Installation view of “Sriwhana Spong and Maria Taniguchi: Oceanic Feeling” at Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, LASALLE College of the Arts, 2016. Photo: truphotos.com

Oceanic Feeling

Sriwhana Spong and Maria Taniguchi

Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore
Singapore New Zealand Philippines

The act of “making art” is just as important as the art form itself. The creative journey and production process is the unique expression of the maker, while the physical passage of time and space, as the artist travels to different places, becomes an important link between the work and its creator’s personal and artistic history. A practice that is process-driven, which results in works that have a site- and time-specific element, means that the context and definition of its art is in constant flux. “Oceanic Feeling” was the first major survey of the decade-long practices of New Zealand artist Sriwhana Spong and Filipina artist Maria Taniguchi, whose marked oeuvres both consider the temporality of material, and intersect in the way that they each focus on the act of making, creating awareness of artistic processes and intentions, which allow audiences to engage with their works in intimate ways. The title “Oceanic Feeling” referred to the experienced vigor of vibrant lives that traverse the globe, as well as the complex chronicles of both the artists and their art—in relation to each other and throughout time, space and velocity.

The exhibition held in Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore’s largest gallery space encompassed 16 works ranging from paintings, sculptures and installation to video and performance. The expansive, open space gave each work ample room to breathe; at the same time, the experience of these works in relation to one another allowed for new narratives to take place. On multiple occasions throughout the duration of the exhibition, the Singaporean musician Vivian Wang played an improvised musical arrangement on Spong’s new work, Instrument B (Vivian) (2016). Spong, who is half-Balinese, created the instrument specifically to suit the musician in a purposefully non-Western construction of sound, inspired by the Balinese gamelan. As the collaboration of music, performance and visual art brought together multiple art forms, and created new relationships, the sound or ombak (wave) of the instrument united and highlighted the nuances of each of the artworks on exhibit. Spong’s work explored the connection between place and sound, and how these elements influence each other, as the ombak permeated and glided amidst the interstices of the works. During the performance, Wang wore a bright and multicolored dress that served as the “color representation” of the notes she played. In this way, the sculptural form of Instrument B (Vivian), along with Wang herself, became an exploration of both object and site. 

SRIWHANA SPONGInstrument B (Vivian), 2016, wood, acrylic, rubber, aluminium, two parts, 78 × 47.4 × 40.2 cm each. Photo: truphotos.com

Taniguchi’s attention to process was evident in her labor-intensive canvases on display. One such work was Untitled (2014), which is part of her well-known ongoing series “Brick Paintings” (2011– ), a towering black-and-gray canvas, almost three by five meters, that engulfs the viewer in its repetitive and monochromatic maze. The canvas leaned against the wall, straddling both painting and sculpture—an aspect that brought the work into the space of the viewer in a much more confronting manner. Taniguchi’s canvases, though seemingly minimal, are unlike the Zen or meditative approach of Korean Monochrome artists, for example, who empty themselves through their repetitive strokes and minimal paintings. Rather, Taniguchi’s canvases are filled with activity and movement, and is an articulation of her daily activity. She likens her “brick painting” to writing, each individual brick representing a different word, strung together to be a visual journal or a code that registers time.

Meanwhile, Mies 421 (2010), a single-channel video in black and white, expresses Taniguchi’s interest in mise-en-scène and is a piece about making work as a way for the artist to contemplate her own practice, which is similar to her process-oriented painting style. This work, made while Taniguchi was a student in London, cements her experience of seeing Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion, a temple to modern architecture. In Mies 421, Taniguchi strings together black-and-white photographs in a slideshow format that increases in speed as the video progresses. Here, the artist teases out her affinity to modernism, as an attempt to understand her relationship with it; and by doing so, she has created an avant-garde work that explores form and process.

For Spong and Taniguchi, art is not a means to an end—or producing the final work—but rather an ends to a mean: the act of creation, the process of producing the art, is what allows for dialogue, reflection, introspection and, certainly, thought-provocation. “Oceanic Feeling” revealed the inability of language to fully communicate nuanced feelings and complex expressions, thereby distilling the premise that art should lead us to question everything we know and think about. Perhaps this can be seen as the most important influence art has on society, humanity and history. By underlining how one artist can relate to the other’s practice, and the way in which both parties’ ideas migrate across forms, the exhibition encouraged the audience to find multiple faces of an artwork, rather than seeing a singular image.

“Sriwhana Spong and Maria Taniguchi: Oceanic Feeling” was on view at Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore from August 19 to October 16, 2016.