Click + Collect - Patrick Pound's "On Reflection" Reviewed

Click + Collect

Patrick Pound's On Reflection

City Gallery Wellington

11 August – 4 November 2018

Reviewed by Emil McAvoy for PhotoForum

Patrick Pound,  On Reflection , City Gallery Wellington, (detail).

Patrick Pound, On Reflection, City Gallery Wellington, (detail).

Artist Patrick Pound stated in a recent interview with Radio New Zealand's Susie Ferguson that "when I click 'buy' to me that's a bit like taking a photograph really...that's me saying it's worthy of recording again."1 Ferguson described this as an act of commerce. She also emphasised the sound of the mouse "click" as an allusion to that of the camera shutter, which by implication the mouse now displaces – a compelling proposition for contemporary art.2

Pound, a New Zealand-born, Melbourne-based artist, has purchased thousands of photographs online: the artist as collector – or curator – and vice versa. He utilises iterative exhibitions of this evolving, multifaceted archive of found photography (and other objects) to point towards things – be they things in the world or aspects of the medium itself.

Fittingly, one two-part installation which features in his exhibition at City Gallery Wellington, On Reflection, is titled The Point of Everything, and features an array of found photographs and other objects reshuffled with items from Te Papa Tongarewa's national collection, including celebrated art photographs, paintings and other artworks.3 Everything within the installation points, or is at the very least, pointy: from the hand gestures of subjects within photographs, to a sharpened pencil, to numerous editions of Aldous Huxley's novel Point Counter Point.4

Patrick Pound,  The Point of Everything, On Reflection , City Gallery Wellington

Patrick Pound, The Point of Everything, On Reflection, City Gallery Wellington

Patrick Pound,  The Point of Everything, On Reflection , (detail) City Gallery Wellington.

Patrick Pound, The Point of Everything, On Reflection, (detail) City Gallery Wellington.

So what's the point? Pound's form of 'point and click' can be seen as an extension of the Duchampian readymade – selecting images and objects from everyday life and granting them a new aesthetic context and symbolic function.5 Among his earlier work, Pound photographed typologies of objects – readymades in the form of old televisions, heaters, chairs and mattresses left on the street for curb-side collection – before collecting images and objects became the medium itself.6

As visitors first enter the exhibition they encounter two long, low display cabinets butted together which bisect the room, forcing visitors to choose a side to explore first. However, as the experience unfolds, it becomes apparent that the exhibition design and displays are laid out symmetrically, reflected about this central axis demarcated by the cabinets. The act of mirroring is echoed within the photographs inside this first cabinet: the subject in each photograph is reflected so accurately it is largely identical when viewed from either direction. Mountain ranges reflected in lakes, for example, a key motif of the exhibition.

Patrick Pound,  On Reflection , City Gallery Wellington.

Patrick Pound, On Reflection, City Gallery Wellington.

Patrick Pound,  On Reflection , (detail), City Gallery Wellington.

Patrick Pound, On Reflection, (detail), City Gallery Wellington.

Yet other moments playfully disrupt this trope, revealing deeper complexities at play in the act of reflection. In one black and white image, a woman is reflected in a nearby pond; however, a cluster of lilies on the water's surface obscure part of the reflection and make it appear as if her head and torso are made of these plants. An unintended surrealist moment perhaps, yet one which might also recall the loaded juxtapositions of Hannah Hoch's photomontages. Such accidental masterpieces abound in the exhibition, grounded in the pleasures of 'amateur' photography, and reframed by a selective eye with a view to art and photographic histories.

In their new public life, these found photographs appear to revel in their co-option in to the exhibition-as-art-object. These photographs become part of vibrant new communities guided by novel membership criteria: such as The Photographer's Shadow (eclectic images all featuring the classic 'mistake' of including the photographer's own shadow), and visible only in its traces, The Gallery of Air (photographs of birds, aeroplanes, skies, hair blowing in the wind, et cetera).7

Likewise, the works generously loaned by Te Papa feel reenergised by their immersion in new visual and material ecologies, engendering new relationships and associations, alternate readings and layers of meaning. Describing Pound's earlier deployment of the National Gallery of Victoria's collection in The Great Exhibition, City Gallery Wellington Chief Curator Robert Leonard notes: High or low, art or non-art, all items were decontextualised, becoming tokens in Pound’s game, grist to his free-associational mill. Differences in cultural standing were beside the point. Pound says this gave the NGV’s objects a ‘sabbatical’ from their institutional mandates—vacation, more like. It also liberated them from their makers’ intentions and purposes.8

Patrick Pound,  Palindrome ,  On Reflection  (detail), City Gallery Wellington.

Patrick Pound, Palindrome, On Reflection (detail), City Gallery Wellington.

Patrick Pound,  Palindrome ,  On Reflection  (detail), City Gallery Wellington.

Patrick Pound, Palindrome, On Reflection (detail), City Gallery Wellington.

Palindrome, a large-scale wall installation comprised of a matrix of found photographs interspersed with works from Te Papa, also introduces On Reflection. Columns and rows of images intersect at key points where differing forms of content overlap. Befitting its title, the installation acts as a partial mirror, foil or double of itself. At one end of the grid, a photograph of the World Trade Centre's Twin Towers is hung next to a photograph of two almost identical glass bottles side by side – one Coke, one Pepsi. At the other end, the Twin Towers are depicted being struck by a meteor in a promotional photograph for the 1979 film Meteor. It is as much about connections as collections.

At the visual centre of Palindrome is Northland (1961), a modestly scaled oil on hardboard painting by Colin McCahon. Although re-inscribing McCahon at the centre of New Zealand art history may prompt ambivalent responses in some viewers, this may be offset by Pound's idiosyncratic appropriation. The painting's highly abstracted composition of two opposing chevrons direct the viewer's eye to the web of works adjacent, above and below. Here, Pound's ir/reverent instrumentalising of McCahon, at one level, reduces the painting to a purely visual operation – and for a moment, liberates it from decades of cultural baggage it is perhaps otherwise incapable of shaking off. In Palindrome, McCahon's painting becomes a pivot, gesturing to the world beyond while conversely grounding it in relationship to that world.

In this new context, it is perhaps ironic to reconsider both McCahon's role as cleaner-turned-curator of the Auckland Art Gallery, and the criticism Te Papa once attracted by exhibiting a McCahon next to a Kelvinator refrigerator typical of the time. Within New Zealand's increasingly conservative, risk-averse culture of contemporary curating, it would appear safer to outsource risk to an artist. Accompanying this risk, artists are delivering corresponding rewards, further evidenced by Michael Parekowhai's innovative Detour project, exhibited in Te Papa's new Toi Art gallery space. Detour reframes items from their collection (at times literally) and recombines them with examples of his own work – albeit in an entirely different way.9

Patrick Pound,  On Reflection,  City Gallery Wellington.

Patrick Pound, On Reflection, City Gallery Wellington.

One might experience a palpable sense of overwhelm at the sheer volume of images present in On Reflection – in practical terms there is no seeing everything – just as those resuscitated by the artist evoke a sense of the innumerable images lost, discarded, forgotten. It is a condition only exacerbated by the digitization of photography and the torrent of images we now produce and consume online.

Pound's work celebrates the diverse materiality of photographs – particularly snapshots, postcards, press prints and publicity photographs – in an array of formats which trace advances in technology and shifting patterns of use. In contrast, their selection and grouping in constellations reveal the guiding algorithms of the internet search. Their likenesses also reflect Pound's search terms, along with the Markov chains and taste profiles online shopping platforms develop for his purchases – which the artist knowingly puts to work. There is something inherently digital underpinning the collection of these analogues.

Patrick Pound,  Women on Phones, On Reflection , City Gallery Wellington.

Patrick Pound, Women on Phones, On Reflection, City Gallery Wellington.

In an interview with City Gallery towards a video preview of the exhibition, the artist notes, "the idea of the show, really, is to show how photography en masse is a reflecting pool."10 Just as his vast archive reflects our world back to us, so too our pictorial conventions, and the diverse economic, social, cultural and political roles photography serves. These reflective dimensions speak to the history of photography – its uses and effects – as much as to its subjects. City Gallery Wellington Curator Aaron Lister describes Pound's act of clicking 'buy now' as his "decisive moment", echoed the instant the viewer 'gets' the work – grasping the oblique, often poetic quality which unites a collection of images.11

Click.


All installation photographs by Shaun Waugh, courtesy of City Gallery Wellington.

1 Patrick Pound, "Patrick Pound - Collection artist," interview by Susie Ferguson, Radio New Zealand, August 11, 2018, audio, 17:35, https://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/saturday/audio/2018657664/patrick-pound-collection-artist

This concept of purchasing objects as an art making gesture had been expressed earlier by the artist. See, for example, Pound quoted in Geoffrey Batchen, The Great Exhibition (Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2017), 48. The artist makes a similar claim in Documentary Intersect (Wellington: Adam Art Gallery, 2016).

2 Speaking of sound, Patrick Pound's exhibition also features an extensive Spotify playlist whose songs make reference to photography. Visitors can listen to this independently during their visit and it is also played over the public announcement system during the gallery's 'open late' nights, https://open.spotify.com/user/1272280960/playlist/1kyDi74h2fUPOiUWa9QW4O?si=8U4DPdroQtuHoSm1amY0CQ

3 For the artist's perspective on the exhibition and his wider practice, see "Patrick Pound Reflects," City Gallery Wellington Blog, August 15, 2018, https://citygallery.org.nz/blog/patrick-pounds-speech/

4 The installations do not have dates as a single work might, reflecting their continually shifting components, arrangements and modes of display.

5 Indeed, perhaps Duchamp's most well-known and controversial work, Fountain (1913), gained its notoriety in part through the successive reproduction of Alfred Stieglitz's photograph of Duchamp's readymade object. Originally published in the journal The Blind Man, the image has since stood in for the work's absence at the Society of Independent Artists' exhibition, where it was allegedly rejected on the grounds of obscenity, and the original object subsequently lost.

6 See Patrick Pound, Little remains: A copy world: Some photographs of things taken as if by a character in a novel (Auckland: Anna Bibby Gallery, 2005). Pound also addresses his vision of collecting as a medium in his opening speech for the City Gallery exhibition, https://citygallery.org.nz/blog/patrick-pounds-speech/

7 For more on Pound's 2014 installation The Gallery of Air at the National Gallery of Victoria see the artist's essay, https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/essay/the-gallery-of-air/

8 Robert Leonard, "Patrick Pound: The Collector's Shadow," Art News New Zealand 38, no. 3, Spring 2018,

http://robertleonard.org/patrick-pound-the-collectors-shadow/

9 Further details on Michael Parekowhai's Detour, see: https://www.tepapa.govt.nz/visit/exhibitions/toi-art/detour-michael-parekowhai

10 Patrick Pound, "Artist Patrick Pound at City Gallery Wellington," Youtube, August 27, 2018, video, 1:41,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUu1w_Aws7k

11 Aaron Lister, "Aaron Lister Listens to 'On Reflection'," City Gallery Wellington Blog, September 6, 2018,

https://citygallery.org.nz/blog/aaron-lister-listens-to-patrick-pounds-exhibition-on-reflection/


Emil McAvoy is an artist, art writer and lecturer in Photo Media & Fine Arts at Whitecliffe College of Arts & Design.