Ammon Ngakuru’s exhibition “Pumice” centers around Silver (my slow response) (all works 2021), a broken sword and a tiny stone set on a shallow white plinth. The artist bought the weapon online, where it was listed as an 1827 officer’s sword. Blade dull and missing a hilt, the sword is no longer useful, but by placing it on a plinth, Ngakuru transforms it into an object of contemplation: a signifier of violence turned placid, like a once-savage general softened in old age.
Ngakuru’s work is so subtle it could almost be called evasive. His paintings recall pages lifted from children’s books. Real World offers an oversize lily pad rising up from the dirt like a tiny shelter. In Kindergarten, a fairy circle of tree stumps rests on an acid-green tabletop, as if waiting for the party to start. Mill captures a drowsy golden glow emanating from an arched doorway. The images are like those fragments of a dream you try to hold onto as you rise into consciousness, strange scenes that made perfect sense before you pulled them into the waking world.
Torn from sleep and strung up on gallery walls, these are uneasy paintings. Where are the fairies? Why are they not gathered on their stumps? A set of garden chairs is laid out in Evergreen, but a ladder has fallen to the ground beside them, not a person in sight. Pumice shows a black boot made into a house, the curtained window in its cartoonishly bulbous toe positioned like a mouth with teeth bared. Viewed individually, the paintings speak softly, as you would to a child. Seen together, their delicate voices wreath together into something louder and more urgent.