The Institute of Contemporary Art Singapore presents a major survey exhibition of New Zealand artist Sriwhana Spong and Filipino Maria Taniguchi.
Launched on 20 August 2016, “Oceanic Feeling” features sculpture, painting, film and video, and performance by the two artists, reflecting their concerns with material, technological and natural processes.
For many exhibitions, it is not uncommon for there to be a prescribed path of sorts, a predictably linear order in which you are expected to encounter artworks, supplying some rigidity to the contextual framework around each piece. The opposite of this approach, however, seems to be in play in “Oceanic feeling”, a new show by New Zealand artist Sriwhana Spong and Filipina Maria Taniguchi curated by Susan Gibb and running until 20 October 2016 at the Institute of Contemporary Art Singapore.
The open approach adopted for this exhibition is seen with some frequency at the Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, memorably so with “Countershadows: tactics in evasion” in 2014, which was curated by Melanie Pocock. Coupled with the ICA’s use of ‘room sheets’ instead of artwork labels, it is refreshingly open.
As a result of the gallery’s conversion, under the direction of Bala Starr, from three smaller galleries to one expansive space, there is a choice of five possible points of entry and exit. Depending on the exhibition in question, this can pose some risk of confusion, but together with the gallery’s floor-to-ceiling glass façade, what follows here is a sense of transparent indeterminacy.
Consequently, no one work is framed as the centrepiece, or forms the initial sensory impression which then colours the public’s experience of the rest of the show. For those unfamiliar with the practices of Sriwhana Spong and Maria Taniguchi, even the distinction of authorship can waver, at times, within the open, brightly-fluorescent lit space of the gallery.
One of the most eye-catching pieces in the show, however, is Spong’s Villa America (2012), a pair of silk hangings several metres on each side, and dyed in an eye-popping shade of orange by the application of the soft drink Fanta. These large silk hangings are composed of smaller, diamond-shaped pieces, the opacity and intensity of hue varying from piece to piece, and the work’s great size sees the fabric spilling out over the floor. Over the weeks that the show has been open, subtle currents of air slowly mould the cloth into sinuous, landscape-like forms, although the staff of the gallery periodically reset the fabric to drape over the floor in neat right angles.
A similarly-executed piece, Untitled (Backdrop) (2016) hangs rather more neatly, its bottom edge barely scraping the ground. In a stepped, geometric pattern, the silk is dyed half with Coca-Cola and half with grape-flavoured Fanta. Thanks to the currents of air set up by the gallery’s air-conditioning, there is a slight curve in the way it hangs, the silk rippling slightly in the air.
These pieces only retain the colour of the beverages used, and not their smell, or their tendency to attract ants, leaving the identity of the dye very much external to the work. Within the layout of the gallery, they also appear to have been pressed into service as partitions of sorts, dividing lines between the outside world and Spong’s Mother’s tongue (2016).
Like the works in silk, the material characteristics of the media are central to Mother’s tongue. The work involves fixing simple wooden forms, coated in white wax, to the gallery’s wall, and laying a length of extruded clay on each form. The fresh, pliable clay first conforms to the shape it is laid upon. However, as it dries, the clay warps, resulting in differences in fit, which range from subtle to startling. It is a simple premise and execution, which makes its impact all the greater.
This fascination with the material can also be found in the works of Maria Taniguchi, particularly in Untitled (Dawn’s Arms) (2011), which centres on the re-creation, in marble, of the arms of a bronze sculpture, Alba (1929) by the German artist Georg Kolbe. Across the work’s two screens – one for each arm, and only one of which plays at any given time – marble is shaped, though with little indication of its eventual form.
A key element of the work is that the marble is being shaped by an angle grinder, amidst the marble quarries of the Philippine island of Romblon – a dramatic inversion of the cultural legacy, techniques and processes that gave rise to Alba in the first place. Another part of what makes the work intriguing might be lost to anyone who has never worked stone, or handled an angle grinder – the sheer vicarious pleasure of watching the skilled use of a power tool to produce sinuous form and detail.
Accompanying this installation is Figure Study (2013), which consists of roughly half an hour of monochrome footage of two men digging for clay in the jungles near Taniguchi’s city of birth. It complements the subject of Untitled (Dawn’s Arms) with some ease, but what is of greater interest is what is absent from the work: originally, the clay excavated in the video was fired by Taniguchi’s family in a slab of the same dimensions as the television used to display the video, in a dizzying cycle of production and reference. Unfortunately, the slab was accidentally destroyed while on show as part of “The Vexed Contemporary” at Manila’s Museum of Contemporary Art and Design.
Similarly, Spong’s Villa America features traces of damage – in 2013, the work was nailed, glued, cut and torn without the artist’s knowledge at the Guangdong Times Museum, marks of which can still be discerned in the fabric. Time – and the toll it takes – is abundantly present in all the works on show, though perhaps not nearly as dramatically as Villa America and Figure Study.
Time and its ordering are also a significant feature of what have become known as Taniguchi’s brick paintings, though the artist herself generally refers to them as ‘objects’, rather than paintings as such. The distinction in this exhibition can be seen in how the untitled canvases rest, leaning, on the floor, while Masks 1 (2011) is wall-mounted, in accordance with convention.
Rather than abstract paintings, Taniguchi describes these works as regulators of time and thought, a meditative practice which then inflects the rest of her practice. This is curiously mirrored in the experience of viewing these works – at first observing their pixelated, dappled variations in hue from a distance, variations in reflectiveness as one draws closer, and finally the patterning of each and every ‘brick.’
Though overwhelmingly a show of simple, elegant ideas executed with understated efficacy, there are occasional moments of dissonance, particularly Instrument B (Vivian) (2016), which sits inertly in the gallery, only to be briefly activated with infrequent performances. “Oceanic Feeling” is a show which rewards careful, fine-grained observation over sustained periods of time, and a keen appetite for the simplicity of material processes.
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- WASAK! Filipino Art Today at ARNDT Berlin – January 2016 – “WASAK! Filipino Art Today” at ARNDT gallery and ARNDT art agency A3 exhibits the work of 19 artists from the Philippines
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