By Anjuli Selvadurai and Freya Markula

Open On Saturdays - Reviewing 'Slow Boil' at Artspace Aotearoa.

Slow Boil entrance, image by Sam Hartnett, 2021.

Priding themselves on their avant-gardism, Artspace Aotearoa welcomes the Slow Boil Collective into the gallery space as artists, facilitators and curators. This is as much an attempt to do away with conventional ‘white-cube’ hierarchies as it is an outreach to the community of Karangahape Road, and the wider Tāmaki Makaurau region.

The Slow Boil Collective are the heart and soul of the exhibition, with Grayson Goffe’s soulful singing and the hearty aromas of Saturday food preparation filling the otherwise echoey cavern of the gallery. On days when this vibrancy is absent, it is otherwise substituted with empty kitchen spaces and seats. The collectivist aims of the exhibition become shrouded in a detached intellectualism, due to the stark contrast between the symbolic kaupapa of the kitchen and the clinical, evidence-based Forensic Architecture works that illuminate the corners of the gallery. These works stage a clash of attitudes, the kitchen fostering togetherness and the Forensic Architecture works threatening to ‘other’ those whose hardship they depict. One has to consider the implications of this clash, the dissonance of a shared community meal on Saturdays for which the soundtrack is screaming, terrified Palestinian individuals along the Gaza Strip. These works are ideologically relevant, yet seem fundamentally at odds with the nurturing approach of the Slow Boil Collective’s work in practise. The international focus seems at times underdeveloped, serving primarily as a way to articulate Aotearoa’s own colonial trauma and kai insecurity through the hardships of other nations.

Although an admirable undertaking on Artspace Aotearoa’s behalf, embracing the ephemerality of exhibition making as an active part of the work’s conceptualisation, there is a clear disparity between the institutional identity of the gallery and the collective to whom they have momentarily given the reins. With administrative and hierarchical innovation often comes disorder, at least in the early stages, a fate that Slow Boil is certainly a casualty of. What results is an exhibition that seems incomplete within Artspace Aotearoa’s standard opening hours, confusing Karangahape Road pedestrians by overcomplicating what is otherwise a simple concept, slow violence. In the pursuit to avoid superficiality, Artspace Aotearoa omits too many recognisable artistic signifiers, producing an outcome which is too wound up in dense hermeneutics to democratically reach the wide, diverse audience that it requires.
Although it gives to the community in a material way on Saturdays, the exhibition offers a confusing tonal takeaway. The institution, Artspace Aotearoa, serves as a weak link in the overall success of Slow Boil, not quite authoritarian but not altogether passive, blocking the transfer of knowledge from the Slow Boil Collective to the wider community. Perhaps this clash represents an aspirational struggle within the gallery. With Forensic Architecture standing in for what Artspace Aotearoa has been, coolly conceptual, while the dynamic, collective kitchen space typifies their tenacious strive towards a new kind of art.

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Related to the exhibition Slow Boil
Published July 2021