Doors of Perception

For the theorist Guy Debord, the notion of the 'doors of perception' was a way of figuring the influence of our environments upon our human ways of thinking and feeling. Taking this concept as its title, a new show at Auckland's Visions Gallery considers how sheltering in place, as many have done over the past year, can (re)shape our experiences of our worlds, communities, and selves.

Curated by Pippa Mott, the show brings a distinctly contemporary context to bear on Debord’s psychogeography. Where Debord was concerned, primarily, with the urban environment and its bearing upon subjective experience (and vice versa), Mott is interested in how the global health crisis of the past year has brought different spaces, and different psychic experiences, to the fore. Of course, we have all been spending more time inside, more time in nature, and more time closer to home (or home-base, for the time being, as the case may be). However, this show stretches far beyond the facile framework pandemic-thinking. Instead, the thirteen artists and collectives across the exhibition explore the dynamic interface between the limited space of one’s immediate surrounds and the transcendental, connective internal landscapes with which we can be prompted to connect through time spent at home. 

The title of the show borrows not only from Debord, but echoes also of Aldous Huxley, whose book Doors of Perception, 1954, recounted the mind-expanding experience of the author on mescaline in the preceding year. The accessing and expanding of the internal landscape is addressed most sharply, and with the most suspicion, by Shana Moulton. In the video work The Undiscovered Drawer, 2013, Moulton sends up the commodification of wellbeing within the culture of domestic self-care, using her alter ego, Cynthia, to explore what Mott terms ‘the intersection of middle-class aspiration, individualism, and capitalism.’ Moulton’s critique of wellness culture, and its false equivalence between our material surrounds and our inner states, is distinct, in this show, amongst a host of works which look at how material as material  – and not as a commodity – might allow us to access the spiritual. 

When we can’t go out physically, perhaps, we go out imaginatively. Isadora Vaughan’s Dial, 2018, brings an aura of historical weight into the gallery, carrying a sense of immaterial history embedded within its material form. This work looks ancient, and feels mystical, without being overly self-explanatory. Tamara Dean, Joyce Campbell, and Angela Lane look to the natural world that we might find ourselves in close to home – in our back yards, local parks, or in the seaside towns that become the destinations of domestic holidays – as the source equally of connective, alienating, and spiritual experience. 

When we can’t go out, though, we perhaps also go in. Ben Cauchi’s haunting, haunted photographs use historical photographic techniques to produce images at once redolent of history and of a ream beyond the strictly human. Japanese collective teamLab contribute Enso – Cold Light, 2018, in which the Zen practice of drawing a circle with a single brush stroke gestures, succinctly, to a state of inward focus and observation. 

Fittingly, perhaps, the show has opened in Auckland just as the travel bubble between New Zealand, Queensland, and New South Wales was paused; many featured Australian artists, and the Australian curator, must access the space of the show intellectually, and digitally, rather than physically. Happily, the inward-facing expansion of the show provokes us to do just that.

Visions extends huge thanks to the participating artist and their galleries. Artists include: Joyce Campbell, Jacobus Capone, Emily Karaka, Georgia Arnold, Star Gossage, Tamara Dean, Angela Lane, Adam Lee, Isadora Vaughan, Ben Cauchi, Dale Frank, teamLab, Shana Moulton.

Doors of Perception
19 June – 31 July 2021
Visions Gallery, Auckland


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