FIONA CONNOR, Something Transparent (Please Go Round the Back), 2009, glass, wood, metal fittings, glue, paint, vinyl. Photo by Kallan McLeod. Courtesy the artist and Michael Lett, Auckland.

Something Transparent (Please Go Round the Back)

Fiona Connor

Michael Lett Gallery
New Zealand

“For the duration of the exhibition, the front door of the gallery will be closed.” This less-than-hospitable-sounding announcement concludes the press release for Fiona Connor’s recent project at Michael Lett’s Karangahape Road gallery. The statement recalls an august lineage of anti-exhibitions from Yves Klein’s empty gallery piece, Le Vide, in 1958, to Robert Barry’s multi-venue Closed Gallery Piece—just what the title indicates—in 1969 and Santiago Sierra’s Space Closed By Corrugated Metal, a physical barrier erected across the entrance to London’s Lisson Gallery in 2002.

The young Auckland-based artist’s work, Something Transparent (Please Go Round the Back) (2009), consisted of 15 life-size replications of the main part of Michael Lett’s street-facing gallery facade. It was more than just a studied remake of others’ projects; it proved consistent with Connor’s predilection for directing viewers’ attention to the architectural peculiarities of an exhibition space.Replicating the door, windows and intervening supports in the same wood, glass and metal as the originals, Connor presented the copies in an evenly spaced row that receded into the exhibition space. Rendering the room physically inaccessible via the usual route (the doors did not open), Connor required visitors to follow her polite sub-titular instruction in order to view the piece from another side.

Connor, a 2003 graduate of Elam School of Fine Arts, has exhibited extensively throughout New Zealand and more recently in Australia. A member of the local artist-run collective Gambia Castle, she has also made several contributions to the edition program at nearby nonprofit Artspace. Producing hand-built sculptural “echoes” of industrially manufactured forms, her studied replications vary greatly in scale but invariably serve to direct viewers’ attention toward previously overlooked details. Through the surprise of unexpected repetition, Connor highlights the incidental quirks of otherwise functional objects and spaces, effectively returning them from function to form.

At Michael Lett, each architectural doppelganger was separated from its neighbor by a few feet of empty space, which created a series of isolated cells. Seen from the gallery’s office, the work’s kaleidoscopic feedback effect remained undiminished. And while the room was not quite hermetically sealed—Connor’s imitative partitions fell short of the ceiling—the concession did nothing to mitigate the room’s intensely claustrophobic feel. In combining transparency with something like a threat of imprisonment, Something Transparent suggested a panopticon-like structure of total surveillance. The cruel irony contained in that title is hard to miss; of what value is transparency divorced from the freedom to act?

In more purely formal terms, Something Transparent was fascinating in the way it skirted veracity. At times Connor approached perfection in reproducing the material details of her source, at others she veered away into rough approximation. For example, while the black vinyl lettering announcing the show’s title and the gallery’s hours applied to the original door was repeated again and again without discernible variation, the scuffs on its white-painted wooden frame suggested portrait drawings of the real thing rather than photographic copies. A sticker bearing the gallery’s street number appeared 15 times unchanged above 15 indistinguishable doorbells, but a smudge of green paint on the door handle varied subtly from version to version. The juxtaposition of mechanical and manual production amplified the signifiers of each and admitted both the seductiveness and the impossibility of convincing illusion.

Something Transparent was as much a portrait of the processes of representation and perception as a study of the site’s specific features. The gallery’s various nooks and crannies, and its features and flaws, may have been subject to unusually close attention, but in an obsessive-compulsive style that simultaneously called the value of such conscientious scrutiny into question. Refusing viewers a conventional entrance and exit, Something Transparent’s uncanny architectural double instead pointed the way to some intriguing alternatives.