The power of “Healing Chromosomes”: Japanese artist Hiromi Tango – in conversation

Hiromi Tango’s latest exhibition features her recent body of textile work reflecting on technology and today’s society.

Art Radar explores the solo show “Healing Chromosomes” at Singapore’s Sullivan + Strumpf in an interview with the artist.

Hiromi Tango, 'Bleached Genes (Fuji) - Uncover my Soul', 2017, opening performance. Image courtesy Sullivan + Strumpf, Singapore. Photo: Greg Piper.

Hiromi Tango, ‘Bleached Genes (Fuji) – Uncover my Soul’, 2018. Pictured during ‘Full Moon’, 2018, performance ritual. Photo: Greg Piper. Image courtesy Sullivan + Strumpf, Singapore.

Centred around a series of textile sculptural works boldly executed in neon colours and organic forms,Chromosomes” at Singapore-based Sullivan + Strumpf probes at society’s relationship with technology, and the effect that it has on our mind, soul and relationships. First shown at Sullivan + Strumpf in Sydney as “Healing Chromosomes” from 1 to 29 April 2017, this exhibition is arrived in Singapore on 26 January and runs until 18 February 2018. The exhibition includes works from three different series that Tango has developed: Bleached Genes, Healing Chromosomes and Red Moon. 

Tango’s exhibition shares the same name as her body of work Healing Chromosomes, which takes its point of departure from the ubiquitous wires and cables that now appear to shape our lives. Beginning with the observation that our daily lives have become so dependent on the devices that we carry around with us, the works probe at the infrastructure that connects us all together: wires and cables.

Hiromi Tango, 'Electric Human Chromosomes 1', 2017, pigment print on paper, 80 x 114 cm, Edition of 6 + 2AP. Image courtesy Sullivan + Strumpf, Singapore.

Hiromi Tango, ‘Electric Human Chromosomes 1’, 2017, pigment print on paper, 80 x 114 cm, edition of 6 + 2AP. Image courtesy Sullivan + Strumpf, Singapore.

Fascinated with the notion of connection and interconnectivity, Hiromi Tango explores the emotional implications that this technological infrastructure has on our lives. As she remarks about her exhibition with Sullivan + Strumpf,

This work is about my search for the invisible life line. We are bound by cables and our fragile and complex attachment to technology. What is this dependency doing to our mind, soul and relationships? I am concerned that we are changing dramatically, even at the epigenetic level.

Known for her intricate and brightly coloured textile works, much of Hiromi Tango’s practice evolves from project to project. Often engaging ideas of community, social connections and the environment, Tango’s practice develops complex dialogues that quest towards making sense of these ideas in the context of a global world.

Some of her recent projects include Wrapped (2016), which was commissioned by the City of Melbourne for Queen Victoria Market as part of the Public Art Melbourne Biennial Lab, and was curated by Natalie King. Responding to the landscape of the Queen Victoria Market at night, Tango’s textile-based, site-specific installation sprawled across a disused market stall, evoking the colours and vibrancy of the market. Insanity Magnet (2013), a series of works exhibited with Sullivan + Strumpf in 2013, also involved Tango’s characteristic use of rich textiles to create dramatic, breathtaking images. Depicting a person wrapped in a wild, rambling robe of textile materials against the backdrop of flowers, the work explored the mental states of hope and hopelessness.

For this exhibition, striking wall-mounted textile sculptures, that take the form of spiraling, helix-like structures, that. Speaking to Art Radar about the works on show, her processes and her practice, on the occasion of her latest exhibition, Hiromi Tango also shares what being an artist means to her.

Hiromi Tango, 'Bleached Genes (Moss) - Endless silent tears', 2018, neon and mixed media. 35 x 25 x 23. Image courtesy Sullivan + Strumpf, Singapore. Photo: Greg Piper.

Hiromi Tango, ‘Bleached Genes (Moss) – Endless silent tears’, 2018, neon and mixed media, 35 x 25 x 23 cm. Photo: Greg Piper. Image courtesy Sullivan + Strumpf, Singapore.

“Chromosomes” centres around the “tangle of cables” that our lives have become. What provoked you to think about this complex relationship that we have with technology?

“Healing Chromosomes” begins in a space where many of us are feeling the intense pressure created by constant connection to work, social media, and world affairs, with little time to slow down and just be. The simple notion of being present is a luxury, and it seems that we now need to make an effort to achieve it. Given that it should be our natural instinct, it seems ridiculous that we have lost this innate ability; however, personal and intimate engagement has been taken over by our connection to technology.

These works were inspired by the tangle of cables and devices that have become an integral part of daily life, and questions around what this kind of connectivity is doing to us as human beings. Healing Chromosomes asks what might happen if we disentangle ourselves from this constant onslaught of connectivity, and reconnect with each other on a human level. 

I worry about what we are doing to our brains and bodies – particularly for young people whose brains are still undergoing rapid development. And what are we missing out on when we are looking at a screen instead of one another? Are we stunting our own social and emotional development as human beings?

Hiromi Tango, 'Full Moon', 2018, neon and mixed media, 78 x 78 x 21. Pictured during 'Full Moon,' 2018, performance ritual. Image courtesy Sullivan + Strumpf, Singapore. Photo: Greg Piper.

Hiromi Tango, ‘Full Moon’, 2018, neon and mixed media, 78 x 78 x 21 cm. Pictured during ‘Full Moon,’ 2018, performance ritual. Photo: Greg Piper. Image courtesy Sullivan + Strumpf, Singapore.

The works in this series are largely made out of dense, colourful textiles that wind, wrap and twist around each other. What inspired you to make works using such a unique structure?

The works are inspired by the complex structures of DNA, referring to an undercurrent that has been running through my work for a number of years around human characteristics that are hard-wired through our genetic make-up (nature), and the environmental influences that can affect gene expression, or effectively lead to code-switching (nurture).

Previous projects that you have worked on, including Wrapped (2016), Traces Blue (2013) and Hiromi Hotel (2009), saw the utilisation of your art practice to draw critical links to places, communities and social issues. Do you see Healing Chromosomes as a continuation of your previous projects?

My works always organically evolve from one project to another, and there are many connective threads between Healing Chromosomes and community engagement projects such as the Hiromi Hotel series, Traces Blue, and others. As a starting point, I always approach a concept through my personal and subjective experience, whether it is a solo project or a community engagement project. However, the difference between projects like Healing Chromosomes and community-engaged projects is that with a collaborative community project, my subjective interpretation is used as a gateway to invite other participants to enter in and unpack an idea or feeling through their own experiences. In this way I act as a facilitator, and create space for others to explore.

Solo projects such as “Healing Chromosomes” remain intently focused on the personal and subjective gaze that I bring to it – in effect I am holding space for my own experiences, memories, and needs. It enables me to dive deep into my own world of thoughts, without the responsibility of guiding others to a safe space where arts engagement can assist in processing their own memories and emotions. Sometimes I go to quite a dark place when it is my own work rather than a community project. With community engagement you are focused on a social outcome, and must work within tight timeframes to achieve project objectives. With my solo work, the process is slower – I have much more control over the outcome, and work at whatever pace I need to for my own purposes. But the process of exploration and unwrapping remains consistent — considered engagement. responding to geographical locations and audience, connecting with the personal to provide a gateway to exploring universal experiences as humans.

Hiromi Tango, 'Bleached Genes (Mikan) - Open my vulnerability,' 2018, neon and mixed media. 37 x 37 x 25 cm. Image courtesy Sullivan + Strumpf, Singapore. Photo: Greg Piper.

Hiromi Tango, ‘Bleached Genes (Mikan) – Open my vulnerability,’ 2018, neon and mixed media, 37 x 37 x 25 cm. Photo: Greg Piper. Image courtesy Sullivan + Strumpf, Singapore.

What is one thing, thought or idea that you count as absolutely crucial to your process of art making?

It is very difficult to choose one, however, if I have to choose one – it would be “Nature – Nurture”: an exploration and celebration of our individuality and humanity, but also a rumination on the constant struggle to reconcile ourselves with our world.

Every day, every moment I ask questions around “What is it to be a human? How do we choose to relate? Are our engagements deeply meaningful? Can we heal ourselves – soul, spirit, mind, brain and body – our past, present and future? If so, how?”

When we strip away everything, clothes, language, culture, house, money, status, politics, religion, nationality, etc., we may realise how close we are to nature. We are animals, yet don’t always realise that we are really part of nature. When we swim in the ocean, our senses all wake up and thank us. When we interact with nature, listening to the sound of wildlife – birds for instance, it gives us great joy and comfort. I am fundamentally interested in engaging the nature within us, then creating a nurturing space that allows for that nature to exist and flourish.

While my goal is simple and clear, I wonder why we make everything so complex, and feel terribly upset by all of the inhumanity and injustice in the world. My work is at once a way of screaming silently for urgent help to bring humanity back into balance with nature, as well as trying to create a nurturing space in hopes that we can reconnect as human beings.

Hiromi Tango, 'Bleached Genes (Sakura) - Hold me to be free', 2018, neon and mixed media. Image courtesy Sullivan + Strumpf, Photo: Greg Piper.

Hiromi Tango, ‘Bleached Genes (Sakura) – Hold me to be free’, 2018, neon and mixed media. Photo: Greg Piper. Image courtesy Sullivan + Strumpf, Singapore.

Tell us more about what we can expect from you in the upcoming years.

As I mentioned above, I would like to celebrate individuality and humanity through my art. I would like to keep screaming silently in the hope that my art will reach someone deeply and provide them some strength to be who truly they are.

As an artist, I intend to engage more with the rawness that has been hidden deep within me, to excavate the layers of fear, vulnerability, ugliness, and complexity of life, in hopes of ultimately uncovering fundamental truths about my own journey as a human being. It requires courage to be honest, open, and acknowledge our vulnerability as individuals. But now more than ever it is important to share our vulnerability, so that we can be present for one another. If you have the courage to uncover your nature, then we can begin to engage deeply.

Junni Chen

2013

“Chromosomes” by Hiromi Tango is on view from 26 January to 18 February 2018 at Sullivan + Strumpf Singapore, 5 Lock Road, Singapore 108933.

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