Freedom Farmers: A new crop of artists

Freedom Farmers
Auckland Art Gallery
Until February 23

The new Freedom Farmers exhibition at the Auckland Art Gallery is based on the notion that artists are the cultural developers and innovators of the country, the providers of the nutrients that sustain us socially, politically and artistically.

The idea of artists planting seeds  or ideas, which are then cultivated and harvested is a nice one but pursuing that analogy with Freedom Farmers it can be seen that some of the crops have not been harvested at the right time and a few have even withered but all the works have the potential to thrive given the right conditions for growth.

It’s a mixed crop of works but it does give an overview of some of the art practices which have been growing in New Zealand over the past couple of decades. Some of the works are brilliantly nurtured creations while others are a bit underdeveloped.

There is certainly enough in the show to provide interesting connections and there are various themes that can be picked up through the work of the 20 artists on show.

Several of the works relate to ideas about the environment and in particular the built environment, pitting the ideas of a Pacific paradise utopia against the reality of underlying controls that affect and sometimes undermine our built, natural and social environments.

This can be seen in Richard Maloy’s Tree Hut, an elaborate version of the kid’s tree house which has been built in the centre of one of the galleries, climbing up several levels to hang off one of the walls. It is built of discarded or recycled materials in a series of added on sections.

The elaborate construction is a metaphor (lots of the works have a metaphorical or symbolic role) for the way many of our houses have developed with additions, add-on and renovations  This accretive approach to architecture is also prevalent in the strategies and planning related to urban planning where new ideas are  rejigged or bolted on to old ones.

It’s a modern Tower of Babel, which harks back to the elaborate Constructivist works of the early 20th century reusing and appropriating castoff materials.

As a sculptural work it displays a physicality and immediacy showing all the techniques and skills usually hidden from the observer. The props, braces and connections are the subject of the work.

The Tree Hut is also a useful viewing platform for a set of photographs, the seemingly haphazard housing development in Edith Amituanai’s photographs of new housing in suburban Auckland.

In these we see that the completed architectural constructions that has its genesis in Maloy’s hut do not result in the ideal forms of housing that the developers and architects portray in their utopian visions.

She has documented one Burmese family in their resettled home in Massey. The human occupation of the interiors and exteriors of these places changes, disturbs and in some cases enhances spaces and the nature of social cohesion.

The title of these works – La fine del monde – the end of the world - can refer to the place the family has come from or the fact that they have arrived at the end of the earth with both its positive and negative overtones.

Ava Seymour’s photographs also reference the role of housing in providing social and architectural environments that are not conducive to positive social outcomes. Her series of work The Valley of the Fruitcakes features photographs of state houses overlaid with collaged figures of disadvantaged and disabled people. They are truly at the end of the world.

The works investigate the ambivalent attitudes to social housing and its history as well as the flawed policies of caring for the less fortunate. They generate narratives which are a mixture of the comic book, social commentary and documentation of the interface between the state’s and our personal search for utopia.

Like the images in Seymour’s photographs, the figures created by Francis Upritchard seem to be the inhabitants of an invented society, people or the edge of society or from another realm. They could also be the angels who accompany us or our alter egos.

In the far end of the gallery is one of et al’s great dystopian installations, which provides a surreal sense of the unknown, the withheld and the confusing, the parallel world of the conspiracy theorist.

The air is filled with the noise and static of covert observation and documentation. As with most of the collective's previous work et al has created an installation which examines the ideas behind social and political structures.

A room inside the installation has a screen on which an unseen instructor uses diagrams and texts covering a wide range of obscure diagrams, statistics and texts which provide an insight into the covert world of spy networks.

Other artists in the show include Dan Arps, Wayne Barrar, Martin Basher, Mladen Bizumic, Dorota Broda, Steve Carr, Xin Cheng, Stella Corkery, Tessa Laird, Allan McDonald, Louise Menzies, Shannon Novak, Isobel Thom, Shannon Te Ao and Iain Frengley