On Reflection: Vivian Lynn and Bronwynne Cornish

5020
By Mark Amery Courtesy of The Dominion Post 9/10/07 I've always had a problem with talk of art holding up a mirror to the world. Art may reflect, but good art tends to challenge us to reconsider…

Share

By Mark Amery Courtesy of The Dominion Post 9/10/07

I've always had a problem with talk of art holding up a mirror to the world. Art may reflect, but good art tends to challenge us to reconsider our view on things, rather than fall in love with our own reflections.

Image: Vivian Lynn, MIND FIELD: A hair strand contemplates the order, No.3, 2007By Mark Amery Courtesy of The Dominion Post 9/10/07

I've always had a problem with talk of art holding up a mirror to the world. Art may reflect, but good art tends to challenge us to reconsider our view on things, rather than fall in love with our own reflections.

Image: Vivian Lynn, MIND FIELD: A hair strand contemplates the order, No.3, 2007If art is a mirror it has the complexity that comes with the curvature of the convex or concave. Like the concave mirror in Jan Van Eyck's The Arnolfini Marriage, say, or the astonishing floating distorted skill in Holbein's The Ambassadors. Or likewise any number of digitally-tooled distortions by contemporary New Zealand artists from Richard Killeen to Andrew McLeod. Art is littered with mirrors, but they're most often used to distort.

In his seminal book Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan (the man who coined such phrases as "the global village" and "the medium is the message") makes comparison between the effects of the media and the story of Narcissus hypnotised by his own reflection in a pond.

Narcissus, McLuhan notes, comes from the Greek word narcosis or 'numbness', with the young man in the story becoming numbed by his own repeated image. "He had adapted to his extension of himself," wrotes McLuhan, "and had become a closed system."

I pondered on this after seeing new work by Vivian Lynn and Bronwynne Cornish last week (both of whom have had long careers and are seen all too rarely) and getting captivated by the latest technological mirroring effect, Facebook.com.

Vivian Lynn has long been interested in exploring the complexity of identity and perception. She has long countered simple and stereotypical representations in the media and the culture at large, opening up "the notion of a stable, enduring inner self and identity". Lynn is interested in reflecting a self where "identity emerges, ebbs, flows and mutates".

Those quotes are from the notes accompanying her exhibition currently at Mark Hutchins Gallery. The exhibition's title is Mind Field and that neatly expresses the conceptual and visual plotting of the work.

Gorgeous Rorschach-inspired mirrored paint blots are positioned on fields of horizontal and vertical lines as if like a butterfly collection. Sometimes these are held in brain-like shapes, with surfaces that, with the use of Japanese tissue, have a skin-like fragility, aiming for visceral effects. As cerebral as they might seem they work to get you thinking through less conscious, sensual triggers.

In the best work here there is a strong tension between the cool graph paper logic of the gridding and the flowering figurative mutability of the blots. They capture you in a luxuriant abstract snare. A little too often for me however they get too caught up in the layered materiality of the abstract painting within its frame, the relationships too rich between marks, shapes and ground.

The phrase 'Mind Field' also expresses Lynn's ongoing interest in finding ways to make us consider the complexity of the brain's responses to the world - the mix of the conscious and unconscious, thought and feeling. Her 1997 installation at City Gallery featured giant MRI scans of her own brain. They imprinted themselves on you in a way that encouraged you to go deeper into the ideas beyond initial bafflement. The paint blots are the same here - they burn a brand that holds you beyond easy definition. These are Mind Fields that get you out of Mind Sets.

Still used for psychological evaluation, the Rorschach inkblot test has been much beloved by artists for its connection to the way abstraction can engender different reactions. Created by Hermann Rorschach in 1921 (originally an art student who earnt the nickname 'inkblot' whilst at school for his love of drawing), the test by psychologists is ultimately less about what you see (what the abstract images resemble) as a study into how you see - your behaviour during the test.

The complex arrangements in Lynn's work constantly disrupt any easy abstract reading of the shapes. There is the sense that these delicate shapes are inflamed and in a state of change. Bodily, they are as powerful and muscular as pairs of lungs, and sexual and reproductive in their shape and heat. Caught between things, theirs is a frightening beauty, a kind of dark mirror.

Apparently most animals don't have the consciousness to recognise themselves in a mirror, and there's an eerie cross between conscious and unconsciousness states about Bronwynne Cornish's ceramic half-animal, half-human figures in Mirror Mirror at Mary Newton Gallery.

These figures seem like they are in an uncertain dreamlike revelry before their own reflection in mirrors. They evoke ancient and folk mythic storytelling characters, but are like archetypes who have come to life in the contemporary world, finding self-awareness.

Placed on small children's school chairs or antique furniture, there is as always with Cornish's magical figures an ambiguity in where they are sited culturally. They are figures of metamorphosis, reflecting the mixed archetypes we have gathered in our dreams from childhood stories.

They are however imbued with a sense of hopefulness: a love and care for creation. Tokens of affection for the world rubbed out of clay, unlike Narcissus (who, legend goes, changed into a flower) these gentle creatures are waking up from their animal state, scratching their heads and looking forward with fresh eyes, pondering the richness of life before them.

Mirror Mirror, Bronwynne Cornish, until 21 October, Mary Newton Gallery
Mind Field, Vivian Lynn, until 13 October, Mark Hutchins Gallery

Written by

Mark Amery

15 Oct 2007

Mark Amery has worked as an art critic, writer, editor and broadcaster for many years across the arts and media. He is co-curator of public art programme Letting Space.

Lucy Marinkovich in Lobsters at Circa.
Story
Mistakes and reinventions, winners and game changers: Mark Amery brings us up to speed with this week's news and content online from across the arts in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Buckwheat Cowley. Photo by Mark Tantrum.
Story
The politics of new NZ theatre, Francis Upritchard's 'Wetwang Slack', and celebrating our Pasifika artists: Mark Amery broadcasts the latest news and cultural tensions from across the arts in Aotearoa
Basement Tapes Director Jane Yonge shaking it up with a First in Fringe at Edinburgh.
Story
Mark Amery brings us the art news and weather from Aotearoa New Zealand.
Cushla Donaldson, 501s. Video (still frame excerpt). Courtesy the artist.
Story
NZ detainees in Australia; gallery concerns in Manawatu; conversations with the male member; Christchurch ditches meagre fund. Mark Amery and the Lowdown #12: arts news and weather in Aotearoa