Exhibition Essays

2008 Reviews

September 2008

I went to Mitre Ten Mega on Easter Sunday

Thomasin Sleigh

I wnet to Mitre Ten Mega on Easter Sunday. It was a big mistake; the places are absolutely terrifying. All I had to buy were some picture hooks, but it was like finding a needle in a haystack. They sell everything there. I experienced my usual sense of mega-chain-store-panic when confronted by so many products, so many people and so much space.

Murray Hewitt manages to be much more objective about Mitre Ten Mega in his current exhibition Gospel at Enjoy Public Art Gallery. At the opening, organist Jonathan Berkahn played the well known hymn Amazing Grace whilst consecutive images of every one of the 21 Mitre Ten Megas throughout New Zealand were projected onto the gallery wall. The darkened room, the wine on offer, the solemn music and the regularity and studiousness of the video work gave the performance a religious air, vastly in contrast to my own stressful experience of visiting one of these glowing monoliths a couple of weeks earlier - even though I did go on Easter Sunday.

In Don Delillo's novel White Noise one of the characters, also aptly named Murray, is fascinated by supermarkets, for him they are contemporary monuments where visitors undergo religious and fulfilling experiences. In regular passages in the novel the characters prowl the shelves, examining the shiny packages, searching for meaning and attempting to glean information.

Similarly, Hewitt's videos imbue ubiquitous buildings with political and social implications. The patience and dedication by which the artist has visited each store and filmed it in a dead pan manner encourages an equally contemplative attitude in the viewer. Mitre Ten Mega and stores of a similar ilk have subsumed locally run hardware shops and by the sheer number and breadth of products on offer, seem to encourage a zombie-like consumption of goods. Hewitt's work seemed to me even more pertinent given the government's imminent free trade deal with production giant China.

There are three other video works which play while Enjoy is open during the day, Weeping Waters, Untitled, and Jessie's Girl. These works are all similarly open ended but charged with political significance. The untitled work was for me the most powerful of these. The video is filmed out a car window and captures the fleeting glimpse of a white shrouded Klu Klux Klan style figure aiming a rifle at a white car. The video is slowed down so you are able to receive and process the image, which would otherwise be one of those scenes you see from a car window in a split second and can't quite reconcile or replay in your head.

It is a violent tableau. Hewitt has referenced the signifiers of the KKK before in a video work exhibited in the show Smoke Signals at the Michael Hirschfeld gallery. The artist is aware that a figure shrouded in white is heavy with connotations, and here the scene is given a backwards glance, enough for the viewer to accept the action and begin to construct a narrative informed by references to racial tension, land and violence. But there is a deftness of touch and a moment when Hewitt steps away from the work which allows a video so dense with political symbols to be light, fluid and open to interpretation.


Originally published by The Lumière Reader