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Jess Johnson: Worlds Within Worlds Ocula Conversation Jess Johnson: Worlds Within Worlds

Geometric patterns, anthropomorphic characters, architectural spatial environments, and relics of the ancient world appear throughout Jess Johnson's artworks.Johnson's solo art-ventures began in drawing, but her long-term collaborative relationship with animator Simon Ward brings her drawings to life in videos and virtual reality. The animator has...

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Melati Suryodarmo: Performance Art as Trigger Ocula Conversation Melati Suryodarmo: Performance Art as Trigger

In 2012, Melati Suryodarmo opened Studio Plesungan in her native Surakarta, also known as Solo, the historic royal capital of the Mataram Empire of Java in Indonesia. Suryodarmo had returned to Indonesia from Germany, where she studied Butoh and choreography with Butoh dancer and choreographer Anzu Furukawa, time-based media with avantgarde...

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Lagos Biennial 2019: Stories from Africa’s most Populous City Ocula Report Lagos Biennial 2019: Stories from Africa’s most Populous City 15 Nov 2019 : Jareh Das for Ocula

Under the direction of Folakunle Oshun, the second edition of the Lagos Biennial (26 October–23 November 2019) includes works by over 40 Lagos-based and international artists, architects, and collectives. Curated by architect Tosin Oshinowo, curator and producer Oyindamola Fakeye, and assistant curator of photography at the Art Institute of...

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Hans Hartung and Art Informel: Exhibition Walkthrough Ocula Insight | Video
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Hans Hartung and Art Informel: Exhibition Walkthrough 15 October 2019

Hans Hartung and Art Informel at Mazzoleni London (1 October 2019-18 January 2020) presents key works by the French-German painter while highlighting his connection with artists active in Paris during the 50s and 60s. In this video, writer and historian Alan Montgomery discusses Hartung's practice and its legacy.Born in Leipzig in 1904, Hans...

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Ocula Insight

Miya Ando at Sundaram Tagore Gallery, New York

Katie Fallen New York 9 July 2016
Miya Ando. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Marc Tan.

There is something quite surprising about Miya Ando, the latest artist to have a solo show with Sundaram Tagore Gallery in New York. Half Japanese and half Russian, Ando is a descendant of Bizen sword makers and spent her childhood among Buddhist priests in a temple in Okayama, Japan. Yet today, she lives and works in New York, with her studio located in a vast repurposed industrial building in Long Island City, so removed from her upbringing.

A couple of days before the opening of her New York exhibition at Sundaram, The Nature of Perception (9 June–1 July 2016), Ando invited me to visit her studio. Prior to my visit I read up avidly about her practice, learning how she studied Buddhist iconography at Yale University, and then returned to Japan to apprentice under a master metalsmith at the Hattori Studio in Japan. Since then, Ando has been experimenting with metal, producing metal sculptures and paintings through a lengthy process that combines traditional techniques with modern industrial technology. With this in mind I expected to enter a factory of intense industrial production, filled with heat, fire and noise.

Miya Ando in her studio, New York. Photo: Lorraine Young. 

When Ando greeted me at the door, she brought with her an unexpected sense of calm. Her studio is pristine white with a large window that fills the back wall and bathes the space in light. When I arrived, works in all stages of production lined the walls and workstations around the space, yet the industrial chaos I had thought would inhabit the space did not.

Within minutes of walking into her studio, Ando began talking, bubbling over with enthusiasm and passion for light and the natural world, their transformative powers and the harmony that can be created between them and the man-made world. Certainly, when experiencing the light scattering across her most recent series of paintings Hamon, these qualities are apparent. The works shift constantly; there is not one angle from which they appear the same. As a viewer you have to explore the serene metal surfaces with your eyes and body; it is an interaction that relies upon your curiosity to discover the multitude of colours and images within each work.

Miya Ando in her studio, New York. Photo: Lorraine Young. 

This reliance upon the physical experience of viewing is central to Ando’s work. Guided by phenomenological thinking and inspired by such artistic movements as Minimalism, Light and Space and Danseakhwa, what is most important to Ando is the materials and how we interact with them. While talking, we sat at an empty workbench, on which Ando insisted on scattering a number of small sculptures; she wanted to have things nearby to hold and reference. Her materials are everything.

To produce the light-reflecting gradients on her metal paintings, Ando applies heat, sandpaper, grinders and acid to the metal canvases, irrevocably altering the material’s chemical properties. Developed from her ancestors’ sword-making techniques, Ando’s process conflates the traditional with modern, relying equally upon science and technology. This delicate balance between ancient and modern is guided, according to Ando, by a deep need to understand. When Ando moved to the United States she only spoke Japanese; unable to comprehend what others were saying and vice versa. She found that this lack of understanding encouraged her to continually learn about anything and everything new she encounters.

It is arguably this inquisitiveness that has led Ando to work in series. With works from Hamon and Phenomenon on show at Sundaram, the exhibition exemplifies Ando’s dedication to test and play with her process. She has produced a large variety of metal paintings that exemplify how subtle changes in her process can produce something completely new: each one is just a little more grey, or perhaps a little more blue.

More recently, Ando has branched out a little further, creating works using a unique charred wood from her hometown in Japan. It signifies a shift from the reflective to the rustic. The deep black canvases which have resulted are scattered with threads of gold, produced using an ancient Japanese technique to render what Ando feels could be light pouring through the cracks. A far more personal series, Kintsugi, according to Ando, is a comforting reminder of her home. For the viewer it is perhaps a moment to reflect on the extraordinary properties of light and our relationship with it, a moment of calm in a world increasingly dominated by the glare of electronic screens.

This marked shift simply serves to enhance Ando’s intrigue. Trained in such a unique way and dedicated to the physical materiality of her work, Ando seems almost out of place in the midst of the increasingly digital and transitory contemporary art world. It is clear one cannot approach Ando’s practice with expectations; rather as a viewer you need to embrace her vivacious mind-set and look at her practice with equal amounts of curiosity. —[O]

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