I have always been intrigued by memories – how items can spark varying associations for different people, some new connections and others from ions ago. The human mind is a wondrous and complex thing, and this is what drew me to Things Beyond Our Control at ST PAUL St Gallery. Curated by Charlotte Huddleston, it features Auckland-based artist Suji Park, and international artists Cornelia Parker and Jun Yang.
Upon entering the gallery, you navigate your way through what feels like concrete ruins. This sparse open space allows you to reflect on mnemonic clues to unearth what has occurred. Kind of like discovering an abandoned house in an episode of The Walking Dead 😀
Here is the artsdiary link to some images of the exhibition:
The first work you encounter is by Suji Park. It stands as a solitary signpost, beckoning you into the space. This artwork seems like it grew straight out of the ground, with its aberrations, protrusions, and trunk like plinth. With the barest splashes of pastel hues, Park’s sculpture is organic with a quirky charm – I am not a hundred percent sure what it is, but that may be her intention 😛 All I know is that it has a curious allure; it is both weird and wonderful, and highlights her palpable attention to surface.
At the opposite side of the gallery, Park’s other works are more geometric when compared to her first sculpture. The rectangular and square blocks are all a scatter, like remaining puzzle pieces, each a potential memory trigger. The title BUK 330-399 is the name of the suburb in Seoul, Korea, where she used to live. Park has formed aspects of her home from her own recollections; the house has since fallen into dilapidation.
Her works are not flawless and standardised – their handmade quality is evident in their varying sizes and roughened exteriors. The imprecision of these sculptures can be likened to the way that a person’s memories are not exact. Things are never quite as you remember them, and sometimes they are better or worse. Nevertheless, I think the creative process is important: a way for Park to engage in nostalgia, and for the viewer to take a sepia-toned trip down memory lane as well.
Now let’s tackle the huge tent in the middle of the room. Transitional Object II by British artist Cornelia Parker is an imposing work. Suspended, waiting, her installation is crafted from black safety nets and tethered to the ground by small bags filled with lead shot. The title references paediatrician and psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott, who stated that a transitional object is a security or comfort blanket used by children as a substitute for the maternal presence.
Such netting has connotations with the armed forces and hunting, something that is used to ensnare or conceal, yet it also resembles a safety net. Furthermore, the title indicates protection – tents function as shelter, but where are the doors on this? And the visible gaps in the weave provide little refuge or privacy. Hence Parker’s work has many contradictions, and I feel there is this constant, foreboding tension as to whether it will fall or swoop.
This installation elicits a sense of anxiety and apprehension. The netting looks like a spider’s web, which brought to mind The Cure’s ‘Lullaby’ (how great is that song!) and Admiral Ackbar alarm bells were ringing in my head. Yet her work also incited other associations as well: funny, wistful thoughts of forts my siblings and I used to craft from chairs, sheets and pegs; flashbacks to school camps where tents would collapse in stormy turbulent weather. The discernible suspense created from not knowing, makes Parker’s installation all the more captivating.
Lastly Jun Yang’s compelling video work, A Short-Story on Forgetting and Remembering follows a male protagonist as he nocturnally roams a cityscape marked by stretches of never-ending neon. The artist is our narrator (he hired an actor for the protagonist) and he relays his thoughts on memories, identity and displacement, as he was born in China, grew up in Vienna, and currently divides his time between three cities. This city is never named, yet its landmarks and the closing credits reveal it to be Taipei – though I feel that the sense of dislocation, both personal and cultural, is archetypal of many immigrant stories and any big city.
Yang describes how as a child, his classmates would often spend time with their grandparents, yet his lived further away so he would only see them occasionally. His grandparents gave him a gold Parker pen, which he prized – he now had something that all the other children did, and he suitably ‘wrapped reality to the image he needed’. This work is bookended by references to Blade Runner (1982): Yang opens with a description of implanted memory, and concludes with the protagonist flicking past the film on TV.
This notion applies to Taipei as a city, whose history is constantly being rewritten and reconstructed over its urban landscape. Its identity has been punctuated by numerous events, such as the retreat of the Kuomintang Army who brought Chinese national treasures with them, and altered Taiwan’s cultural heritage from 400 years to 5,000 in an instant. Yang ends poignantly with a metaphor of overlapping real wood with a veneer, and if the surface fulfils a need and ‘the necessities of that moment, perhaps that is enough’. Thus the barrier between the real and the imagined is muddled, it becomes less significant, and we treasure the memories even if they fade beyond our control.
Wow that was really long, I’m sorry about that! I really wanted to do justice to each of the works in this thought-provoking exhibition. Things Beyond Our Control is on until Friday 21st March 2014 at ST PAUL St Gallery, St Paul Street.
I also found this Radio New Zealand interview with Cornelia Parker from March 2010 (she collaborated on a work with Tilda Swinton where Tilda slept in a display case):
Thanks for visiting and reading to the end!
 Charlotte Huddleston, ‘Things Beyond Our Control, Suji Park / Cornelia Parker / Jun Yang,’ ST PAUL St Gallery, accessed February 19, 2014, https://stpaulst.aut.ac.nz/publications/articles/things-beyond-our-control
 Jun Yang from the screenplay for A Short-Story on Forgetting and Remembering, 2007, quoted in Charlotte Huddleston, ‘Things Beyond Our Control, Suji Park / Cornelia Parker / Jun Yang,’ ST PAUL St Gallery, accessed February 19, 2014, https://stpaulst.aut.ac.nz/publications/articles/things-beyond-our-control