Te Manawa Art Gallery
Palmerston North New Zealand.
Why So Quiet Child ?
A sculpture installation by James Charlton
There’s nothing original about the latest installation by Auckland sculptor James Charlton.
For this show at the Manawatu Art Gallery he has borrowed everything. Even the title, “Why so quiet, child?” is a line from the classic children’s novel The Borrowers, and Charlton has indeed borrowed (or rather, plagiarised) many elements and ideas, especially from the current work of artist friends. The 1950s retro designs of Dutch artist Jan van der Ploeg and the paintings of Simon McIntyre have been plundered and turned into objects of interior decoration in Charlton’s examination of the ways in which we invest both art and everyday objects with meaning and value.
A huge working sliding door which looks like a McIntyre painting, vinyl pouffes and orange and grey carpets carrying van der Ploeg’s geometric designs, a multitude of rugby whistles and a wall covered in sexually androgynous shapes moulded from the humble toilet duck are some of the odd elements of this installation, where nothing is quite what it seems.
The result is a show that is both nostalgic and very contemporary. The ten pouffes are a kind of visual shorthand for the baby boom commodity culture of the 1950s — but they also reference today’s trendy designer retro fashion and, under Charlton’s hand, become something more than furniture: power leads spout out the top of them, and electric light warmly glows from underneath. Likewise, the ten blue television monitors — almost de rigour in contemporary sculpture — are scattered over the carpets as a deliberate, silent satire on contemporary video art.
This is Charlton’s most comprehensive installation since his return from the United States, and consists of two rooms, separated by the sliding door, that must be entered consecutively, one almost a mirror image of the other.
Catalogue Essay – Mark Kirby