|(click on the images below to see an enlarged version)|
|The Future is Now
A Rudolf Boelee exhibition
in collaboration with Brian Shields and Craig Stapley
19 August- 5 September 1998
Centre of Contemporary Art
Christchurch Nik Wright
LOG Illustrated Summer 1999
Boelee is rad because he can use art for political commentary without looking like a complete wanker. I believe some artists feel that they are empowered to comment on politics, science or medicine and their insight can impart some real intellectual truisms. Sorry, but most who try are just plain sad. Unless one is commenting on a real and serious personal experience, how can one expect to know more about cancer than a qualified doctor?! Boelee's commentary is focused on the inverse, how politics uses art to push political agendas. His tribute to Michael Savage looked at the Constructivists contribution to communism by quoting directly from workers' manifestos. Seven essential strengths for New Zealand is a pointed dig at the right wing nature of our modern governments. The 'strengths' are taken from Mussolini's propaganda (not that I realized that - very informative that brochure and why can't most conceptual artists just say exactly where they're coming from too?). The images reference El Duce's promotion of classicism to play upon Italian nationalism, and an idealized view of 1950's New Zealand. The distinctively New Zealand iconography of woven flax panels are broken down into modernist geometries to form border columns (did anyone say appropriation Gordon Walters style?). These 'strengths' - integrity, management, commitment, innovation, order, employment and measurement - could be seen as a bleak commentary on the totalitarian nature of our current society. The work had a strong graphical layout; Boelee does modernist cliche's well. To see them done badly check out Dave Thomas' and Chris Heaphy's recent collaborative show at the Jonathan Smart - infinitely eye-easy and boring. I guess it has to be said that I enjoyed Boelee's work because it made me realise how 1950s New Zealand was still principally the domain of ex-pat Englishmen. In fact I felt like the show could have been equally at home in a traditional British Museum.
Review: Ian Henderson
'The Future is Now' (title from Orwell's 1984) has at it's first memorable images a series of works titled 'Crown and Glory' (numbers 3-8) and ' Memorial to the Silent Revolution' (numbers 1, 2 and 4). The former is a triptych and the latter a diptych, and both feature the same image, that of an inverted clay pot. It could, of course, be seen as just that, an inverted clay pot, but it is also reminiscent of the mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion. It has a direct referral point on the image of the cloud rising from the volcano in the work 'Introduction' ( Seven essential strengths for New Zealand), the first of the most fascinating works of the exhibition, Boelee presents in league with Brian Shields and Craig Stapley.
A series of digital photomontages, 'Seven essential strengths for New Zealand' take in both the Italy of Mussolini and post-war New Zealand. The two images under the titles of 'Employment' and 'Measurement' feature young soldiers, whereas 'Innovation', 'Commitment' and 'Integrity' have classical icons, reportedly from Mussolini's Mostra della Rivoluzione Fascista. These images can be contrasted with the image of Charles Upham under the heading of 'Order', and Sherpa Tensing and Sir Edmund Hillary under the heading of 'High Achievers'. Mussolini's classical icons were used to remind his people of the culture and past of Italy, and its greatness. Our heroes are also seen as representatives of our greatness. Is it possible to separate the two? This thought-provoking sequence of works contrasts, quite deliberately, our icons with those of the fascists. What is the artist saying? Is it that icons are merely that, merely icons to be looked at and admired? Or is there a subtle a subtle criticisms of the iconisation of people and images, that what we have done is no better (or no worse) than what the fascists did?
Surely it could be said that such blind iconisation could be seen to be as damaging as that performed by Mussolini's propaganda?