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Penthouse

August 2014

Fresh and Fruity

Erinn Keith, Sean Bosman, Natalie Kittow, Zoe Crook and Vanessa Preston

Images by Motoko Kikkawa

Text by Mya Morrison Middelton

Zoe Crook’s piece functioned as an understated welcome to the space. This consisted of a phone placed on a ledge with an invitation for viewers to record their thoughts as a voicemail. This piece gave impetus to the thematic tone of the exhibit with linguistic cues related to the hotel experience- the phones function was referred to as ‘Penthouse Reservations’ and we were instructed to dial ‘#2’. This piece foreshadowed the subversive nature of the show as a unit with it’s invitation for, and reliance on audience interaction as a departure from traditional sculptural codes. This work also extended in practice to her prospective work where she will use a bouncy castle as a week long residency space employing the intermutual component of her practice.

In Natalie Kittow’s performance she moved silently amongst the gallery executing repetitive housekeeping actions- she became the implied penthouses maid. Seated on the gallery floor she meticulously polished and arranged ornate silverware, meditatively unfolded a stack of white napkins forming a new adjacent pile, folded and unfolded linen, and swept the gallery floor. Kittow disrupted the traditional hierarchy of invisibility and servility attributed to housekeeping by calling upon the tradition of spectatorship in performance. This forced onlookers to be aware and to facilitate her presence. Kittow addressed the Penthouse theme by showing how the prosperity and opulence of it relies on many actions which are given low cultural value. As she swept the gallery floor spectators moved to allow her full access, a reversal of common behaviour, and reminiscent of Mierle Laderman Ukeles Maintenance Art performance series (spannings the 1970s). In this series Ukeles would clean the gallery creating awareness of the labour needed to maintain the gallery. Kittow’s body appeared mechanised through the silent repetition of her actions and cyclic rotations around the gallery from task to task which exemplified the non personified and ritualistic function of the body as a systemic object in a housekeeping role. As she moved through the gallery into the anteroom to fold linen she interrupted the traditional experience of a gallery in which spaces are divided causing a moment of reticence from spectators. Kittow addressed the gendered facet of domestic labour, her linen was traditionally feminine associated tones, which created a harmonious visual relationship with the surrounding artworks and emphasized the low cultural value placed on the domestic female labour role.

Vanessa Preston’s sculptures were a homage again to traditionally feminine housekeeping roles while also being an exploration of artistic codes and expression in the internet era. Her works consisted of a waste basket placed upside down with a cloth palpably molded placed top, with the letters ‘FML’ cut from sponges and two pieces of disposable cloth- one with dish gloves stitched like a tapestry and printed with a sad emoticon and ‘PLZ’ . The other work was a basin in which a pool of paint which slowly dripped onto the floor.The cloths worked as barriers in the gallery- I repeatedly saw people narrowly avoid disturbing the fallen paint which created a sense of anxiety in navigating the space. Preston challenged traditional practices of what constitutes art, primarily working with cleaning materials, and presented a gallery experience where the viewer must re-examine where and what an artwork is with resistance to the privileging of traditional practices. The invisible aspect of the penthouse housekeeping role, and on a larger scale the domestic female role, was reframed here with reference to the internet. Preston reframed these menial actions within the era of social media as a destabilising force in the dehumanizing aspect of this labour by making the anguish of the workers visible through her use of printed text.

Sean Bosman’s first work encountered is an animated cylindrical sphere projected onto a ubiquitous landscape painting. Recalling that of a computer screensaver the sphere ricocheted mockingly over the paintings surface and called attention to the limitations and rigidity of painting as a medium. It echoed the penthouse theme with the paintings decorative implications and held a visual harmony, through colour, with the surrounding works.The painting itself referred to the typical works one would see in a Penthouse or Hotel. Bosman’s second work is a screen swaddled in beige carpet. On the screen a clip from Die Hard (1988) played on loop which shows Bruce Willis in an air vent bloodied and bruised says “Come out the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs.” From the image on screen we assume Willis’ body is the implied form in the carpet. This work is wryly mocking the masculine leisure ideal and prosperity mythos of the penthouse which is explicit in 1980s actions films. Willis appears as a disembodied form, visually disconnected with the other works and is audibly repetitive until the comic aspect of it leaves way to banality. Willis’ audio bit became a mantra for the show and the ‘penthouse reservation’ phone was was left predominantly with messages of people mockingly repeating Willis.

Erinn Keith’s work confronted the dissimilarity between technology and nature by creating an otherworldly, in its incompatibility, tableau scene. A laptop with chat site Omegle loaded provided a live stream of interactions and on the floor, directly in front of the laptop, two rolls of lawn were laid out. Keith examines how we interact socially with technology, the webcam is faced away from the spectator typing specifically what is displayed on the internet. The webcam was faced onto the gallery space and away from the person using the computer which exposed the random stranger to a usually concealed space in an internet forum. Keith addressed the performative aspect of online interaction when the communication between those in the gallery context and the online stranger became captivating as a performance in itself.

Penthouse was an absorbing show that subverted conventional practices of display, payed homage to the gendered segregation of work/leisure and the internet era. Penthouse introduced Fresh and Fruity Gallery, directed by Hana Aoake and Zach Williams, as a dynamic site for emerging and experimental artwork in Dunedin.