The first solo show of Stella Brennan’s work in some years, this exhibition takes as its foundation a return to some earlier projects, revisiting them in the context of more recent works.
Coming into adulthood at the eve of the new millennium, Brennan’s sensibility has much to do with straddling the split between the aspirations of modernism and the incredulity of postmodernism. Traveling in the slipstream left by modernism’s wake, her works recall the utopian promises of the previous generation’s urbanism, while reflecting on the failure of these promises to deliver, with titles like Envoy from Mirror City; Another Green World; and Theme for Great Cities. Against this utopianism the detritus of rapidly obsolete technologies – polystyrene computer packing and cardboard boxes – is recast with new, uncertain potential.
In her Walters Prize nominated Wet Social Sculpture, delivering gallery audiences into a functional spa pool, Brennan toyed with Joseph Beuys’ idea that ‘everyone is an artist’ by inviting everyone to contribute to her work by having a quick dip. But the contradiction in Beuys’ aspirational statement inevitably becomes apparent in this social experiment; though inflected by our participation, authorship can never be ours.
Often performing the role of an archaeologist of the immediate past, Brennan delves into the materiality and affect of outmoded technology. Her tapestry project, Tuesday 3 July 2001, 10:38am, represents laborious effort over more than a year in order to capture a fleeting moment in the life of a now-archaic desktop. Similarly, her video work ZenDV, plays with a fetishism of the analogue in face of the digital – digitally generated dust and scratches run over test patterns which are themselves now almost as nostalgic.
Hers is not the expert eye of the programmer or engineer, but rather, that of the increasingly common position of the prosumer subject, with access to the tools, but not the architecture, of the present. In spite of the vast potential of recent tech, very few of us have the ability or agency to delve deeper than the glossy surface of its interfaces, and this is the level that Brennan reflects back to us.
With a practise that spans curation, new media, installation, social projects and urban design, Brennan’s work deals above all with navigating the space and time between human subjects.
As an artist, Brennan has exhibited across Australia, Asia, North America, Europe and New Zealand and has been granted residencies at Apex Arts in New York City, and Artspace in Sydney. Having graduated from the University of Auckland, Brennan was co-founder of Aotearoa Digital Arts and the co-editor of Aotearoa Digital Arts Reader, the first comprehensive text on digital arts practice in New Zealand.
Brennan curated the exhibitions Nostalgia for the Future (Artspace, Auckland, 1999), Dirty Pixels (Artspace, Adam Art Gallery, Dunedin Public Art Gallery and Waikato Museum of Art and History, 2002-3), and co-curated Cloudland: Digital Art from Aotearoa New Zealand (The Substation, Singapore, 2008).
Brennan also maintains a practice as a writer, as essayist for artists including Ann Veronica Janssens and Patricia Piccinini, as well as critic for magazines including Art Asia Pacific, the New Zealand Listener and Art New Zealand. She has also been an advisory editor for Eyeline Magazine, Australia.
Brennan lives and works in Auckland.