City Gallery

Past exhibition

Martin Basher: Blackwater

1 July–30 July 2006

Martin Basher’s show is named after the notorious US private security firm that did the country’s dirty work in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Wellington artist’s cluttered, theatrical installation opens on a portrait of a stern-looking, middle-aged man, modelled on Cofer Black—Blackwater’s former Vice Chairman. The former CIA official, and a key advisor to G.W. Bush, directed extractions, renditions, and black-site interrogations. 

The show is theatrical. There are painted plywood trees, a beaten-up cantina (offering ‘dining’ and ‘dancing’), discarded food cans, and makeshift outdoor outhouse. Black's feet are visible under the outhouse door, crudely animated, writhing, as if grimly constipated, while real butterflies are stuck in gravy remnants in abandoned plates. A narrative plays out over a suite of paintings, some on panel, others on salvaged signs, boards, scraps. Some of the paintings show the cantina itself and our protagonist, who races around a depopulated landscape in a V8 Camaro followed by butterflies.

There’s an interplay between the paintings and the sculptural elements. The wallpaper, the sky backdrop, the trees, and the cigar wrapper are painted. The butterflies are real but their wings are painted. Basher says, ‘It was all about folding the painted space into the real.’ The overall impression, he says, is an ‘amalgam of natural-history diorama and Disney ride’. Basher’s dreamscape installation suggests that its protagonist is a ‘last man’, traversing a wasteland of his own making.