Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2001
17 May 2001
New Zealand Art
In his photograph, Leap Into The Void, French artist Yves Klein launces himself into thin air, face first, from a first storey window: back arched, chest out, hair flying, his black suit freshly pressed, the street only metres from his face. An oblivious cyclist pedals into the distance. The shot was assembled in 1960, but even in the age of Photoshop it does the trick. Klein’s photo has a kind of writing-your-name-with-a-razorblade oomph to it the leaves you in no doubt that he meant it. In her latest pieces jumping out of aeroplanes, as with her on-going series of explosive fireworks drawings, Yuk King Tan similarly enacts conviction.
Tan’s pyrotechnics displays and skydives are glamorous experiments. In these leaps beyond the safety barrier of pre-coded meaning, associations and metaphors topple through the air or burst into flame. For Tan, mesmerising volatility is a crucial effect. Applying a conspicuous aesthetic flair to materials more associated with MacGyver or Charlie’s Angels than gallery art, Tan’s action-packed works surprise and dazzle. Their sheen and effervescence deflect lazy comprehension even while they compel attention. Suspended between the residues and records of process and the process itself, her works never settle. They will not stabilise as tidy conceptual gestures. We are left on the edges of our seats.
At a time when reality television and adventure tourism are big business, Tan embraces them in her art. If the poet heroes of Romanticism trekked through the European mountains in search of the sublime, today’s tourists overload their senses bungy-jumping and white-water rafting. Tan’s home country, New Zealand, was the setting for the first Eco-Challenge, MTV’s adventure-sports contest show, back in 1995. Its originator Mark Burnett is now renowned as the producer of Survivor. Perhaps reality TV is the latest extrapolation of Marcel Duchamp’s early modern gesture of the readymade: in the right light, or with the right lighting, everything becomes art. Tan follows through on this possibility, finding a readymade sublime landscape in commercial skydiving….instead of offering respite from commerce and spectacle, Tan’s art advertises the potentials in avid and unfussy participation.
Jonathan Bywater, Art is It, published in Yuk King Tan, by Artspace, Sue Crockford Gallery and Hamish McKay Gallery 2002.