Born to Fly
by Roger Morris

The Family Fashion and Art Gallery, Oaks Centre, Wellington
11September 2002-11 October 2002

Rarely is exhibition that is an allegory of pre-apocalyptic New Zealand so enjoyable.

Ascending the staircase up into the Gallery, the viewer is bamboozled by a festoon of colour and a jetstream of polemic ideas. The sensation is not unlike the adrenalin rush of take-off, leaving the terrestial plain and be catapulted into thinner, more rarified atmosphere.

This show is as confrontational and challenging as any Morris has assembled, and coming a year after September 11 2001 it provides ample opportunity for critical reflection. Doubtless, the aeronautical theme has renewed salience in the aftermath of the tyranny of September 11th and the kaleidescopic panarama of the exhibition disorients the viewer disturbingly. It is difficult to know where to start, and where to end. It is a continuous dialogue, the voices are plangent, instructive and unavoidable.

The exhibition highlights work mainly from his more recent Wellington residency and his work outside of Taranaki has more colour. These pieces includes 'Tank', an abstract eulogy to the surburbanisation of the soul, through to 'Pilot', an exquisitely statuesque male nude; the aviator stripped bare of any navigational instruments, a direct reference to the exhilaration of art and flying. Each piece is a run-way into the imagination, an invitation to be airborne. The characteristic sinister undertones that is feature of Morris's fey appraisal of our dystopian world over many years are strongly evident and in the post-September 11 environment have increased timbre.

The parodic images of 'Airline Barbie', with the chilling but seemingly banal motto "Lets go USA, Keep'em flying" written as an eery subtext adds some sardonic humour to the show. Similarly, 'Biting the hand that feeds us' speaks spectacularly and vividly of an imploding world. It is a world in which cretinous humans have conspired to sabotage and bring ourselves to the brink of total obliteration.

The ideas, painstakingly painted, at first glance may not appear subtle, but the subterranean complexity of the pieces, and the technical proficiency, make Morris one of the artistic prophets of our time. As such, his work is almost doomed to be the treasury of the next generation and lost to contemporary critics. Perhaps that is the biggest travesty; it demands a wider audience.

Leitmotifs from previous work, the feisty blue eel for example, make a dazzling re-appearances. 'Hydra', is a piece that eloquently reports the anomie and desolation of unthinking modernisation following the gospel of the economic rationalists.

As a critique of postmodernism, the reinvented religion that has so many clueless disciples, Morris triumphs. The shadowy black figures wandering dazed and aimless harken to the world of recession, usurers, and alienation. The stylised chessboard to the ultimate inescapability of hegemonic world orders--we are the pawns, it is sometimes unclear who is playing the Big Game and how it will end. Once again, malevolent black jets suggest the proximity of the military complex, authoritarianism and our limited ability to resist. The skyline could easily be Baghdad, New York, Tokyo. Is the blue eel friend or foe ? This piece wants the limelight, but the warclouds gather.

Morris is the unflinching witness to the dehumanisation of the collective self, a chronicler of dissonant realities, writ large in unpalatable and unsanitised beauty. Surprisingly, the multi-media collection is far too redolent of meaning and illumination to be depressing or half-baked, as much contemporary hothouse art can be.

Why aren't more people talking back to this work ?, I ask myself. Bring your boarding pass and check it out...


email Roger at   oeo @ xtra.co.nz (remove the spaces)

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Image © Roger Morris