Standout exhibitions: Richard Frater - Art Collector

Issue 59, January - March 2012

This profile appeared in the Standout exhibitions feature, part of the annual special issue 50 Things Collectors Need to Know 2012.

House with the Mezzanine, Richard Frater’s installation of four slow-moving films at Sue Crockford Gallery in Auckland last April was a particularly innovative and engrossing local exhibition, requiring patience on the part of his audience, but providing plenty of sensuality and mystery to draw them in.

These film loops were projected low on the walls, so low that they were flush with floor. A white cotton pillowcase lay below, a symbol for dreaming and imaginative drifting. Coupled with the projection above, it also looked like an open book on its side.

His films can take years to make. They usually involve transparent tanks that you look through to see mysterious objects – often pairs of peculiar grids made of acetate, sugar, polystyrene or cardboard – disintegrating in solvents and slowly tumbling downwards. Through the liquid-filled layers vegetation is discernable in the distance, or a narrow room with tiles and curtains. Gravity plays an important role. Some parts sink but other fragments rise.

These released processes seem to reference filmmakers as varied as Michael Snow, Andrei Tarkovsky, Peter Fischli and David Weiss and Daniel von Sturmer.

Frater is unique, for no-one else in Aotearoa is working with film in this Tarkovsky (or Snow) sense of drawn-out time. This most recent exhibition was an extraordinary event because of his unusual willingness to extend simple processes out over in some cases 40 minutes, creating compellingly poignant poetry out of these prolonged collapsings. Though there are other scientist-experimenters in the New Zealand art world, like Paul Cullen with his kinetic circulatory pump sculptures, Frater’s films have real emotional punch. Their lurching and subsiding movement conveys a powerful sense of unrelenting tragedy – a removed, God’s eye view of catastrophe – and with their soft earthy colours, a radical new form of beauty.

John Hurrell

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