Stella Brennan

Studio Monitor
2000
500 x 500 x 200 mm (left); 500 x 500 x 160 mm (right)
acrylic, polystyrene, fluorescent light
Courtesy of the artist and Trish Clark Gallery, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland

Estimate: NZD 4,000 — 7,000

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First exhibited the key exhibition In Glorious Dreams: New Art By Women at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, Studio Monitor transforms a computer monitor's styrofoam shell into glowing decor. Though the work was produced two decades ago, the polystyrene’s soft petrochemical curves are as fresh as the day it was first unboxed.

Reflecting her ongoing interest in technology, utopia and obsolescence, Brennan’s glowing diptych is at once witty, poignant and sculpturally modernist. Like the best of Brennan’s work, it is an immaculate Trojan Horse for prescient social criticism.

Artist Biography & History
with Artspace Aotearoa:

Exhibited

Guy Ngan: Either Possible or Necessary (Work for stairwell included in a retrospective for Guy Ngan), 07 June ⁠— 17 August 2019

Reaction, The Way Things Go! (group), 1995, curated by Richard Dale

Curated

Dirty Pixels (group), 12 August ⁠— 14 September 2002, subsequently toured to Adam Art Gallery, Dunedin Public Art Gallery and Waikato Museum of Art and History

Nostalgia for the Future (group), 5 November — 27 November 1999

Published

The publication Dirty Pixels was published on the occasion of an exhibition of the same name, curated by Stella Brennan and exhibited at Artspace from August 12 to September 14 2002. It was designed by Jo Clements, and includes texts by Stella Brennan and Chris Barker. Artspace also published the catalogue Nostalgia For The Future, which accompanied Brennan’s 1999 exhibition.

Stella Brennan

 

Stella Brennan is an artist, writer and curator based in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. Her work has been shown in Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia, Asia, North America and Europe. Her videos have been exhibited in the Sydney and Liverpool Biennials and her installation Wet Social Sculpture, featuring whale song, psychedelic film and a fully operational spa pool, was a nominated finalist in the 2006 Walters Prize.

Brennan curated the exhibitions Nostalgia for the Future (Artspace, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland 1999), Dirty Pixels (Artspace, The Adam Art Gallery, Dunedin Public Art Gallery and Waikato Museum of Art and History, 2002-3), and co-curated Cloudland: Digital Art from Aotearoa New Zealand (The Substation Singapore, 2008). She has attended residencies in New York, Sydney, Kirikiriroa Hamilton and Ngāmotu New Plymouth. Brennan has written essays for artists including Ann Veronica Janssens and Patricia Piccinini, as well as art criticism for magazines including Art Asia Pacific, Eyeline Magazine, The New Zealand Listener and Art New Zealand. Brennan co-founded the Aotearoa Digital Arts discussion list. In 2008, she and Su Ballard edited the Aotearoa Digital Arts Reader, the first comprehensive text on digital arts practice in New Zealand.

Studio Monitor by Hanna Scott, 2021

Studio Monitor is a subtle and sophisticated junk-relic. In the year 2000 I included this work in an exhibition at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery called In Glorious Dreams: New Art by Women. Even then, the glowing diptych was a symbol of at least two millennial anxieties. First, the fear of technological chaos from a millennium bug, second, the apprehension about a rising tide of plastics pollution.

Two decades later the work is more relevant than ever. Its gleaming polystyrene has barely aged a day. Which was of course one of the things Brennan was shining a light on. Studio Monitor today is both poignant and pointed.

The packaging shell was an insulating halo for a colleague’s new office computer. Brennan acquired the troublesome, bulky plastic during her residency at University of Waikato. She adds, “I found the diffuser panels in a pile of discarded offcuts at Modern Plastics.” The third component, the internal lights, were an over-the-counter solution from the hardware store. The work uses cool backlighting to illuminate excess, consumerism and waste. In Brennan’s words, it revealed the “transient glamour of the new” to create “an aesthetic of tasteful absence.” Studio Monitor salutes Bill Culbert’s readymade lightworks that warp domestic bottles and household accoutrements, works that are themselves a kind of riposte to Dan Flavin’s cool white and ready-made 1960s minimalism.

This work reflects an ongoing fascination with obsolescence and utopias. That research also drove Nostalgia for the Future, a group show she curated the year before at Artspace, while still an art student. That back-to-the-future title highlights Brennan’s long range, philosophical interests. The ‘predictive nostalgia’ on show at Artspace in 1999 was a kind of visual science-fiction grounded in true-facts. It included the rescue and re-installation of Guy Ngan’s architectural 1973 Mural for the Newton Post Office, itself carved from polystyrene before being cast in aluminium.

Studio Monitor is thoughtfully disruptive; Brennan takes cast-off packaging and creates ambient set lighting, the fluorescent glow of a crappy utopia. Her prescience was to see and demonstrate just how charged a relic this polystyrene cast-off would become. The work hovers between sculpture, painting and new media in a way that points out how such disciplines were dissolving into new critical modes of practice at that time.

Two years later Brennan co-founded the Aotearoa Digital Arts Network to connect artists working at the intersection of these critical modes. She was also researching and producing work for Dirty Pixels, another group exhibition at Artspace for which Brennan was curator. That influential 2002 exhibition toured to three more venues around Aotearoa. Brennan’s interest in new media art channeled a zeitgeist.

Without retrospectively casting her work as a proto-activist piece of art history, the work seems remarkably apt in 2021. The same year the NZ Government laid plans to phase-out some types of single-use polystyrene. Brennan’s nostalgic futurism, epitomized by Studio Monitor, becomes a subtle glowing elegy. The persistent glow of her diptych work Studio Monitor over two decades is a low-fi, low-tech homage to technology’s pleasure and melancholy.