Embracing intertextuality, instability and seriality, Oscar Enberg’s sculptural installations demonstrate a baroque sensibility. In this new exhibition, the artist’s ongoing interests in the domestic or familial, commercial display and narrative texts (from literature to television sitcoms) converge in a season-appropriate, locally-infused tableau vivant; a site specific, fable-cum-nativity scene. the prophet, the wise, the technician and the Pharisee contains two origin stories - one secular, one religious - which serve as sources for the exhibition’s dramaturgy and material language. The first, that of draper, businessman, Auckland city councillor and philanthropist, John Court (1846–1933), is synthesised with the recognisable narrative of the birth of Jesus.
Early nativity scenes were composed of living actors, as some, performed in various institutional settings and usually amateur in tone, still are. In Enberg’s mise-en-scène at Artspace, sculptural objects step into place for these actors and take on the task of the Christmas production. Prototypical characters that recur in narratives throughout history are compressed into elaborate caricatures, and common laws of value are thwarted in sculptural form. Representatives of the classical nativity are replaced by understudies from other historical and local material connected to Court, as well as objects from more contemporary yuletide scenes. In the prophet, the wise, the technician and the Pharisee the traditional Christmas spirit of charity is conflated with untethered consumerism, co-opting John Court’s motto of ‘always busy’ to point to a particularly contemporary state of selfishness.
Enberg’s practice involves collaboration with producers of traditional or artisan objects. These makers are employed by the artist to fabricate antiquated or bespoke forms to his design; carved furniture, woven baskets, floral arrangements, etc. The labour politics at play in Enberg’s content are embedded, and further confused, by the production process and resulting form of each sculpture. In the prophet, the wise, the technician and the Pharisee references to Court’s pioneering entrepreneurship, ‘colonial’ work ethic, and civic donations, are re-cast alongside formal allusions to risk, chance and lottery, teasing out the neoliberal contradictions and instabilities which seem to permeate our lives during the ‘festive’ season. There is hope, but it is a tired wish, exhausted already from the labour of production. Like much of Enberg’s work the scene set is a precarious moment.
Contribution by Tristian Koenig.
Oscar Enberg - the prophet, the wise, the technician, and the Pharisee
Artspace, December 11 - February 12