Born into a family of sculptors and trained as one herself, Filipino artist Maria Taniguchi traded casts and clay in recent years for paint, silkscreen and video. Nevertheless her art maintains a dense, highly material and sculptural form. I met with Taniguchi in her studio while she labored over a massive acrylic painting measuring 3 × 4.5 meters (Untitled, 2013) for her upcoming solo exhibition with Silverlens gallery at Art Basel (Switzerland). Based on a miniature brick pattern, the work is the third in a series, which she plans to add to annually.
“People look at these works and see abstract pictures, but in reality they serve a very practical purpose,” Taniguchi says. “These paintings take time and help me regulate my own production, my thinking. They set the tone for the rest of my work.” Seen from afar, the painting appears to be produced mechanically, but on close inspection, the eye spots areas where the ink has run thin. Taniguchi first hand draws the design on the canvas and then paints one brick at a time, in black acrylic, “camping out on the paintings,” she exclaims with a laugh.
Taniguchi has recently been filming videos about making art. In one such work, Figure Study (2012–2013), she records two workers digging in a dense jungle alive with the static of cicadas and clinking of shovels. Though their purpose is not immediately obvious, the viewer eventually understands that the workers are collecting clay. In a group exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design in Manila earlier this year, Taniguchi exhibited this video along with two clay slabs placed on the floor, each the size of the monitor. Although drawing from personal experience—the clay was gathered near her hometown of Dumaguete, and the slabs were fired by her mother—Taniguchi also draws on the rich history of clay works in the region, where pottery has been found dating back to the 1400s. In another video, Untitled (Dawn’s Arms) (2011), Taniguchi seeks a marble craftsman on the island of Romblon (the Philippines’ marble quarries) to recreate the arms of the figurative sculpture at the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion in Barcelona. Shots of the craftsman working are interspersed with scenes scanning the island vegetation.
In addition to making art and documenting the process, Taniguchi is starting an exhibition platform with Pio Abad called Telenovela. At the Vargas Museum next year, the group will exhibit artworks from the past in an effort to revive and reinterpret work that has fallen off the radar. With this, Taniguchi continues her exploration of the history of art in the Philippines, while also inscribing new meanings and forms into our modern world.