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Maria Taniguchi

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Maria Taniguchi:
The Act and the Objet

Joselina Cruz

How much longer can this expansion continue? Sooner or later the process will halt, at that moment revealing the true dimensions of the world we inhabit, and which the visual centres of our timid brains have concealed from us. —Ballard, The Enormous Space

What are the true dimensions of the inhabited world? Ballard asks. Perec, from across the continent replies: things.

“…of exquisite porcelain, decorated with tropical birds, of leather-bound books printed in elzevier on hand-made Japanese vellum, with wide white margins and rough edges …mahogany tables, of supple, comfortable, colourful silk or linen clothing, of bright and spacious rooms, or armfuls of flowers, of Bokhra rugs, of bouncing Dobermanns.”

Perec goes on page after page after page of things imagined, presenting a cluttered, un-ending accumulation, a mess of an existence. Ballard on the other hand empties his protagonist’s home, removing things, opening windows to let in expanding space, and in turn space spilling out and reaching a hacullinatory state where the spread of space is unstoppable. Both cases—their existential reach stretching beyond pages and the imagination—speak to the works of Maria Taniguchi. Her work with objects, images and text, as well as experimental ideas on the aesthetics of time and space could very well be Perec’s objects strewn across pages and in Ballard’s case the halllucination of a home, emptied out, stretching and expanding endlessly.

Not necessarily central to her practice, but ubiquitous and volumnious enough in her oeuvre to be reckoned with and explored at length, are her brick paintings. Large, dark and dense, the canvasses which Taniguchi refer to as paintings that act like things, are all painstakingly produced. The labour attached —not only for each canvass but to the number of canvasses executed—signifies her consideration of the medium as a key element to her production. Whlist the beginning of her brick paintings was engendered by an interest in figuring out a system of networks, its iterations has evolved the artist’s understanding of its role in her practice.

Most certainly, the slippage of representation where the monochrome painting simulating an object which in turn simulates an image, plays across the bricks. These shifting modalities produce an ontological question for her practice: in what state does she desire for it to exist? One can see its materiality as an object positioned on the floor and leaning against a wall, giving it solidity and weight. As a painting showing only variations of gray paint, it projects itself as if it were a monochrome. But perhaps its more nuanced shift is the recognition of an image, of a painted wall surface built up with its tight, grey, rectangular blocks encased in graphite lines, neat and evenly delineated. On closer inspection each painting shows a tonal movement of grey shades across the canvas the details varying across surfaces. Every canvas is thus original; where the surface catches the light, the varying tones of grey of each brick across the wall reveals itself. She creates something similar to geometric stereograms, where the eye’s reaction to light allows for the pattern to surface. Similarly movement can cause the details to be absorbed back into the grey brick, thus sliding back into the state of their slab-like monochromatic heaviness. However, the recognition of each painting’s uniqueness affirms that each canvass runs on its own rhythm, with the process of the artist inscribed upon the work, the vagaries that occur during the period of its production dictating the specific operative narrative for each. The object-ness of the brick painting, then, does not come solely from its materiality but also, even perhaps as importantly, from the particular history of its production. Taniguchi’s representation of the brick wall is thus only a mere mimic of the monochrome, and when parsed, is necessarily specific as an object with the artist’s individual history. The artist’s process is further substantiated by the rest of her artisitic output which is constituted mostly of video and sculpture.

The internal complexity of the brick paintings is a key element that lends itself greatly to Taniguchi’s videos and objects. As contextualising elements to each other, her lesser recognised videos and sculptural objects, none of which are any less compelling, manifests her formulation of the conceptual structure of the brick painting project, even if the latter still has a yet undetermined finitude. In Room with a View (2014) a video with a colour palette echoing her paintings starts with the image of a corner of a rectangular structure, sharp-edged as her bricks, including shadow and weight, it seems almost as if the object was one of her bricks made monumental. The video itself aside from this first image is composed of more still images showing various media equipment—a 16mm projector, an HD projector and an LCD screen—all of which are turned off. Perhaps a metaphor for the moving image stilled. The only element which animates the video are running texts which feel like fragments drawn from a conversation (or conversations), imbued with one-liners or short exchanges from the most amusingly mundane observances to that of reflective (and reflexive) pronoucements about art in particular, to life in general. The initial text makes reference to an exhibition ‘I’m sick of talking about that show,” and this pretty much sets the conversation as taking place within an art context. The meandering texts wander off to topics un-related to art throughout the 3-minute video the tone bordering on flippancy with, ‘Yes, me too. I’m having popcorn at the office.’ Taniguchi reveals place (the Sofitel in Manila, Dumaguete by the beach) and joins this together with comedic descriptions: a carpenter inadvertently sniffing glue while installing a ceiling for a video room, or of a man with a gun beside you while sunbathing, the ridiculous suggestion of swimming with your clothes on. Taniguchi’s turn to linguistic signification is best highlighted here as the ‘image’ becomes mere backdrop to the conversation, with the text carrying the weight of the imagery. The earlier work Fade in, Xanadu (2012) where she juxtaposes her characteristic still images side by side text resulting in an image of an illustrated script, is less about the use of language to produce imagery, but more of how image can work through language and vice versa. The relationship is decidedly more generous. As her practice progresses her videos become less about the image itself (something hedging closer to her brick paintings which simulate other ontological dispositions other than), but more about the production of these images and their resulting signification as perceived through (several) layers of surfaces. Her most recent I see, it feels (2015), a single channel video installed vertically, is her work with the most colour to date. A black and white still image of an orchid positioned behind a black notebook — a beautiful conceit, perhaps—have single bands of color unrolling itself across the image. Hues of aqua, red, green and orange alternately cross the screen every ten seconds.1 The colours reference Taniguchi’s interest in surface, and in this case, she references these as filters. Allusions to social media’s Lo-fi, fade, reyes, ludwig, mayfair, valencia, X-pro II, are instant screens that change and regulate the reception of images. This situates Taniguchi’s practice at the crux of exploring the production of contexts without the use of explicit imagery when constructing history or contemporary contexts, spaces or time. The same can be said of her sculptures, mostly minimal poster stacks built up to look like sculptural blocks, which slowly disappear as page after page is taken away. Her most recent poster stack Untitled (ram dram sram) (2015) references RAM or random access memory. A white sheet with its various sized die-cut holes, allude to the anachronistic system of punch cards used during the 1970s to store data. Taniguchi thus proposes a more nuanced, even poetic strategy at producing and recovering memory, circumventing the banal constructs of representation.

There are two videos that depart from the visual economy of Taniguichi’s practice. Celestial Motors (2012) a video showing details of the vehicle, its static shots punctuated by the camera’s slow pan across its gleaming aluminum body. Perhaps this was Taniguchi’s inquiry at trying to figure out strategies on how to perceive and present the jeepney without falling into the cultural trope of national representation. Choosing an atypical jeepney, one devoid of the typical garish trappings on its alumimum body, and focuses on details: the gleaming exterior, a Mercedes-Benz hood ornament,; inside, a cushioned metal studded ceiling, soft cushioned seats, fancy flashing pin lights. It is only at one point of the video that the body of the vehicle is shown, and that reveals the the pastiche of the jeepney and its quirky oddity that one understands why it continues to sustain such interest. In the same year she also produced Figure Study (2012), a video installation seemingly informed by her brick paintings. Very few of Taniguchi’s works fuse several elements together and it is with Figure Study that she places video and sculpture together. Filmed in a forest in the Philippines, the video shows two men at work digging a clay pit; part of the installation (placed beside a rectangular plinth that acts as a stand for the video screen) are blackened terracotta slabs the same size as the screen. The slabs are the only evidence that the clay dug from the pit were ever utilized, there are no direct references from one to the other. Taniguchi resists visual narrativation of the installation (the slabs are never shown in a kiln), by whittling her images down to an elegant two: the act and the object. Beside all these are the brick paintings which continue as a backdrop to her practice. The project is something she goes on building up and out, a brick at a time, a cumulative practice that’s now becoming part of a greater whole, with each brick towards a larger piece. It is no longer a painting on its own. As Taniguchi thinks through the project, her decisions will directly actively engage her painting as being directly envisioned through time, space and place. For the work to be seen in its entirety, all the brick works (it was 60 at last count) would need to be viewed together in one space. In a potential politcal and economic reading of the brick paintings a certain democratization allows for the brick painting/s to exist on two levels: one in which no one owns the final work,or know what it looks like or two, where everyone one has the potential to own part of the work at the same as every body else. Each additional brick painting always has the potential to a possible (or impossible) completion. For the hallucinating Mr Ballantyne, this is precisely the intangible quality of an ever expanding space, the unknowability of the limits. For Maria Taniguchi, the brick paintings are essential objects towards a bigger (final?) surface, a surface where any number of works are to be placed, and the breadth of its form still to be satisfied. Or perhaps, to quote from Room with a View  (2014): I guess there’s this thing where you work so much on something, and then you want to move on to the next thing and forget about it."

Joselina Cruz is the Director and Curator at Museum of Contemporary Art and Design