Last Friday I was in Hamilton for the opening of the 2009 Trust Waikato National Contemporary Art Awards at the Waikato Museum. I was there as this year’s judge of the awards and the winner was announced at the opening on Friday night.
The winning entry was a work by Dane Mitchell titled Collateral, pictured above. If you watch TV 1 and 3 and read the newspapers then you probably know by now that it is a work, and decision, that has caused a bit of discussion.
Clearly I think that Mitchell’s work was the standout work of all the entrants for 2009. My decision was made after a lot of thought and consideration of all the entries. The fact is that I found that I kept coming back to Collateral, it captured me.
The work is a strong, simple idea presented with ease by the artist. Mitchell’s entry was a set of instructions submitted online to the awards as per their standard process. The key aspect of the piece for me was that it was an inspired response to the situation of entering a competition remotely via the internet, plus the additional fact that Mitchell was about to head away to Berlin to undertake a DAAD residency and was unlikely to be around to package and send a work to Hamilton if he was selected as a finalist. So an idea that was followed, to my mind, by a logical choice of material – the to-be-discarded packaging material from the other finalists’ entries – material that was for all intents and purposes spare, and yes headed for the rubbish.
Mitchell created a work that responded to and existed within these parameters, overcoming the difficulties and obstacles of the situation in an intelligent and clever way.
Mitchell has a considered approach to material in his practice and in spite of the chance element affecting the make up of this work, it still presents a work that is beautifully material. Some of the works of Mitchell’s in the collection here at Te Papa have a similar aesthetic and approach to both material and detritus.
The works Present Surface of Tell are casts from discarded materials such as bubble wrap, old 35mm slide projectors,computer keyboards and various bits and pieces creating fake archaeological finds which raise questions about the selection and authenticity of objects in museums. A pertinent question in relation to Collateral too – with this work Mitchell continues to challenge cultural production by mischief making inside the institution.
Don’t we want artists who challenge us?