Nau mai, haere mai, welcome to eyeCONTACT, a forum built to encourage art reviews and critical discussion about the visual culture of Aotearoa New Zealand. I'm John Hurrell its editor, a New Zealand writer, artist and curator. While Creative New Zealand and other supporters are generously paying me and other contributors to review exhibitions over the following year, all expressed opinions are entirely our own.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Andrea Bell tells us about the recent Richard Orjis / LA Lakers / Death Throes performances in Christchurch

Richard Orjis: Silver Park (with LA Lakers and Death Throes)
16 April – 8 May

Dirt, heavy metal and pyrotechnics: what more could you want from an exhibition?

After a long wait on the stairwell outside the gallery we were finally let in. The lights were out, and any natural light was banished with the windows sealed in shiny black plastic. The gallery’s candle lit floor was littered with straw, crumpled tinfoil, the occasional photograph, amongst other detritus. At the end of the room, someone (something?) was throwing clods of dirt through an open window into the gallery. To the right of the window sat a robed shaman-like figure. A tinsel wig covered his face, disguising his identity. A small circular stage sat in the centre of the room, set up with a drum kit, microphone and amps.

The first performance was by LA Lakers (the robed figure). Crouching near the stage, his low-tech cassette tape and a-lyrical vocal performance echoed the pagan sentiment of the setting. Bells were rung and Walkmans were methodically flung across the floor. Following the performance, LA Lakers shuffled blindly around the gallery, lighting sparklers and offering them out to members of the audience, marking the close of the initiation. After a short interlude Death Throes took the stage. At this point, some of the audience there for the art left, replaced by an influx of teenage metal fans. This was my first metal gig. Although I couldn’t make out any of the lyrics, the throaty vocals and sustained power and aggression was hypnotic.

Coupled with the music, the Silver Park installation suggested the same dark anthropological sense of ritual and contemporary gothic that Orjis’ is known for. Having only ever seen Orjis’ Empire of Dirt photographs of young men, smeared in mud, and adorned with phallic flora garlands, Silver Park was not quite what I’d expected. Described on the gallery’s website as a “crepuscular ceremony” rather than an exhibition, Orjis’ installation set the scene for a performance-based manifestation of his interest in mysticism, and transcendence.

The performance aspect of Silver Park showed certain continuities with Orjis’ 2008 Physics Room show Welcome to the Jungle (For this work Orjis invited Christchurch locals to cover their bare skin in soot and be photographed in the gallery. On opening night bodies writhed in the black coal while the portraits of coal-faced individuals were projected on the wall. Meanwhile a black station wagon parked below the gallery, brimming with orchids in lush fushias, purples and marigolds alerted those at street level to the activity above.)

Formally, the circular stage in Silver Park echoed the circular mound of coal central to Orjis’ earlier show. Circles are ubiquitous in pagan rituals, symbolizing the changing seasons, wheel-chart of astronomy and the cyclic nature of life itself. Orjis’ act of casting a circle creates a place suggestive of earth worshipping and ritual in the gallery.

The relationship between the performative and installation based elements inherent to Orjis’ work is one of evolution. Whereas in Welcome to the Jungle, the relationship between the material and performative aspects of the exhibition was cohesive and unified, here Orjis’ stage, dirt, foil, candles and floor-based photos were less polished, and more open and anarchistic. This is perhaps suggestive of a desire to move away from the formal and thematic aspects that he has become known for.

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