Japanese-born, Brisbane-based artist Hiromi Tango’s works are like an explosive cosmos of colour. Tango’s installations are site-specific and collaborative – built up from a mass of mismatched materials and woven together to form forests from the most vibrant corners of the imagination. While commercial representation has never been an immediate objective for the artist, with most of her installations being public, site-specific and temporal, Tango has just announced her first formal representation at Sydney gallery Sullivan + Strumpf.
Tango was born in Imabari city on Shikoku Island in Japan, a place that has since become renowned for the Setouchi Triennale – an international art festival spread across 12 islands of the Seto Inland Sea. She is currently exhibiting at the Setouchi fair with artist-husband Craig Walsh. The couple’s installation, Traces – Blue was created in collaboration with local islanders and involves a glistening mirror-covered fishing boat drifting across the ocean.
“During my early days in Australia, I didn’t know many people,” she says. “I needed to keep my mind occupied and focused.” Tango moved to Brisbane in 1988 and began a daily journal, which she describes as one of her first connections with art and visual expression. “Text and journal-keeping have always held a strong interest for me. Over time, the practice of capturing the magical moments in every day diaries, both visual and text-based, has become a core part of my own artistic practice. I really enjoyed it and kept working on it, and I still continue this process.”
Tango’s stunning and intricate structures are the consequence of multilayered collaborations with local communities throughout the world. Tango actively engages members of a community with the idea of sharing their stories via sculpture, artistic ritual and performance. “Each project is as unique as the community that I work with, and reflects their specific concerns, joys, strengths and weaknesses,” she says. The process often begins with a call out for donations of disused or disregarded household items, keepsakes and mementos, which will become a part of the fabric of the final piece. “In Traces – Blue, in my home province, I worked via Skype with local artists who held workshops with community members prior to my arrival,” she recalls. “But then I also brought materials with me that I had prepared ahead of time.”
Each work is additionally interwoven with elements built from earlier creations. “Every project over the last few years has included seeds from previous projects with other communities,” she says. The piece Home – Gwangju was centred on the stories of the South Korean community of its namesake, but as Tango explains, “Some of the materials used to generate the sculpture actually came from regional Australian communities.” Tango sees this as a way of intrinsically connecting her work, with each creation following along the weave of a common thread.
Second hand and disregarded belongings are important to Tango as manifestations of memory, personal history and identity. “I am interested in the connection between the memory contained in second hand materials and the memory in our own DNA,” she explains. “Stories and memories are a part of our DNA. DNA carries the data and information which is unseen, but memory of not only your own – also your ancestor’s memories.” Through a procedure of sorting, wrapping and interweaving a collection of very personal objects and memorabilia, she hopes to be able to create works that will ultimately “resonate with a strong sense of self, belonging and place, where many threads become woven together to become something distinctive.”
Virtually exploding with texture and colour and often involving performative aspects – Tango’s creations ferociously enchant the senses. This is a result of her desire to, “explore how aspects such as colour, geometric patterns, sound, scent, light, movement, creative processes and social connectedness can impact on various aspects of our well-being and development.” Whether it is visual, performative, participatory or environmental, Tango believes that engagement with art can encourage “healing, recovery, regeneration and development for people from all walks of life.”
Tango’s interactive Hiromi Hotel series began with the idea of sharing and creating collectively. “I opened the Hiromi Hotel in November 2007, at the request of a boy called Ariel,” she remembers. “I opened Hiromi Hotel for him as a free accommodation so that he and others could visit my studio to continue drawing, creating art and generating conversation.” An instalment of the hotel series was shown at Hazelhurst Regional Gallery earlier this month, described as ‘a conceptual art hotel that becomes whatever you want it to be.’ This is the thread that Tango will be following for her first exhibition with Sullivan + Strumpf, which will be unveiled in May of 2014. “I hope to make a gorgeous site-specific hotel for the gallery,” she says. “Stay tuned!”