Aratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art & History August 2011
To a large degree Nick Banks deals in the obscure. He doesn’t make it easy for the viewer to know what he is on about, but there’s always a certain substance that rewards patience and confusion.
As far as I can make out, Mrs Edwards is not an alter-ego but an entity which develops from one exhibition to the next. This is the latest episode in her/its evolution.
This fluidity and laissez-aller attitude works in Bank’s favour in that it allows him the freedom to go to the edge, without ever tipping over it.
The show has a little bit of a Dada flavour, from the descriptive text on the Aratoi website, to the fact that it is hard to find your way into the home-made theatre – an asymmetrical tube constructed from corrugated cardboard, tape and plywood – to watch the video. In the end I had to ask at reception.
It turns out you pop your head up a protuberance at one side of the construction.
After that, all the passer-by sees of you is your torso, as if you head has been swallowed by the construction. The viewer essentially becomes part of the sculpture.
Inside, it is rather cosy and cocoon-like, and like Dr Who’s Tardus, feels much bigger on the inside.
The film itself is a montage, re-edited by Banks from an 8mm film found in a Greytown second-hand shop.
The subject is a woman with a still camera who appears to be on an expedition to photograph passing trains. The landscape looks suspiciously like the Hutt Valley, and the period is early 1960s.
The video has almost no narrative, except for a vague beginning and end, and to be honest, the subject matter itself is not deeply engrossing.
But Banks is not attempting to draw the viewer into a storyline or take them on a journey into the past.
The project is architectural and aesthetic, creating an experience that envelops the viewer and leaves an impression.
The multi-media exhibition includes a large “boys own” painting more typical of Bank’s previous work displayed at Aratoi, plus a small selection of photos taken by him of railway tracks which have their own enigmatic quality, reminiscent of the film, along with a framed still of the woman from the 8mm film.
The accompanying booklet of mostly still images from the film must be considered a part of the exhibition as well.
Through repetition and echo, Banks achieves a subtle sense of infinity – eg the artistic woman being creative through still photography, becomes the subject of a film maker being creative by filming her, and Nick Banks uses the film as the material for his own creativity, framing a still from the film as his own artwork.
All this back and forth creates a subtly dynamic effect.
The only flat note is struck by a photograph in the booklet of the old four storey flour mill in the centre of Carterton.
I think the problem here might be that historic and picturesque subjects in the Wairarapa have become devalued through overuse by every person with a digital camera.
Which just goes to show that Banks’ work is at its most interesting when he is working at the more obscure end of the spectrum.