Dan Arps is a New Zealand sculptor, painter and installation artist, known for his exemplary skill in polyurethane casting, his voracious interest in different manifestations of printed and digital culture—pushing the boundaries over what kinds of (normally inappropriate) materials or processes constitute interesting supports or marks for art—and his unpredictable use of cast framed relief sculpture to comment on painting. As someone who is constantly investigating new technologies for two-dimensional or three-dimensional works and who delights in blending order with chaos, Arps often likes the (normally discarded) detritus that comes from art processes so much so that it can become part of the art itselfRead More
A lot of Arps' cast sculptures are quite small, pre-planned, figurative and domestic while his assemblages, in contrast, are usually improvised, such as his raw paint-encrusted wall images that seem spontaneously—and very quickly—constructed. His artworks tend to have a provocatively strange battered or 'throw-away' quality, a casualness that is hard to deliberately devise, even though many of them are found objects encountered abandoned out on the street or in op shops, objects that have gone through extremely tortuous physical processes or objects that use very unusual combinations of materials.
Arps also likes to layer various parallel domestic, recreational and intellectual activities into his practice: from the daily details of being a father or reading about capitalism, to participating in online chat rooms, playing Dungeons and Dragons or investigating flow diagrams analysing social networks. His projects tend to be dense in their stacking up of interconnected cultural, technological and political references.
Between 2007 and 2010 Arps was part of the influential Auckland artist collective Gambia Castle (other members included Simon Denny, Kate Newby, Daniel Malone and Fiona Connor) and in 2010 he won the Walters Prize for his exhibition Explaining Things, a Gambia Castle exhibition reinstalled in Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki in July 2010. In discussing Arp's winning presentation, Vicente Todoli—former director of Tate Modern who awarded Arps the Walters Prize—was impressed by what he described as presenting an 'epiphany of everyday life ... the epiphany of the humble and the rejected.' He saw the entry as an all-embracing art form and said that Arps had '... transformed these found materials through his own editing and his process of amelioration and ... taken them into another, higher realm ... [creating] a conglomerate where the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts.'
In his key text on Arps' practice, 'Work-Life Balance: Recent Exhibitions by Dan Arps'—published in the Arps anthology Affirmative Dungeon (2011)—the critic Jonathan Bywater states that he sees Arps' practice, with its strange sensibility, as parodying capitalism's modus operandi of marketing newness, while also perpetuating his own individualistic self-expression. Bywater presents Arps as working within what Giorgio Agamben calls a 'sphere of gestures', an ethos of casualness that startles Arps' audience by undermining the commercially made, found objects the artist indifferently defaces: 'The essence of Arps' gesture lies in the continuity between the deployment of readymade materials and the conventionally expressive gestures ... in which a consistent tone is one that frees effort from the effortful...'
 Dan Arps, Affirmation Dungeon (Clouds; Michael Lett: Auckland, 2011) p.300.
John Hurrell | Ocula | 2019