Musings on Art

Seung Yul Oh | SOOM & OnDo

Two, new, fabulous artworks by Seung Yul Oh have recently been installed in Auckland.  I think he does some of the best public art pieces around, as they are always lively, playful works that invite interaction and exchange.

The first work can be found when you go for a wander to the top floor of the Auckland Art Gallery and out onto the Edmiston North Sculpture Terrace.  Titled SOOM (2014) which is Korean for ‘breath’, it consists of mammoth, gauzy bubbles made from PVC, highlighting Oh’s characteristic interest in varying materials.

When I saw this incredible installation, I was honestly reminded of the first 7 seconds of this clip:

Oxygenated to full beach ball buoyancy, you can see the level of attention paid to the way that the surfaces of bubbles become flat when they latch to each other.  Furthermore, there are mirrors on the base of the bubbles that are anchored to the ground, allowing you to see inside and to catch the shifting light.  They wobble slightly in a gentle breeze, and it is easy to imagine these floating into the park or onto the street in stronger winds.  The combination of light and airy movement does make this installation appear as if it is ‘breathing’ with its own life.

As whimsical as Oh’s work is, there is something disconcerting about it: the bubbles seem as if you could easily pop them with sharp nails, yet they are surprisingly sturdy and large enough to ensnare a person.  There is also a fascinating tension between their size and transparency – these bubbles are both visible and invisible, they are seen and seen through.

Supported by the Chartwell Trust and Fabric Structure Systems, SOOM will be on display until Sunday 11th October 2015.

The second work newly appeared in Ballantyne Square, a park on Dominion Road not far from Countdown.  This striking installation is called OnDo (2015) and features gargantuan chopsticks and buckwheat noodles.  Noodles?!  Yes, noodles, and I love, love, love this work.

When I initially saw this, I was reminded of Japan and the plastic food replicas in restaurant windows which give you an indication of what the meals look like.  There are echoes of Pop Artist Claes Oldenburg, and his oversized food sculptures that elevated and monumentalised everyday objects.  The way that the noodles are suspended raises questions, mainly, how did he do it?  There is likely a supportive column in the middle of the noodles, and I suspect they are made from cables that are covered in styrofoam.  Yet I cannot be sure and it is not immediately discernible, thus the illusion and the sense of wonderment are maintained.  This artwork furthermore emphasises Oh’s masterful handling of a myriad of materials.

Oh’s installation is an ode to the vast array of delicious Asian restaurants on Dominion Road.  The orange barriers that encircle the work are part of it, as is the rubble that is intertwined with the noodles, which make reference to the ongoing construction on the road.  Also if you look closely you can see the artist’s name and title on the barriers in English and Korean.  Beautiful.  And if this work makes you hungry, you don’t have to walk too far to get a good feed 🙂  This is a temporary installation, so be sure to see it in person asap!

Thanks for reading 😀



Light Show

A belated Happy New Year!

2014 was pretty epic, and here’s hoping 2015 will be equally exciting and rewarding!  After what has been more than a month of flawlessly sunny weather, today has brought some stubborn grey clouds and the patter of rain.  Perhaps a sign I should be writing 🙂

I recently caught the Light Show at Auckland Art Gallery, and may I simply say, mind blown.  Audacious in breadth and spectacle, it features object and installation works by about 20 artists from the 1960s till today, all with a focus on light.

Taking up two floors of the gallery, these artworks are highly experiential – you have to wander through them, engage your senses and have your perceptions tested.  Light can be all encompassing and pervasive, and thus alter environments.  I almost didn’t recognise some of the gallery spaces that I had visited for previous exhibitions, as they were shrouded in darkness or fully transformed by light and colour.  A number of the works require you to stop and wait, as time plays a role in how light behaves.

There is such a broad spectrum of works in the Light Show that everyone is bound to have favourites, and there were definitely a few that captured my attention.  On the ground floor, Carlos Cruz-Diez’s Chromosaturation (2013) involves roaming through three rooms, each separately lit with red, green and blue light.  You can explore these spaces clockwise or anti-clockwise and thus alter the transitions of colour.  It takes a few moments for your eyes to adjust to the intensity of the light, but it is a riveting experience.  The white cubes suspended high up in the corners of the space, at the points where the colour of the light changes, were particularly fascinating.  One face of the cube is lit with the colour of the bygone room whilst another is shaded with the imminent hue, like signalling beacons lighting your journey.

Get a glimpse of Chromosaturation at 0:10 of the following video:

On the same floor is another spectacular work by Cerith Wyn Evans, titled S=U=P=E=R=S=T=R=U=C=T=U=R=E (‘Trace me back to some loud, shallow, chill, underlying motive’s overspill…’) (2010).  Three massive transparent columns filled with light filaments run from the ceiling to the floor.  In some ways they resemble Classical ruins or totem poles, and you can easily feel dwarfed by these gigantic ‘suns’.  As one column gradually dims, another subsequently illuminates the darkened room, generating a wonderful rhythm amongst the trio.  The way the columns irradiate can be likened to breathing; giving visuals to a nearly invisible action we do every day.  Beautifully constructed, Evans’ work give off a discernable heat, like they are truly alive.

You can catch Evans’ work breathing at 3:22:

Heading upstairs to the second floor of the exhibition, I was captivated by the sensory challenging work of Olafur Eliasson.  Model for a Timeless Garden (2011) features an elevated bench with an array of small waterfalls, at the other end of a pitch black room pulsating with strobe lighting.  Not for the light sensitive, it can be a bit difficult to make your way towards the waterfalls, but it is definitely worth it.  Initially I thought my eyes were deceiving me, that they weren’t actual waterfalls, but you can feel sprays of water when up close.  The strobe lighting interrupts how we normally view water, with the lapses of time freezing, and in some cases reversing, the cascading flow.  The way that the light fractures the water makes the droplets seem more solid, like falling crystals.  Spellbinding, bewildering, this artwork definitely raised questions about how he did it and whether I needed to get my vision checked 😛

A short clip of Eliasson’s work in motion, if you are sensitive to strobe lighting please take care!

Lastly, my final favourite certainly caught me off guard.  After seeing Eliasson’s I really didn’t think anything could equal it in terms of playing with perception.  Directly around the corner was the back of Exploded View (Commuters) (2011) by Jim Campbell, which at first seemed like it was just flickering fairy lights.  I didn’t quite get it, until I noticed people’s amazement when they were looking at it from the front.  Only then did I realise the genius of his work.  These lights create a consolidated moving image, one that comes into vision from a specific angle, and becomes sharper and more three-dimensional at a greater distance.  Ultimately it’s like you are watching a movie of commuters walking across the screen.  The mind attempts to reconcile these arbitrarily lit bulbs with the complete image before you.  Utterly mesmerising and enthralling.

Like pure magic, click to 2:53 to see the work at a distance, but definitely have a listen to Campbell’s explaining the work:

The Light Show concludes on Sunday 8th February at Auckland Art Gallery, a must see!


Musings on Art

Untitled (Pair) by Rachel Whiteread

Gracing the east terrace of the Auckland Art Gallery is an arresting sculpture by Rachel Whiteread.  I studied her work, albeit briefly, at university and am very excited to see one of her artworks in person!

Hailing from Britain, Whiteread primarily works in sculpture and most of her artworks are casts.  She utilises traditional casting methods and various materials such as bronze, concrete, resin and rubber.  Some of these materials are normally used as moulds in the creation of sculptures, yet Whiteread treats these moulds as completed works.  She explores presence, memory and space, and a number of her artworks represent a space once occupied.  Her art can appear familiar yet strangely unfamiliar at the same time, kind of like Freud’s the Uncanny.  One of her works, Ghost (1990, plaster on steel frame, 269 x 356 x 318 cm, National Gallery of Art Washington DC) illustrates this, as she formed a negative cast of an entire living room of a Victorian townhouse, thus absence is given presence.  When asked about this work, she said she wanted to ‘mummify the air in the room’.[1]  What a quote!

Here is an interesting video (about 8 mins long) where Whiteread discusses Ghost:

This work Untitled (Pair) (1999, cast bronze and cellulose paint, 90 x 77 x 204 cm, Auckland Art Gallery) features two positive casts of a mortuary slab.  They seem nearly identical in shape and size, down to slender lip that runs around the edge, except the convex sculpture is actually a cast of the concave one.  Thus, they fit together when one is stacked on top of the other (like Lego!) intimately intertwined, as if they were made for each other.  I was somewhat reminded of Aristophanes’ speech in Plato’s Symposium, where he explains that humans originally had double bodies before being split by the gods, and they longingly seek out their other half in order to become whole again.

Auckland Art Gallery’s blog Outpost has some great photos of Untitled (Pair) please follow the link below:

These companion pieces are minimalistic in their design: they have been painted a pristine, clinical white all over, but are actually crafted from bronze, one of the sturdier materials that Whiteread employs.  The bronze I feel, could represent longevity as if these were tombs in a mausoleum.   Furthermore, white as a colour carries connotations of purity as well as the supernatural, symbolic of life and death.  These sculptures also look like twin beds that couples had in ‘50s films and TV shows; areas that are lived in.  Hence, there is this ambiguity with her works as to whether they deal with existence or loss. 

Whilst mortuary slabs represent death and mortality, she emphasises our relationships with each other by placing this pair devotedly together.  These sculptures can be seen as proxies; they sort of stand in for us, and illustrate our need for closeness both in life and death.  They are like a cute couple, sweet but a bit morbid, especially as you realise that the concave sculpture borrows its sloping surface from the way that a mortuary slab drains bodily fluids…  Yet by drawing attention to the space we inhabit, she ultimately creates new experiences for the viewer.  There is a silence to her works as her subdued style is more evocative and suggestive, rather than overt.  I find them eerily fascinating and filled with complexities that ask ever so softly, to be revisited.

Whiteread also has a captivating artwork called Holocaust Memorial (1995-2000, concrete, 390 x 752 x 1058 cm, Judenplatz, Vienna) in the Judenplatz town square in Vienna, Austria.  Created as a memorial for the 65,000 Austrian Jews that died in the Holocaust, this work is a negative cast of a library with all four walls coated in rows of books.  These books are positively cast with their spines facing inwards and the pages exposed.  The double doors are also inverted; hence this is a library that no one can enter.  Crafted from concrete, there is a weightiness and permanence with this work – this library cannot be removed or forgotten, and nor can the memories of the people who died.  I find this artwork beautiful and interesting, and it is on my Vienna ‘To Visit’ list 🙂

Untitled (Pair) is on a long term loan to the Auckland Art Gallery from Erika and Robin Congreve.  It is on view until Wednesday 30th November 2016, so there’s plenty of time to check it out!

Also, here is a song I can’t get enough of at the moment, that perhaps inspired my thoughts on these works 😛  ‘I Come Apart’ is by Florence Welch aka Elizabeth Siddal’s doppelgänger (did you know her mother is a professor who has written books on Renaissance art? Too cool) and A$AP Rocky, a Harlem rapper with serious swag, who honours his murdered brother by adopting his French braid hairstyle (and sometimes likes to call himself Lord Flacko).



[1] Education Division and the Department of Web and New Media Initiatives at the National Gallery of Art, Rachel Whiteread: “Ghost”. Video recording. Washington DC: National Gallery of Art, 2009.

Musings on Art

Welcome, and hands together: Goldie meets Kihara

Welcome to my blog!

This is essentially a space to just write about art: artworks I am fascinated by, and local exhibitions (currently around Auckland, New Zealand) that have caught my interest.  I hope to entertain and inform, and generate a love of art within you.  So thank you for visiting, and for reading my first post ever 🙂

I have recently become addicted to the Arctic Monkeys’ AM; an absolutely brilliant album and a definite change in sound when compared to their debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not.  Their first track ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ is particularly addictive and eargasmic (the truth: I am listening to it right now).

A lovely friend mentioned an article on Buzzfeed that described how the intro to the above song was created with digitally enhanced clapping hands and slapping knees (This post will relate back to art, I swear).  This fun fact fascinated me, and I started thinking about the various hands I had seen in art, and two artists who immediately came to mind, were Charles F. Goldie and Shigeyuki Kihara.

You can read the Buzzfeed article here:

Reflecting on hands, I immediately thought of  Goldie’s painting, Memories, Ena Te Papatahi, a Chieftainess of the Ngāpuhi Tribe (1906, oil on canvas, 127 x 101.6 cm, Auckland Art Gallery).  Possibly New Zealand’s most famous portraitist, Charles F. Goldie (1870-1947) was renowned for his paintings of Māori figures.  His works are exceptional in their attention to detail and intense realism, yet simultaneously intriguing in that they are greatly staged, questioning their verisimilitude.

The wonderful hands in Memories are front and centre when you stand before this painting, capturing your attention.  Beautifully rendered, Ena’s hands are static but expressive, nearly with a life of their own.  I often wonder what kind of person Ena was, and what stories could be told from such hands.  There is a perpetual awareness that Goldie staged such scenes, particularly in the wistful, contemplative looks evident in many of his portraits, and his belief that he was capturing a dying and noble race.  Nevertheless, Goldie’s style is utterly meticulous, with the veins and muscles of the hands minutely lined, conveying the passage of time and filled with the memories of a life lived.

If you would like to see Ena, follow this link:,-a-chieftainess-of-the-ngapuhi-tribe

Hands play an expressive and dynamic role in the work, Siva in motion (2012, digital performance video, 8 min. 44 sec.) by Shigeyuki Kihara.  Wearing a black Victorian mourning dress, Kihara evokes the motions of the tsunami that devastated American Samoa, Samoa and Tonga in September of 2009.  Her silent performance is inspired by taualuga, a Samoan dance, and has been filmed in an overlapping stop motion manner that creates a spectral shadowing effect for each gesture.

I found this trailing trace of hands to be exquisite and hypnotising, reminiscent of an ocean’s rolling waves.  Some of her gestures are repetitive, and there is a rhythm of ascension and decline, similar to the surges of the sea.  Kihara also makes references to Victorian era chronophotographers, Étienne-Jules Marey and Eadweard Muybridge with her stop motion effects, as well as the sprawling colonialism of that period, by donning a Victorian dress.  This richly layered work conveys the crossing of time and cultures, all in the entrancing and delicate motions of the hands.

Siva in motion was exhibited in the Home Akl exhibition in 2012, yet a video of the making can be found below:

I hope you enjoyed this quick survey of just a few of the great hands portrayed in art – from the painterly to the dynamic.

Thanks for visiting!