Hiromi Tango is standing beside the intricately woven mass of one of her wildly coloured artworks. Next to it she appears almost engulfed by the forest of fabric and thread. The sculpture hangs like a living vine along the wall of the Zetland Street Sullivan + Strumpf gallery, part of the Japanese artist’s first ever commercial collection. On the day before the opening of her exhibition, Promised, Tango is making some small, seemingly superfluous adjustments, delicately twisting, tying and wrapping the smaller parts and outer edges of each explosive piece.
Dressed in jade green with her cheeks painted a matching, glittering lime, Tango hands over a small trinket she has unraveled from the work. It’s a hand-sewn book, made up of old letters, notes and pages torn from a diary. “You can actually take it,” she smiles. “It is a formative sculpture. You can undo it; feel it. In a commercial gallery you usually don’t touch the objects on the wall, with my work however, the viewer is invited to see, and to touch.”
From a distance, Tango’s sculptures are a wild jumble of colour, but up close the intertwined tentacles are neat and thoughtful. Each structure is built from new, donated and recycled materials, which Tango then pieces together in a slow and considered wrapping and weaving process. “I ask people to donate used fabrics that contain precious memories and difficult memories,” she explains. “And also to donate letters or journals which really contain feelings. It's actually the story behind the material, and the feeling behind the material that makes the work rich.”
Tango is interested in exploring the connection between art and emotion as personal expression for the artist, which can then become a trigger for an observer. She encourages gentle interaction and brings sculptures to life through performance and sensory engagement, hoping to ignite memory and sentiment. “I use aromatherapy oils and sound as a part of the performative component, so people can enjoy the work more thoroughly,” she says. “Live is really important for me, as much as all the stillness and documentation.”
Prior to now, Tango’s body of work has included a set of site-specific public installations and temporal community projects. The conceptual Hiromi Hotel series was conceived as a hotel and community centre, where guests were welcome to visit or stay for free, make art and create conversation. “I had a warehouse in Brisbane and people just started gathering. It was like an artist-run initiative, where people could do what they chose.” The concept has since been repeated and reimagined, Hiromi Hotel: Moon Jellies was shown at the Hazelhurst Regional Gallery & Art Centre in 2013, and Hiromi Hotel: Mixed Blood featured in the 2011 Primavera exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
For Tango, Promised is a deeply personal exploration of separation and the often-certain ending of human relationships. “I wanted to explore the inevitable separation I had with someone who was very important to me,” she explains. “Some of these are not so much memories just yet, they are more like emotions I haven’t quite processed.” In the exhibition, glowing neon cursive text affixed to clear Perspex forms the centre point of a number of the works. Tango has a background in calligraphy and has hand-drawn each word. Each represents signposts in the unfurling of a relationship.
Colour is symbolic for this artist and she matches shades and hues to experiences and emotions. “It helps me to use colours to translate the event and to translate people’s energy and stories,” she says. She recalls an elderly woman who donated a neglected sequinned gown. “She really loved purple, and was always wearing purple. So I’ve wrapped the material in purple. I take time to engage with the story and the material and the personality of the person.” A circle of coloured, tear-shaped light boxes occupies one of the gallery walls, each colour signifying a certain stage in the cycle of a relationship. “It was a really important component for me to include silver here,” Tango says. “Because for me it represents the end. Sometimes we have to end things. That is the reality.”
Tango creates a fantastical and warm environment that is visually spectacular and emotionally rich, weaving and wrapping together collected human experience, memory and emotion. “I hope these works invite you to feel something,” she says. “Hopefully people can wrap or unwrap some of these emotions, when they’re ready.”
Hiromi Tango’s Promised will show at Sullivan + Strumpf until May 31, 2014.