‘Body of Work’ review, photo-eye Book of the Week

Daniel Boetker-Smith reviews ‘Body of Work’, photo-eye Book of the Week.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

This week’s Book of the Week pick comes from Daniel Boetker-Smith who has selected ‘Body of Work’ by Bruce Connew from Vapour Momenta Books.


“Today Radiohead released their first new song in years. I’d set aside the afternoon especially to write this review of Bruce Connew’s newest publication ‘Body of Work’, with no idea that the quintet from Oxford who have crafted the soundtrack of my adult life would inadvertently tell me how to read and understand Connew’s book.

‘Street Spirit (Fade Out).’ I can remember the lurid lines: ‘Cracked eggs dead birds / scream as they fight for life / I can feel death / can see its beady eyes.’ These words have been etched into my psyche since I first heard them in 1995. Hearing these lines again today after a number of years it seems that nothing can more accurately describe Bruce Connew’s new book. Connew has been around, making books, since the late 80s, and he is somewhat of a national treasure in New Zealand; a prolific, smart and eminently generous artist. But he’s never made a work like this before, and I’m not sure he ever should or could again. This is his ‘Heart of Darkness’.

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Allen Curnow

A simple portrait.

My simple portrait of two extraordinary people, February 1983. Jenny Curnow, once Miss Tole, my history teacher when I was a 15-year-old. She disappeared from school for a short while, and returned as Mrs Curnow, the second wife of the great New Zealand poet Allen Curnow, or Whim Wham, as I was raised to know him from his regular satirical poems in the ‘New Zealand Herald’  when newspapers were robust, and the Vietnam War was winding up, and apartheid too, and New Zealand was yet to look hard at its stifled history.

‘Simply by Sailing in a New Direction’, Terry Sturm’s recent big biography of Allen Curnow, in a two-book set with Curnow’s ‘Collected Poems’, edited by Elizabeth Caffin and Terry Sturm

“Poetry was not simply what happened as a consequence of thinking. It was the place where thinking was done.” .. a super line from a super review by Vincent O’Sullivan.

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Titi Tihu

Another simple portrait.


Another simple portrait of an extraordinary person, February 1984. Titi Tihu, tohunga and rangatira of the Whanganui Iwi, led the Whanganui River Māori Claim from 1938.

After three warm days about Taumarunui, he said I could photograph him now, here, at the confluence of the mighty Whanganui and Ongarue rivers ... he stripped to his shorts, 100-years-old, and strode into the water, turned and held out his arms ... if you misuse this photograph, he said after, “six-foot under”, and thumped his tokotoko on the ground.

“… to recover the mana of The River, and the mana of the ancestors, removed without reason, without agreement, and without justice.” ... excerpt from the 1984 ‘Petition of Titi Tihu to the New Zealand House of Representatives on behalf of Whanganui Iwi’.

The Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Bill passed through the New Zealand Parliament 14 March 2017.

“Ko au te Awa, ko te Awa ko au, I am the river, the river is me.”

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I Saw You @le_bal, Paris

Mark Ghuneim’s ‘Surveillance Index’ photobook collection

Mark Ghuneim’s ‘Surveillance Index’ photobook collection has travelled from NYC for exhibition at Le Bal, Paris (Performing Books #1, 10-27 January) ... to my delight, it includes amongst the 100 the modest ‘I Saw You’ from 2007 ... Mark’s avant garde book of the collection, and website too, were designed @studiolin. ‘I Saw You’ was designed by @studiocatherine and myself on a bed in a Verona pensione.
photo @elililauliola



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‘Body of Work’ review, American Suburb X

Truly obliged for Brad Feuerhelm’s adamant, high-order take on ‘Body of Work’.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

‘Pascal Invented Horse Porn From the Void’

What do I know about Premarin? What do horse hormones have to do with the birth of my children and the balance of my aging wife’s hormonal level? Is Premarin really contrived of horse urine? “Yes”, she whispered, and “all theatres must end in tragedy or the glorification of banality to succeed in the minds of their small audiences”. And how do we contemplate our various theatres? What discipline is there to be measured in the copulating muscular mass? Binary adventures are regulated by need and avoidance in equal expenditure. Every family is still connected and is tethered by some small ribbon tied around their collective and imaginary finger to keep their memories bright while wading through the present, darkly. There are the gnashing teeth, the hair pulled tight to the neck, in which sturdy vertebrae and shivering musculature are dripping in foamy lather in warm barns smelling of harvest hay and pre-harvest Premarin.

The theatre of bliss and the theatre of cruelty are inseparable. The year of the horse has past and yet the species continues its coupling with the aid of human intervention. Why won’t that horse fuck? We had put him back in the stable with the other males where he was chewed up a bit. He became angry and by default the winner by the violence that life and his brothers had accorded him. Only when his gait was strong and his loins were swelling did we release him to the mare waiting in an apprehensive and receiving grace. Strong and willful, he was still blinded by fear of the fight. The steed as it were, attempted to mount and failed his first attempt for the fear still coursing through his veins. He mounted again and was aided by the gloved hand of man directing his lumber towards the wet female. Rife with anticipation she quivered, hooved and moist. The hand gloved in some other animal’s skin had glided the steed’s heft inside and there was a continued biting from his mouth, jaws clicking. The mare is in transference of his fear and pleasure. This was the beautiful cycle of life in the theatre of the absurd for many of the species. Here awkward and spot lit stages from which to uncoil their fear, pleasure, grimly or dimly alit from overhead and not dissimilar to an operating table. She still takes it standing.

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Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, the great Kenyan writer

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, the great Kenyan writer whom I photographed while visiting Auckland, New Zealand,  July 1984 ... his novel ‘Petals of Blood’ took me by storm, published 1977, the year he was imprisoned by Kenya’s Moi dictatorship.


He is interviewed April 2017 in the Los Angeles Review of Books by Nanda Dyssou, a Congolese-Hungarian journalist and fiction writer living in Los Angeles ... the fifth question, on exile:

NANDA DYSSOU: Much of your success has been achieved outside of Kenya, as you have been in exile from your native land for over three decades. Does the sense of alienation stemming from that reality ever recede?

NGŨGĨ WA THIONG’O: No, not quite, but I have tried to counter that with the knowledge that exile has impacted history in strange and even fascinating ways. Think of Moses and Jesus in Egypt, Muhammad and his followers finding refuge in Christian Ethiopia, Marx in France and London. The experience of exile germinated thoughts that later impacted home. I suppose this is what the Afro-Caribbean writer George Lamming meant by his famous title, The Pleasures of Exile (1960). Also, I have developed an outlook that I call the “globalectical imagination,” in my book Globalectics: Theory and the Politics of Knowing (2012). It is really an expansion of the Blakean vision of seeing the world in a grain of sand, eternity in an hour. We are connected.

... complete interview

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‘Body of Work’ review, Art Monthly Australasia

Jenny Harper, director of the Christchurch Art Gallery, New Zealand, reviews ‘Body of Work’, Art Monthly Australasia.

March 2017, issue 296

‘Allure and discomfort’

Art sometimes stops us in our comfortable tracks. It presents a world we thought we knew differently – or perhaps a different world. Life was easier when we believed the camera never lied. Now we know how often the medium of photography is manipulated, starkly real images sometimes have the effect of seeming radical. Bruce Connew’s ‘Body of Work’ is as stark as it gets. These images test your comfort zone. But I should speak for myself: I hadn’t seen Connew for a while when we chatted at a Wellington opening. ‘I'll send you my book,’ he said when I asked what he was working on. I was unprepared for it.

An immensely handsome production, ‘Body of Work’ is in a hardback edition of 600: black cloth cover with the artist’s name and the book’s title in angular white text, reversed on the back. The rich black-and-white images inside are bold and spare. No titles, no pagination; one image per page with a white border, alone or paired, some close-ups, others taken from further away.

Connew notes in a short summary afterword that a picture of a stallion mounting a mare with human encouragement which he’d seen years ago had stayed in his mind. He’d sought to explore this in the exercise by gaining the agreement of a horse breeder to photograph him at work. ‘Whatever blows your whistle,’ was the pragmatic response of a man unlikely to be aware of the perverse beauty he was agreeing might now be circulated.

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While at Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria a week or so ago ...

While at the National Gallery of Victoria a week or so ago for the corker Melbourne Art Book Fair, I wandered the gallery and found amongst their collection the Sheng Li series ‘Memories’, the photographs of his cut off finger, a protest against the 1989 events of Tiananmen Square.

In China not long before their Olympics, while working on ‘I Must Behave’, I bought a sealed copy of the May 2008 National Geographic magazine, a special pre-Olympic Games issue on China, which included one image from this Sheng Li series, although taken at a slightly different angle from the one hanging in the NGV.

I wrote the commentary below for GRANTA (105, Lost and Found, Spring 2009) when the magazine published my three-panel ‘Censored’ work recontextualizing three, censored, double-page spreads from this National Geographic issue.

The three panels were collected by the National Gallery of Australia in 2014.

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‘folded eggs’

A modest meditation

A double-paged spread from the maquette of new book ‘folded eggs’, a modest meditation on history and memory, with 53 images made in Chile, and a concise essay across Allende and Pinochet to the New Zealand Wars ... to be published this year.

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