dali susanto

Urban Psychology

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Dali Susanto, Cat Sutherland and V / 
Creative Arts Napier / 
22 Nov - 6 Dec / 
By Rosheen Fitzgerald 

For those who think and feel deeply, it can be argued that mental anguish is the only rational response to the reality of existence in the urban landscape. Lives are lived in increasingly close physical proximity yet, more than ever, in social and emotional isolation. Spiritually bereft. Morally bankrupt. And what is to be done with this state of mental despair? For those who cannot afford the luxury of quite simply going mad, art is antidote. In Urban Psychology, three local creatives show work that strips bare the abject reality of the fractured self, and in doing so shine a beacon of connection to bridge the divide and pour balm on the soul.

A dozen diminutive canvasses flank the east wall of CAN’s Main Gallery, in Dali Susanto’s signature style. Bold black forms reveal a joyful rainbow palette in their negative spaces. Susanto pastiches both cubism — in his exploitation of geometric forms — and surrealism — in their execution, morphing aspects of man and nature to whimsical effect that is all Susanto’s own. Ubiquitous eyes peer from unexpected places, demanding the attention of the viewer, following them around the room. There’s a lightbulb on a wall-mounted saw too, and a trio of gourds, all bedecked in dense patterning that could be nothing but Susanto. It’s unmistakably fun and energetic but there’s a pleasingly dark undertow to the hybrid mutant forms that add depth to the work.

Cat Sutherland spreads across the north wall with three series of photographic prints in greyscale. She combines digital photography with analogue photopolymer intaglio printmaking in a manner that reflects the theme in its method as well as its result. The effect is muted, dream-like: one arm stretching to the past, the other reaching for the future. Broken Dancer examines the female form from unusual angles, the composition crowded into corners against a stark black background, evoking the tenuous and treacherous path that must be trod by those whose expression is dependent on their physical prowess, yet who must risk it in order to make their art. Three smaller, near identical prints, show a woman shielding herself behind the mask of the eponymous Skull. Armoured in rings and sleeve tattoos, which juxtapose beautifully with her sheer embroidered dress, she holds our gaze, not with her eyes but with her barely visible nipples. It’s a subversive evocation of the raw reality of personhood softened by the artifice we adopt in order to survive. The same model in the same dress poses very differently in the Elemental Series, grounded and holding our gaze in Earth; trailing a toe in a running stream in Water, and engulfed in smoke in Fire. Each piece is distinct, yet connected, parts of a whole.

The rest of the space is dominated by the vast and captivating canvasses of emerging artist, V Hoy. Unstretched hemp canvas hangs from eyelets depicting female faces rendered in lusciously thick strokes that hint at the depth of process that has gone into their creation. Emotion drips from the potent brew of graffiti splashes, stencilled pattern, scrawled text built up in layers. Their forms are dynamic, as if captured in an overexposed photograph, their double eyes — some seeing, others blind — arrest us with their gaze: questioning, challenging, confronting. Texture crackles from the curve of their uneven surfaces and frayed edges: imperfect, raw and real. Their very corporeality, their physical presence, augments the rage and pain, the violent beauty rendered in bold expansive form. Hoy’s palette has a muted vibrancy, dark sister to Susanto’s rainbows. There is a sense of boundless expression, unleashed desire, a screaming need to be heard writ large, manifested in paint. Text loops and layers, barely distinguishable but none the less compelling for its illegibility. The volume of what is being expressed would only be diluted by a written manifesto. Instead, Hoy bores into the part of each one of us that desires voice, allows us to fill in the blanks of what occupies that place in our own hearts from the wellspring of collective emotion into which she taps. The exception is the oft repeated Defy, Hoy’s proud proclamation of self that spreads outwards from the gallery walls to reclaim space in the urban landscape.

As if all this juice were not enough, the opening is graced by a spine tingling karanga by shamanic artist, Kezia Whakamoe; and an offering from Hinewai Waitoa, the wahine toa behind Hā Mauri Movement. Like the work on the walls, it’s a deeply emotional cultural blend of flowing yogic form and powerful traditional devices. With every whorl and circle, from high to low, tension held in body and mind is released in motion. Joy and pain, wonder and sadness are displayed with grace and heart melting vulnerability. Waitoa’s piece ends in an attitude of death, only to morph into an improvised piece inviting participation, blurring the lines between artist and audience.

It’s a wealth of culture honoured by the teeming footfall that comes to witness. In a world where we have murdered our gods, sacrificed on the alter of consumerism and the wage slavery that fuels it, works such as these provide a platform for connection. New goddesses for the modern age adorn the walls and walk the halls: splintered and bowed but defiant. They hold us in their unflinching gaze bringing us face-to-face with our own imperfect humanity, and in doing so create a conduit for the divine.

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