Portals + Oamaru


The functions of criticism are multiple: the simplest being an act of recording, keeping traces visible. In this way, criticism can be of service to the work, both in disseminating it after the event and in augmenting the archive for future researchers.

An advantage of navigating the Internet is its ability to collapse distance: criticism is able to act as a cipher, of sorts, to viewers who are precluded from experiencing work corporeally.

Vernacular criticism is a productive, albeit holey, alternative—small, compact descriptions of embodied experience. While this mode is prone to affective fallacy and is loaded with potentially ‘unqualified’ judgements, it can be valuable in providing anecdotal evidence of bodies moving through space—hinting at the experiential qualities of presented work.

Imagine the Met without all the noise and crowds and strollers and miles of walking. I can see where some would find it stuffy… when I visited it was a mostly elderly UES crowd. That means it’s quiet in here, like library kind of quiet—I actually like that as I don’t get distracted.

I admit there’s something troubling about sitting in that lovely garden and wondering what a monster like Frick used to think about in that calm, reflective space.

These portals act as small and contingent entry points to understanding works. Although they have only peripheral significance in the expanded field of an object, they can still provide a way in to viewing work and providing a way of grasping the environments in which it is placed.

Our reliance on multiple viewpoints is a strangely inefficient mode, but we all do it. Favouring multiple entries as the role of the individual critic is subsumed by the collective. Hive minds, code-switching, collective knowledge. Walking into a cloud of voices. Bear in mind that this is also a more democratic mode of unpicking, this multi-faceted noise.

Polyphony becomes one of the best ways to retain nuance and detail. No thing is less than the sum of its parts, and anything overlooked is at the expense of fuller understanding, as we cannot know its importance until we comprehend it.

We drove together to Oamaru, the fog coming down on all edges of the near horizons.

We couldn’t see very far in any direction.

The place was coated with a layer of grey dust held in the sky, hovering. The sky came down to the ground like an upturned bowl, lit from an invisible source.

We have to get out of here before the portal closes, I said. I was joking. We have to leave soon or we’ll all get deleted.

Everything was yellow, whitish, or the colour of unbleached milk. The region is famous for its stone, which is a similar colour to the sky, the air, the dust, the roads.

Error! you crowed. Data corrupted!

All of the buildings, lit up with yellow, might have been constructed for the filming of a spaghetti western. It didn’t seem that there was really anything behind them—as if behind the windows and guttering they were just a set of ribs open to the air and the weather. The shops were sort of ghostly. We bought custard pastries from a bakery with curiously empty shelves, old bread stacked outside.

We climbed the stairs to an inverted-commas gallery. I’ve seen it before, you said. I can’t join you. Go ahead. Halfway up the stairs was a cupboard full of twisted bodies and carnival flags. The room was full of faces with stretched eyes, bulbous swelling heads, multiplied gazes ranging from bored to baleful to bilious. I don’t think the owner was around, perhaps assuming that nobody would dare steal anything with so many eyes on them.

We sat in a gutter to eat crackers and fruit. Cars idled past, pausing before crossing the railway line. The sun beat down on the cobbled road.

We got in the car to follow the others disappearing. We’d better get out of here, one of us said, before we get faxed into infinity. As we crossed the railway line, we passed a great steam engine, apparently launching itself upwards from a cul-de-sac in the track. An old biker called out to us from the side of the road. We pulled over.

The guy reached into a coin box by the carriage and set its flues steaming. Flames shot out of various orifices. Mechanical skeletons bent back and forth, as if rowing or stoking coal.

As the show ended, we felt this was permission to leave. As if we’d had the horses blessed before setting out on a long journey. At the last, a sign saying INFINITY PORTAL. We never found out what this meant.



[1] Gat, Orit (2014). http://oritgat.com/Art-Criticism-in-the-Age-of-Yelp
[2] http://www.yelp.com/biz/frick-collection-new-york?hrid=EbPQr9j2r8m-zDbe7VETHw
[3] http://www.yelp.com/biz/frick-collection-new-york?hrid=kAAheF6HrkLuNRbFKk9bIQ