Enjoy and E.T.A
In my home there is an image by Wellington photographer Andrew Ross looking up a narrow staircase. Ross follows the trails of light in his documentation of neglected Wellington and here, as the staircase sweeps off to the left at the top of its flight, a glowing ball of light hovers. This light is from a nearby window, but I'm also inclined to contemplate whether, like the spirit photographers of the 19th century, Ross has captured the spectral presence of a past inhabitant. As in the celebrated photographs of interiors by Laurence Aberhart, in Ross's images a human presence is often to be found in its very absence.
There's also another way of reading this picture - that this light is created from the intensity of artistic activity occurring just out of view. For this is the staircase that leads to Enjoy, a public gallery in Cuba Street which is arguably Wellington's most dynamic art space. There have been 65 exhibitions held in this artist-run space in just over two years, providing a platform for a new breed of emerging artists and curators in Wellington, with its emergence paralleling the establishment of a School of Fine Arts at Massey University.
Bred on critical theory, these are artists being encouraged to question many of the assumptions we have of art and the role of the artist. It's rare to find framed pictures here, unless it is to actually to put that framing into question. ‘Where is the art?' the bemused that stumble upon the gallery might say. In fact Enjoy requires you ask this question. This is a space dedicated to experimental art practise, where pushing boundaries is pretty much mandatory. Installations involving the arrangements of objects or alterations to the space are the norm, collaborations between artists are common and there's a renewed interest in the place of the curator as a creator. Typically artists here deal with the cataloguing and packaging of objects, and the interpretations that can be found by the isolation of the familiar in a gallery context.
Ideas here are valued as much as technique, and as a consequence there's no lack of humour. Openings - always great events here - have seen artists do everything from spraypaint the windows black from the outside while you watch, to encouraging you to make toast with a selection of toasters. An early exhibition consisted of ensuring that whoever parked in a designated space across from the gallery got their park paid for by the gallery.
Within this constantly evolving performance in Cuba Street there's been no lack of strong work, but it's the viewer who needs to rise to the challenges posed and decide what ideas have lasting resonance, and what remain cheap tricks. There are no helpful explanatory labels or artist CVs to tell you what to think.
Enjoy is one of the youngest of a series of artist-run project spaces that have sprung up in New Zealand's four main centres since the early 1990s. Today they receive establishment backing and interest - considered important development spaces for installation practise on its way to our major contemporary galleries.
The oldest of these spaces is the now defunct Teststrip. Begun in Vulcan Lane in the early ‘90s by a small group of my Auckland contemporaries, it set the agenda for many of those that followed. With a programme decided by themselves, the artists, Teststrip and its successors have created a new sense of community and focus for contemporary practise. Today, many of those Teststrip artists are amongst our most respected, moving with entrepreneurial ease between the artist-run space, dealers and public galleries. And as ten years ago Teststrip toured a representative group exhibition to Wellington, Enjoy are currently doing the same to Christchurch's High Street project.
The current exhibition at Enjoy, E.T.A, curated by Louise Tulett (until September 6), is described as a play with "what constitutes the desired destinations and imagined locations of contemporary travel." You'll find icecream sticks used to create abstract patterns, arrangements of cardboard boxes made of customwood, and a forest of those air freshener trees people hang from their rear vision mirrors - giving off an almighty sweet stench. I expected a more fantastical play with the exotic, but instead got a strong evocation of the unease of dislocation - the sense of constantly being in a state of transit where everywhere seems and smells the same. Common subject matter for our global-surfing young contemporary artists. And, with an artist having covered the entire ceiling and walls of the entranceway with tinfoil, there were also some wonderful new lighting effects in the stairwell.
Originally published by the Dominion Post