Emil McAvoy
Snake Pit
5 – 21 April 2012

Excerpt from Medium Cool: Emil McAvoy’s Conceptual Constellation, essay by Matthew Plummer

“To all appearances, the artist acts like a mediumistic being who, from the labyrinth beyond time and space, seeks his way out to a clearing.” – Marcel Duchamp1 

“Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach.”
– Sol Lewitt2 

At 4.20 pm on April 5, 2012, Emil McAvoy – aided by a group of unnamed co-conspirators – passively smoked marijuana in the basement of Auckland’s Snake Pit gallery. The time and place of this act were by no means arbitrary. The date coincided with the debut of McAvoy’s exhibition, OCCULTIVATION, about to open upstairs; the precise time is one that has long- standing significance in cannabis subculture. The site, once a network of nite clubs [one iteration was called The Box], had likely been host to many covert sessions in the past, and its basement no doubt appealed to McAvoy as an appropriate location for an “underground” activity subsequently titled Hot Box

Like much work of a performative or conceptual nature, Hot Box left no material trace – perhaps a good thing, given its illegality. Far from being a thoughtless flouting of the law, however, it was very much a calculated gesture. As Robert Barry’s Inert Gas (1969) had done over forty years prior, McAvoy’s performance (a “fumescape”, as one commentator dubbed it) dematerialised the art object.3 It raised questions about how this act related to both the soon-to-open exhibition and the artist’s wider body of work; about how a clandestine action might have an archival afterlife; about how underground traditions are formulated and transmitted, and how they might be linked to a history of conceptual practice which since the 1960s has flirted with, and at times been fuelled by, counter-cultural rebellion. Evoking a multiplicity of possible interpretations, Hot Box functions emblematically for McAvoy’s wider body of work. Transgressive and transitory, it illustrates how a simple conceptual gesture is able to bring into play a wide range of ideas and issues – a modus operandi of McAvoy’s practice if ever there was one…

  1. Marcel Duchamp, ‘The Creative Act’, in The Writings of Marcel Duchamp, Michel Sanouillet and Elmer Peterson (eds), Da Capo Press: New York, 1973,138.
  2. Sol Lewitt, ‘Sentences on Conceptual Art’, first published in 0-9 (New York), and Art-Language (England), May 1969.
  3. Auckland Art Gallery Senior Curator Ron Brownson came up with this rather poetic description of Hot Box.
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