I, Us, Them by Abbra Kotlarczyk

Recently Australian based artist-writer Abbra Kotlarczyk visited New Zealand and drew some insightful parallels between concurrent exhibitions by Len Lye, Tony de Latour and Sam Clague. The latter of which I wrote the catalogue essay for. Kotlarczyk has a wonderful talent for weaving so many ideas into one, rather than addressing each as separate paragraphs. See exceprt below where her analysis of Clague's show is woven into the wider theme of the article so well.

In Taste Nature, Dunedin-based Clague has created a series of works that resemble what we might think of as algorithmic degenerations of organic and computational twenty-first century desire. Clague’s central Untitled Installation of 2017-18 reads as the failed outcome of a student’s attempt to restage The Way Things Go, the famous kinetic sculpture by Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss. The ephemeral looking installation—which is made up of an abeyance of otherwise functional computer devices and electronic cords, chain-links and slumped moving blankets of the kind synonymous with art installers (of whom Clague is one)—stand in as a central axiom for what I see to be the primary success of this show: to reveal, through a kind of poised squalor of anti-aesthetics, the dark side of our compulsive, consumptive practices. In other words, Clague (whether he means to or not) is sparking a conversation about what the other side of comfortable privilege looks like. He is bathing in the decomposition of other people’s hard labour that is most often, conveniently, hidden from our view. In the exhibition catalogue, Clague’s creative process is summed up by Chloe Geoghegan as such: ‘amalgamated materials are aerated and turned like organic fertiliser over time to generate new forms representing a failed system.’ [12] Untitled Installation cuts through the modest art school gallery space like a stubborn and defiant trajectory.

On the far wall of the gallery is the triptych Don’t look at the carpet, I drew something awful on it (2018), an equally bloated and deflated depiction of the interior life of one’s bathroom or kitchen. These works, along with the show in full, reveal the debauched realities of consumables in arrears: banana skins, recycled paint, polystyrene, coffee grounds, nicotine gum, dirt and plaster et al. These carpet paintings function like modern-day mirrors to the atavistic primordial soup that science (and Randerson) tell us the earth was born out of. And while these paintings are meant to be ugly—the play on the word taste is certainly a visceral one in the presence of these works—there is a kind of accumulative presence that evokes a doleful beauty, much like the vibrations that are plucked out of an Anselm Kiefer work that cannot be anticipated by its reproduction alone. Taste Nature brings us to the edge of a kind of ontological shift that Randerson and Geoghegan speak of: a steady crescendo that Lye’s film and de Latour’s exhibition both seem to close in on at the exact point of destruction (in the former), and creative transformation at the bridging point of a move from figuration into geometric abstraction (in the later).