Oceanic Feeling, a term originated by French dramatist, Romain Rolland and later popularized by Sigmund Freud, refers to the a boundless feeling of the eternal that is the source of all religious energy. There certainly is a semblance of this oceanic feeling as one enters the monastic sobriety of this alabaster space, echoed and amplified by the reverberating ombak by Singaporean musician Vivian Wang that washes over the gallery.

Three of Maria Taniguchi’s brick painting series are on display, spaced far from each other on the distal walls of the gallery. Large in size, matte in surface and tessellated in composition, these defiant abstract canvases possess a very practical purpose: to “take time and help me (Taniguchi) regulate my own production, my thinking”, as she attends to the quotidian task of filling in the grid. In the catalogue essay, curator Susan Gibb points out that these paintings do not exist as pure abstractions, with the stacked cell-like rectangles in the painting resembling bricks on the wall. This fact is complicated by the choice to hang some of theses canvases and have others rest against the wall, such that they appear to be “neither wholly image nor object”.

Maria Taniguchi, Untitled 2014, synthetic polymer paint on canvas 274 x 488 cm. © Courtesy the artist and private collection, Hong Kong
Maria Taniguchi, Untitled 2014, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 274 x 488 cm. © Courtesy the artist and private collection, Hong Kong

Taniguchi and Spong are both interested in the moving image, their works functioning as inquiries into how the camera influences the way we view the world. With Untitled (Marble Lions), Taniguchi shoots a pair of marble lions like a five year old fiddling with a camera, playing with the zooming controls whilst holding the camera unsteadily, self-reflexively foregrounding the intrusion of the camera in the act of viewing. Mies 421 further riffs on the issue of framing, producing an accidental “horror movie” with a set of black and white pictures of Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion set on loop. The sculpture Alba within the Pavilion is shot from various angles, such that a long shot renders the sculpture innocuously like a decorative piece, whereas a steady close up animates the sculpture in a move where she seems to be shielding herself from the light. As the screening intervals of each photograph decreases, suspense builds and a semblance of a narrative emerges. Alba contorts herself away from the sun; a lone security guard lingers; a woman crosses a space. What gives?

In the case of Halberd head with naga and blades, Indonesia (Java), Eastern Javanese period, Singasari kingdom, ca. second half of the 13th century, copper alloy. Samuel Eilenberg Collection. Gift of Samuel Eilenberg 1996. 1996.468 a, b, Spong’s pinhole camera denies the viewing of this artifact, instead recording flashes of light from the display space surrounding the object, overlaying it with color filters. This results in a sort of double appropriation – the first as a rebellion against the Metropolitan Museum’s ‘no filming’ policy, and the second using the recording of the spearhead to explore the psychological effects of different colors on perception.

Spong, Sriwhana, Villa America, 2012, silk dyed in Fanta, 463 x 1600 cm. © Courtesy the artist and Michael Lett
Spong, Sriwhana, Villa America, 2012, silk dyed in Fanta, 463 x 1600 cm. © Courtesy the artist and Michael Lett

Occupying the most space in the exhibition is Spong’s Villa America, an orange expanse of silk suspended and hung like curtains. All 740,800 square centimeters of this has been soaked not in industrial dye, but in orange Fanta. In the catalogue essay, Spong references an obscure essay on beverages and how “a culture’s adopted beverage represents the blood of their vanquished foe”. Is Spong implicating herself in an act of colonial vampirism, with Villa America as a sort of victory flag? Like Taniguchi’s brick paintings, this too seems neither image nor specific object.

Sriwhana Spong and Maria Taniguchi: Oceanic feeling is the first major survey of New Zealand artist Sriwhana Spong’s and Filipina artist Maria Taniguchi’s decade-long practices. The exhibition reflects on the two artists’ concerns with material, technological and natural processes, through sculpture, painting, film and video, and performance.

Exhibition period: Sat 20 Aug – Sun 16 Oct 2016
Opening hours: 12:00pm – 7:00pm, Tue to Sun
Closed on Mon and public holidays

Institute of Contemporary Arts, LASALLE College of the Arts,  Singapore