Going through Strange Stations: Playing with our senses

Going through Maria Taniguchi’s Echo Studies at the Vargas Museum is like going through an amazing race or mystery game, minus the time pressure.  Instead, each “station” demands unhurried reflection, the better to absorb and appreciate the various strains and echoes each piece conveys.  Done in various media, I tended to assign a work to each station, according to its medium: Station 1-acrylic on canvas; station 2 – graphite on paper and plinth; station 3 – video installation and station 4 – photograph.
Also, each station plays with our senses through the visual, aural and tactile qualities of Taniguchi’s works.

First Station: Acrylic on canvas and Shapes
Image from: http://manilaartblogger.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/maria-untitled-mirrors.jpg?w=225&h=300

                Untitled (Mirrors) is the name of two large-scale geometric abstract paintings propped, rather than “properly” hung on the walls, looking as if they do not belong to the show. At first, it seemed strange, but on second look, they reminded me of ordinary mirrors leaning on ordinary household walls. Familiar objects like mirrors are made strange, especially when we look at how the shapes convey positive and negative spaces- “formed when a space around a subject and not the subject itself reveals shapes or other forms”[1],  as seen in the brick-like designs that were combined to form another pattern or geometric shape. Put another way, horizontal brick-like shapes served as the background or positive space while vertical brick-like shapes constituted the negative space to form different geometric shapes.
                The formation of the brick-like designs and the use of negative spaces give the paintings their unique visual quality wherein it plays with our sense of sight by giving us an optical illusion and perplexity towards which shape should be first distinguished by our vision.
                The pattern of negative/positive spaces is going to be echoed in another group of works in what I call the second station.
Second Station: Graphite and Shapes

Image from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/legrandbleu/5580007014/

                Graphite drawings on Papers are mounted on unpolished wood plinths. The smudging of graphite operated as the positive space then forming a white spot which resulted like circle, oblong, square and rectangles – echoing the wall-bound paintings.
                I was thinking how that piece of art work became connected to mirrors? It looks like the shapes in the canvas were pulled out in the larger mirrors (referring to the painting) and were applied on the paper. Then the blocks of wood served as the fragments of the big canvas.
Here, aside from our sense of sight, another part of our senses (sense of touch) is played and challenged.    The drawings or sketches on the paper were finely and smoothly sketched but the background where it is mounted (wood plinths) is coarse and abrasive.
                Standing on this clue/art work, it directs us to an opening which leads us to the West Wing Gallery of Vargas Museum.

Third Station: Audiovisual

Image from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/legrandbleu/5580018866/

                Dawn’s Arms, a 22-minute two-channel (11 minutes per channel) high-definition video shows how a craftsman from Romblon, the Philippines’ marble capital, recreated a marble sculpture of Dawn’s Arms in detail. The video installation creates an “echo” not just on the place but on the processes and materials that comprise it. The installation echoes back to a piece of sculpture Alba (Dawn) by George Kolbe exhibited for the German Pavilion built by modernist architect Mies van der Rohe in Barcelona Exposition. Taniguchi noted that “the pavilion is ground zero for a particular modernist agenda”[2]. The venue where the Dawn’s Arms is exhibited (The Vargas Museum) is a modern museum. . In the material used, marble echoes back to the Greek times wherein marble became the main material used in sculpture and reverberates in Vargas Museum’s faux marble.
This third station plays with both our visual and aural sense. At first, the video installation had an interesting appeal to me. The first time I saw it, I thought the sound comes outside the museum. It seemed that there were real workers doing the job. It took me some minutes to realize that the video itself is the source of the sound. In this case, there is interplay between a sound coming from the outside and the sound coming from the video. Aside from the sound, our sense of sight is teased with the way the video installation was placed in the museum. The videographer diverts the direction of the camera from the sculptural process then towards a background of trees and leaves which I saw very relevant and parallel to the background outside the museum. What was outside the museum is similar to what was documented – trees and leaves as the background. This set-up created sensitivity for space and an echoing mood. But as the video goes on, I feel so contained with what I hear. Everything keeps reiterating which caused me a bad headache. The sound suddenly became unpleasant to my ears, good thing the “trees and leaves” effects neutralized that feeling.
                I was also puzzled: why reproduce the arm alone? Second, who gets the credit for this video? The craftsman who crafted the arm or the artist/videographer or the “original” artist, from the original Dawn? Perhaps the artist chose the arm part because of the intricate and challenging work it demands, it is not easy to carve it especially the fingers. In which case, I think both the craftsman and Taniguchi should be given credit.  We just have to set the parameters. The craftsman can be called an artist but he is not the author of the work since the concept of the work came from Taniguchi. He can be labelled as an artist in his own right. For Taniguchi’s part, she may be considered an artist and author of the work because she conceptualized it but we should take note that her idea traces back from the Barcelona Exposition. She just did some alteration in her video installation: to present the arm part. These speculations and questions only go to show that Conceptual art truly complicates the notions of originality, authorship and artistry.

Fourth Station: A Photograph

Image from: http://kiritica.tumblr.com/post/5586773780/the-importance-of-nothing-walking-through-maria

                The photograph positioned against the glass windows and the walls of the museum play again with our sense of sight. This last station is a digital print of what resulted from documented labours of the Romblon sculptor. The photo seems to be 3-dimensional of sculpture’s fragment, especially because of its stark background in the picture frame and the stark background of the Vargas Museum walls.
                After my encounter with the photograph, it still left me puzzled and curious because I was not contented seeing only a part of the sculpture. This is the last part of the exhibit and I was expecting an actual encounter or at least a complete print of the sculpture.
Every station corresponds to a strange space which defamiliarizes our usual notion of what works (i.e. paintings, papers, video and photographs) are and gives us a back-and-forth, roller-coaster emotional and sensual ride. . Every art work in this exhibition is intended and designed for a specific place in the museum which makes Maria Taniguchi’s exhibit a site-specific one. But what is amazing about this exhibit is how Taniguchi intertwined the museum’s capabilities and limitations and the interplay of our senses with and in every work.
 On a final note, it is our choice if we are going to finish or stop this race. If we stop, our questions won’t be answered and we stop acquiring learning but if we pursue, the fragments will be completed and the clues will be concluded. If we do not go through all the stations, it makes no sense. But at the end of the day, there are still questions that will remain unanswered, and fragments that will leave us puzzled.

[1] Vargas Museum Echo Studies Educational Guide
[2] Vargas Museum Education Guide Appendix

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