BARRIERS & SIGHT-SCREENS
New Sculpture by Greer Twiss
Although most of the elements in this exhibition have been seen before (with the exception of the cast bronze cloth or rag), present is a greater assurance, a sparser and more minimal vocabulary: the cast rope-ends, steel plate and section, and ring-hinges seem to be tied closer to the ideas underlying Twiss's subjects.
The exhibition had the feel of an obstacle course, the viewer being forced to walk around and between the sculptures, the leaps being left to the viewer's eye and imagination. Notions of their being barriers were strengthened by Twiss's heightened interest in the construction and making of the works themselves. Where in the past a work's mechanical construction was concealed, the bolt-heads of joined elements here become an integral part of the surface 'decoration'. In this sense the new work can be seen to relate to that of his late friend and colleague John Panting. The difference, however, lies in Twiss's humanistic tendencies, which form the heart of his ideas.
Probably the most surprising aspect of the new work is the elegant and sumptuous surface treatment. Full play is made of the natural colour of the material. Rich yellow bronze castings play against the dark plates of raw steel (not burnished and blued as previously) and the evocative traces of red primer that remain on the steel section. Add to this the bolt-heads, ring-hinges and the occasional cast rope-end and one can see that the new sculptures are on the most superficial level interesting and rich. This quiet colour is in direct contrast to the garish and bright lacquers of earlier years; surfaces are allowed to evoke their own atmosphere with only a little help from the sculptor.
Alongside the eight sculptures were some series of drawing/collages that immediately one felt not to be as successful as the three dimensional works. To my way of thinking Twiss does not seem at home with two dimensions, either as the basis for illusion or as a commitment to flat surfaces per se. Here his vocabulary seems less personal. The requisite masking tape, string, xerox and office stationery of the conceptualist is a trademark that sits uneasily on Twiss, its 'faddish' currency adding little to the strengths of his ideas to date. These elements seem assumed and unresolved and out of step with his sculpture as we see it in this present exhibition - even given the fact that the artist obviously expects his works on paper to do different things to his sculptures in the round.
This does however raise interesting speculations about the nature of a painter or sculptor, and what directs them to their chosen idiom. Could it be in Twiss's case an inherent lack of feeling for two-dimensions? In this exhibition his best 'drawing' can be seen within the sculpture themselves.
So far I have only hinted at what the three dimensional works are about. The titles themselves offer clues and indeed suggest the metaphors that Twiss means us to experience. These are in fact quite straight-forward. Barrier, Open Barrier, Sight Screen, Trig: all are suggestive of man-made structures that are used to order and measure the world - things such as road-barriers, partitions, trip points. Human measurement has been a theme that Twiss has often used over the past few years. It can be seen in such works as the Todd Motors commission. In a sense the viewer becomes in these works the human measure itself, something that Twiss provided in earlier works (remember the fragments of hands or shoulder that often appeared). The scale is now more generally life-size. The tricks or aberrations of scale that the sculptor was fond of perpetrating in earlier years have vanished. What has replaced them is a new monumentality.
Geoff Steven with members of the Raetihi Progressive Association. Still from one of the first two commisioned video projects in The Auckland City Art Gallery's Project Programme Series.
The viewer provides not only a scale, but becomes as it were the missing human element in these works - they can empathise more completely with the hand that tied the rope or placed the fluttering rag. Spectators within the gallery become a counterpoint to the works themselves. We approach works such as Barrier I and are forced to walk around it. With a work such as Open Barrier we are invited to walk through: we are meant to see it as a two part work, the space in between waiting to be charged with the presence of something or somebody. Other works such as Trig become points around which we gravitate, a personal triangulation.
These new works have, for all their use of what we know to be hard materials, an important quality of 'softness' that relates back to Twiss's humanist interests. The sculptures have the feeling of having been 'worked', the soft burnished bronze, the weathered steel and carefu!ly finished edges, all give weight to this interpretation, especially when one thinks of the ragged, raw finish that characterised the constructivist works of John Panting.
Phil Dadson, from Physical: 4 Situations, videotape of body-builders at the Spa Health and Sauna. Still from one of the first two commisioned video projects in The Auckland City Art Gallery's Project Programme Series.
Greer Twiss must be seen on the basis of his record to date as being certainly the leading sculptor of the post-war generation in New Zealand. At the very least Twiss has given us ample evidence of his continuous devotion to the problems of sculpture, as well as many successful solutions. This last exhibition has only strengthened his claim.