesh. But how many of us do these days?! After all, why are you reading this review? However, as I shall make abundantly clear below, this thrillingly disembodied ‘cybernetic’ experience seems key to Austin’s concerns in his latest first show at Hopkinson Cundy.
We can begin, appositely enough, with the snazzy invitation to the exhibition itself, carefully timed to arrive in my email inbox appropriately prior to the opening but certainly not early enough for me to have physically attended even if I had wanted to. Sheer coincidence? Maybe, but what should this reviewer see when opening the email but a couple of wavy lines – nothing else!? What to make of these hand drawn, but now digital, ‘wave-signs’, as with the similar works in the exhibition these are clearly concrete poems about abstract paintings. In further deference to classical conceptualist text work, all the devilish details are already there in the given context – in this case the textual parameters of the email – the subject line and sender (the gallery as a given), and the timing of the delivery. Like an invitation for an opening party that will be so good you won’t remember it so there’s no point in going so you just enjoy the invitation, these drunken lines form an an erasure of us as the embodied viewer.
With this exhibition we see Austin has deafly leapt a wobbly but quantum leap ahead of noisy critics and curators and their novel (read-out-loud) reading of his work in relation to Literature with a capital ‘L’ hitherto placed conspicuously in their rear view with all the prescriptive damage of a Learner drivers sign. Confidently out of earshot of their footnoting he now plainly makes work for the internet in the internet age, with all the potlatch generosity this entails. He’s God’s gif to human kindness. He applies his paint like sunscreen, directly on your eyeballs, except, funnily enough, he’s given you 2D spectacles to wear while you watch, and shiny corners to catch any reflections you might have and remind you your just at the pictures, thus a web of pages is kept at bay in a queer requiem kind of way.
I should like to see Austin extend his net wider however, and there are clear signs here of a possible new series of fish’n’chip paper works which combine the aquarium paintings and the earlier ‘lost sock’ work in order to produce a series of laundromat still-or really, revolving-lives. Close cropped circles of swirling water with free floating articles of clothing, perhaps even just the aforementioned socks themselves, standing frozen under a porthole of glass and zen for understanding the influence of a whole glass of port. Austin’s paintings are surely as silent and as still and in the moment as any photograph you’ll see in any museum in the world right now. A silence as deafening as the roar of the ocean in an empty shell.
But the electric eel savvy doesn’t end there, there’s even room in the corner for a last minute mumbled but none-the-less merciless satire of couriers with all their camp and adolescent masculinity, which Austin artfully plays out with a combination of probably already used up readymades – a skateboard and a pair of high heel shoes – set one upon the other in a way you would never see in real life and artfully positioned at the crest of a tongue cast in grey concrete (a probable reference to the poetry on the walls). Aside from the obvious nod to Duchamp’s fetish for wrapping paper, the real content is again thoroughly cyber-ecological – the message really is the medium, the courier is everyman as the carrier, the ‘bearer of meaning’, we must be held accountable and Austin is clearly willing to shoot the messenger. It is no coincidence that the (empty) shoes stand in for this disembodied state. You can just hear the rolling stones shedding their moss! The wit here is like an old rubber band that holds its shape long after it has lost its elasticity and only momentarily appears to snap back after being pulled off the bundle of electricity bills it has faithfully gripped for 6 months or more, before crumbling into dry and brittle pieces like dried blood or sap from a rubber tree and making you aware of your own laughter petering out like polite applause when your no longer looking at the work.