Encountering Mathew McConnell's installation Chapter Three: Sleights of Hand, it is hard not to feel that there is a whole lot of winking and nudging going down and not all of it is in the best of taste. Concepts explored by McConnell include displacement and transformation. These ideas, filtered through McConnell's peculiar meditations on ‘thingness' and ‘objecthood' remind one that his type of approach hasn't had a lot of airtime in the context of local craft practice.
Through an extraordinary craft-inspired studio practice, McConnell's investigation charts a serendipitous line through two great polarities in contemporary sculpture: entropy (the pulling apart and degradation of identity through material means) and the affective gesture (the co-opting and often systematic redeployment of pre-existing - often mass-produced - objects).
"My most recent projects base themselves in the practice of other visual artists," McConnell explains. "Often I use a singular form or image of another artist's creation as a starting point, I recreate the work with alterations to suit my own needs. The resultant forms vary between what could be mistaken as a facsimile for that artist's work and original artworks with a source seemingly outside any individual referent."
Like an artistic whodunit, McConnell's work teases with an array of familiar artistic references, suggesting that the artist is aiming to exploit our amnesia around the endless innovation (i.e. our ‘desire for originality') so beloved of the twentieth century avant-garde. Very simply, McConnell treats the ‘excess' of contemporary art practice as an excess of material possibility.
Mathew McConnell is part of the 2010 Artist-in-Residence programme at the Department of Art & Design, Unitec NZ. Next year Mathew will be resident at the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts in Montana as the 2011 Lillian Fellow. Mathew has a MFA in Ceramics from the University of Colorado, Boulder.