BAD VISUAL SYSTEMS is a major new exhibition by Berlin-based, New Zealand-born artist Ruth Buchanan. It occupies the entire Adam Art Gallery and also features works by two fellow artists, Judith Hopf and Marianne Wex both of whom live in Germany. The title of the exhibition draws on the idea first articulated by feminist theorist, Donna Haraway that “self-identity is a bad visual system”. Buchanan is drawn to this notion as it succinctly articulates her sense that there are powerful forces vested in architecture, art, language, society and the manifold organisational and structural systems that take place within them, that affect how the human subject behaves and interferes with how they know themselves. She has self-consciously chosen to work with two other women artists of different generations, to position her thinking within a feminist history and discourse.
For this exhibition Buchanan has blurred the roles of artist, curator, and designer, playing all three to create a fully immersive installation with objects, materials, display systems, screens, images, and words. These occupy the space ambivalently, playing off the architecture and doubling as the familiar furniture of exhibition making. The show engages the viewer actively with built-in response mechanisms including an audience-activated soundtrack that serves as audio-guide; videos that spring to life with human contact, and room dividers that rearrange familiar spaces and disrupt existing way-finding.
Buchanan’s process is research intensive. She has spent time in the building learning its physical characteristics and also its history. She has also actively participated in the revival of interest in Let’s Take Back Our Space, the photographic project by Marianne Wex—excerpts of which are included in this exhibition—that has been called “one of the great unsung works of 1970s’ feminist history and cultural analysis”, in its compilation of thousands of images of men’s and women’s differing body language designed to analyse the unconscious ways in which the patriarchy literally occupies more space. And her selection of films and sculptures by Judith Hopf is the result of a deep engagement with that artist’s deadpan practice. This exhibition is a profoundly thoughtful and physically impressive occupation of the Adam Art Gallery.
Adam Art Gallery gratefully acknowledges the support of Creative New Zealand Toi Aotearoa, Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen Institute for Foreign Cultural Affairs (ifa), Jan Warburton Trust, Resene Paints Ltd, and Victoria University of Wellington.