Laurence Aberhart
Rachael Rakena
Judy Millar
Music and Braille

Laurence Aberhart's photographs, though often intricately detailed, are places of reverence and grace in which the impact of the subject on the senses is converted into richly toned gold and selenium prints. As if a dermis had been carefully lifted off the subject and laid atop the paper's basalt salt, the image ossifies into a picture of our mortality in which growth and stability are eventually subject to splintering decay. As monuments to time lost in death, leaden edifices and stone subjects are fettered in dank colonial soil, relics housed like skeletons betwixt annexes of the living.

LAURENCE ABERHART Headstone, Melbourne General Cemetery, Melbourne 8 June 2003
Black-and-white photograph

In his recent exhibition at the Marshall Seifert Gallery, Aberhart evoked some of the usual subjects seen here previously; the imperious Masonic Lodge, characterised by its omnipotent eye insignia, has been more recently documented, this time in Hawke's Bay and Manawatu. With a witty inflection, Aberhart frames the Lodge as hinged by a kind of celestial portal, a power supply arcing skyward as an umbilicus serving the cryptic rites within.

LAURENCE ABERHART Aramoana 17 November 2002
Black-and-white photograph

His photographs of graveside memorials continue to depict stoic winged angels, images of protection that are gradually being subsumed under the spores and accretions inilicted by time and neglect. Headstone, Melbourne General Cemetery, Melbourne, 8 June 2003 was a landscape of its own. The heavy tombstone, rounded like a boulder, was reminiscent of McCahon's depiction of barrelling Nelson hills.

LAURENCE ABERHART Last Light with Moon, Napier, 14 May 2003
Black-and-white photograph

In Last Light with Moon, Napier, 14 May 2003, a landscape swabbed in grey was juxtaposed with another darker view from Taranaki. Here evening's clefts of ink, rolled in strokes as if a cracking vellum across the sky, convey the range of tonal subtleties in Aberhart's work. Given their relatively small scale (they are of a size that could be held in the open hand) the expanse of detail that Aberhart impresses in his prints is remarkable, effecting and registering something extraordinary from the unassumingly simple.

LAURENCE ABERHART Taranaki, 19 November, 2002
Black-and-white photograph

Te Kore is a mythological voidspace, an ethereal realm mediated through the intangible installations of digital artist Rachael Rakena in her Master of Fine Arts exhibition Water - Our Space at the Hocken Library Gallery. Filmed images of bodies breaching a ceiling of water, sinking into the reticent depths of a mellifluous underworld and moving as gracefully as spirit walkers are melodic and lucid configurations of a contemporary Maori cosmology.

The exhibition concept, one of fluidity and integration in Maori art practices, is partly derived from correspondences within the Kai Tahu community Te Whanau o Kai Tahu ki Araiteuru (KTW) whose primary form of communication, outside of their weekly meeting, is via email. Here, in cyberspace, one speaker at a time is given voice. As on a Marae, the witnessing KTW community might then reply, individually partaking in a discussion that is carbon copied to the group. In this virtual forum, questions and responses, sounded only in percussive keystrokes, are relayed between remote terminals. In Rakena'swork these emails channel across the paths of underwater swimmers imitating their floating movements and voluble travels.

Rachael Rakena's Water: Our Space at the Hocken Library

Rakena questions Maori identity beyond the landscape, removing the ground upon which one stands firm and instead provides an expanse in which to drift, to shadow the in-between. This is not an ambivalent space but one that engages with tradition in evolving practices. In Hinu Tuara a vertebral stack of five televisions interspersed with DVD discs was used to evoke the body's central column of support as well as the pou, the post that holds the Marae's roof. Yet within these rigid pods Rakena captured fluidity; the synapsing of a vertebral nerve in spinal fluid was suggested by the flinching images being played and replayed and notions of pre-birth were also apparent as bodies moved through water. One underwater pair, with arms and legs crossed and entwined, were as a submerged heitiki contained womb-like within the television monitor.

Rachael Rakena's Water: Our Space at the Hocken Library

Accompanying the notion of prebirth was the soul's journey after death. The story of Te Rerenga Wairua-the spirit's voyage from the coastline through the ocean to the homeland, might be a metaphor for another of Rakena's digital recitations. In Mihi Aroha, an installation incorporating sound and image, a tenacious link between the visceral and the ethereal was evoked. The work, a tribute to Rakena's Mother who died during the course of her project, evinced the body 'beyond the veil'. Projected through a shaded blind, email texts digitally descended as if they were pixillated tukutuku panels, falling like tears into a spring and casting their undulations on the floor and ceiling. The sorrowful concord of a bone and nose flute (koauau) and the tapping of a keyboard were sounds offset by a governing heartbeat. This rhythm, the sound of blood shunting through valves of the heart, was an eerie evocation, seemingly a pulse of life in death, and evocative of the unseen ties, which as Rakena shows, strengthen and unite.

Judy Millar, the paramount winner of last year's Wallace Art Award has been in town on a residency at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. In her resulting exhibition I is she, as you to me the act of art making is testified by governing canvases sloughed with impudent washes of watery pigment in which coloured movements convey gestures of certitude. There is something strongly authorial about Millar's paintings, the kind of signature mark making that is, in close-up, reminiscent of Roy Lichtenstein's take on Abstract Expressionism in his work Little Big Painting (1965). Though Millar's works are banded with similar gestural lines, they are not of the brush but of the hand and unlike the works Lichtenstein sought to parody, they exchange distance for intimacy.

JUDY MILLAR Star Watch - detail, 2003
acrylic and oil on canvas

The comparison of Millar's painterly process with that of Jackson Pollock is an obvious connection, and surely one that the artist has consciously sought. Like Pollock, Millar asserts the surface of the painting, but rather than working up paint on the canvas, Millar works it away, smearing off the fluorescent pigment with rags and with the hand, a relationship that defines the limits of the body.

In the largest work from the series, appropriately entitled Working the Green (2003), the extent of Millar's reach can be seen. Leaning into the canvas and touching its surface, the proximity of the body is traceable in the breadth of sweeping arcs and the artist's movements around the perimeter can be tracked in fingerprints.

Such closeness disallows composition in the traditional sense. Millar has not the time to stand back from the work with a critical eye, for like an artist that sketches from life, she draws instantly from the experience, in a sense the works are performative.

JUDY MILLAR Star Watch - detail, 2003
acrylic and oil on canvas

This is not to say that they demonstrate a lack of judgement. In a recent conversation with Anthony Byrt, Millar stated, 'I'm not interested in just painting about me. And I don't need to like it. And that's been a big thing for me to get over. I mean, it has to be right, but I don't need to like it personal.'(1) Cut with light, the simplicity and translucent brilliance of Millar's thinly de-applied colour is its own pleasure but one not without complexities. Provoking an opposition between painterly and conceptual issues, Millar's ambiguous tangled spaces confuse these issues at play, flipping between them in a chaos of line and pigment.

Departing from the rules of code, Irene Ferguson's Braille works and Dorothy Helyer's musical scores, were construed in differing arrangements, their sentences tapped out in aesthetic rather than sequential narratives. At the new Peter Rae Gallery on Stuart Street they showed together in Music and Braille. Rather than touchscreens for the blind, Ferguson's punctured aluminium and enamel Braille works seemed turned out of a bullet factory, their roughly-hewn readings resistant to all but callous fingers. But like a beloved book poured over by its reader, each pinpricked hole bore testament to repetitions of touch, pronouncing stains of enamel in pinks and reds. Ferguson's Braille codes were exhibited in counterpart with the work of Dorothy Helyer whose musical song cycles operated in a similar rubric. Separating the stave and the musical notation in a series of diptychs, Helyer etched stanzas in stratums of graphite. These were perhaps reminders of the work of Cilla McQueen, whose various songlines and scores for hills, sky and water from the 1980s are precedents to Helyer's own wandering dots that likewise chart a symphonic landscape.

1. Anthony Byrt, Judy Millar: How to Paint Backwards, Gow Langsford, Auckland 2003, p.3.

Originally published in Art New Zealand 109 Summer 2003-04