Bob Jahnke light-works, Lamentation

Lamentation – Bob Jahnke

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19 July - 27 October 2019 /
Hastings City Art Gallery /
By Michael Hawksworth

There is no shortage of good reasons to pop in to Hastings City Art Gallery right now, the place is stuffed with eye-popping and excitingly staged art and craft.

Scoring very high on the eye-popometer, not to mention any visual arts measure of environmental conscience, is Robert Jahnke’s minimalist and brooding new show of light-works, Lamentation.

Packed into the Holt Gallery, the works conspicuously occupy most of its angular spaces, with their vast illusionistic depths, turning the modestly-sized gallery space into a very viable contender for any future TARDIS redesign. In fact, quite appropriately considering Dr Who’s famously inventive shoestringproduction values, Jahnke’s futurism is constructed from decidedly lo-tech, everyday materials – neon, strip lights, one-way glass, mirrors.  From their cunning combination, the artist is able to conjure cabinets that disclose vistas of infinite regression where bars of white light or words in coloured neon replicate themselves as far into the darkening distance as they are able.  

Jahnke’s previous work using this contrivance (represented here in style by Ka tangi hoki ahau) has hardwired te reo, that is often coupled with traditional Māori forms, for example tukutukupanelling, into this infinite regress to simultaneously suggest both an exhilarating plane of cosmic/cultural eternity and a sense of a culture’s need to “rage against the dying of the light.”

What’s most interesting about the 2019 works that comprise the conceptual focus of Lamentation is that they unavoidably and determinedly undercut their own sci-fi aesthetics or any sense of the technological sublime with their insistence on broadcasting urgent environmental issues. Jahnke has commissioned poets from across Pasifika to give voice to their alarm as the tides sweep in more and more of the plastic detritus of 20th and 21st century consumerism. Sandblasted into the glass panes in a utilitarian typeface, the poems’ infinite repetition back through the mirroring corridors, drains the words of meaning and affect, like the labelling of rows of identical goods in a supermarket aisle, or like the slogans, the bromides we use to salve our consciences and remind ourselves that we’re outraged.  Immediately the viewer becomes aware of all the thousands of fluorescent tubes, each providing a light source for a cloned poem, each illuminating rod printed with the words:

OSRAM LUMILUX COOL DAYLIGHT MADE IN CHINA

It’s an acute vision of infinite, unstoppable mass production, of human consciousness made visible by a march of non-disposables towards infinity, filling every corner of the universe, into the darkness.

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