Studies indicate that the act of creating or understanding art is beneficial because it helps rebuild physical coordination, retrains the mind to focus and aids with visuospatial processing. Hiromi Tango’s work explores the true power of art to heal and offer emotional support. Viki Shah talks to her about her eye-catching art that is vivid, fascinating and delves deeper to affect at a very profound level.
WHAT DOES ART MEAN TO YOU?
I have an internal dialogue with art that goes something like this: “Who are you? What are you? What is my role as an artist?” And the answers change all the time. It is hard to articulate clearly what art means to me, as it means so many things. Please allow me to try to explain… Art allows me to feel deeply, and it allows me to be truly myself. Art for me is to be honest. It allows me to daydream. I really love this space. Art is often gentle and kind to me, but sometimes I also have big arguments with art, and it frustrates me. Sometimes we don’t talk, and we cry together. I build a relationship with art, and it is my closest friend. Art is real. For me, it is how I experience the world, and is reflected back to me.
YOUR INTRICATE PIECES PROMPT A DEEP REFLECTION BEYOND THE VISUAL. HOW HAS YOUR BACKGROUND INFLUENCED WHAT YOU CREATE?
As a child, I was always daydreaming, in a space that was not quite present – a very quiet, deep, silent space. I preferred reading and quiet, rather than spending time with others. I also enjoyed doing calligraphy, from the age of 8, spending a few hours every day training with a Master Calligrapher. I loved everything about it — the feeling when the brush touched the paper, and the movement. When I was doing calligraphy, I was dancing in my head. I think the very strict and formal Calligraphy training built the foundation of who I am. In terms of my education background, my study was in the area of humanities and culture of arts – this has been always my passion and the focus for my work. I have always questioned what is it to be human. Human beings, and the ways that we form relationships, are a mystery to me.
WHAT DO COLOURS MEAN TO YOU?
I feel deeply when I engage with colours, and I relate to how they connect with emotions. I particularly love natural colours – they are the most beautiful of all. My favourite colours occur between the dawn and morning – every morning I wake up at dawn and look at the sky changing. Often the beauty of that moment brings me to tears. It deeply touches me when art and science dance, and I love the moment when light and reflection appear to move colours. In terms of my artistic practice, I am interested in colour theory, often drawing associations between the healing properties of a flower or plant and its colour, and how we might transform emotions through exploring the different properties of colour.
IS YOUR WORK AFFECTED BY WHAT YOU SEE AROUND YOU? DOES IT KEEP EVOLVING?
Absolutely – I often create works in response to something I “see” and experience in a place, or a particular concern of a community or people with whom I am engaging. This is true both in my solo practice, as well as community-responsive works. Everyday life engagement has always been an inspiration for me. For example, over the last year or so I have created a number of works in the studio focused on how we inter-relate, questioning our over-dependence on being constantly connected digitally. The inspiration for these works arose from the tangle of cables that seem to proliferate in our household from various devices, which has evolved into a Healing Garden.
HOW DO YOU INCORPORATE WHAT YOU FEEL INTO YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS?
This is really a very natural process to me, so it is hard to explain. I secure the space and time to feel deeply, and then the creative process gently responds to the deep feeling. Emotions come through in the creative process in many ways. It may be through colour, it may be light or reflection, smell, taste, texture, sound, or movement – sometimes it may be a combination of those components … Even the choice to create something that is very dense and chaotic, or very sparse and subdued – how it is composed. I may create something that reflects a current state of mind, such as panic (e.g., Insanity Magnet, Red Moon), or a state of mind that I am longing for, such as the subdued colours and quiet reflections of Bleached Genes.
WHAT GIVES YOU CREATIVE INSPIRATION?
I am inspired by everyday experiences in my life, and of those around me, especially my children and family, and the stunning natural environment in Northern New South Wales, Australia. In recent years, more and more, nature is an inspiration for me. I wonder if we can be like nature, and live like plants. If we become plants how we might feel?
HOW DO YOU PROMOTE HEALING WITH YOUR CREATIONS?
Healing has diverse meanings and applications, and is complex to define. I am particularly interested in emotional healing and psychological healing, but also physical, genetic, personal, collective, cultural and historical healing. I am also interested in past, current, future and spiritual healing. I question everyday what is it to heal. What process might be required? How can we help one another to support the healing process? What speed, time and space might be required? It is complex.
However, in the big picture, my intention or goal is to generate healing conversations through art, often using my readings on scientific discovery such as the neuroscience behind resilience and empathy, as the basis for how I develop a work. This is imbued in each layer of engagement, for example the meditative process of artmaking such as wrapping and weaving, as well as nature’s metaphors for nurturing and building resilience that we find in the plant and animal world. There is also often a sense of relief and comfort that we experience through sharing stories and creating space for reflection, which can be healing for many.
EMOTIONS PLAY A MAJOR PART IN YOUR CREATIONS. HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN?
It is a really organic process for me, and it is a natural process. But if I am asked to explain, this may be a conscious choice to create something that focuses on a particular idea or concern, as is the case with community engagement works. In these instances, I usually work with the community to identify a theme, and then develop a concept in response, using the creative process to explore an idea of concern. Or it may be entirely subconscious as I work through something in the studio — at these times the creative process is more like trying to work out a feeling or memory that lies just below the surface, just beyond the grasp of my conscious brain.
HOW DO ART AND HEALING BECOME SYNONYMOUS WITH CONNECTION AND RELATIONSHIP IN YOUR WORKS?
I am exploring both physical and metaphorical ways that art-making processes can contribute to healing. Sometimes it is the group activity such as making something like textile sculptural elements together, talking and sharing stories as we wrap and weave. The healing effect of shared experience and conversation with other people is a practical outcome of making art. At other times, it may be a symbolic action such as embedding a memory in a work through wrapping a note or a picture into a textile element, and then connecting it to the collective sculpture. This may be an act of keeping a precious memory safe, wishing for something, or perhaps creating separation between yourself and a memory you might prefer to forget. Each of these actions can be healing in their own way.
HAS YOUR WORK HEALED YOU? That is a difficult question to answer. I believe that for anyone healing is an ongoing journey. Definitely engaging with others through art focused on healing process and healing conversations and sharing the healing journey and supporting one another has been helpful. Whether you actually talk about your process or not is personal, and it isn’t always necessary to talk. Often by sharing the space together and engaging with the same goal, such as creating a Healing Garden, it definitely feels that some part of me has been healed. I sense that other people have experienced it too. The process often brings us tears – and tears help the healing process too.
DO YOU FEEL RESPONSIBLE AS AN ARTIST TOWARDS OUR FUTURE GENERATIONS? ARE YOU TRYING TO TELL THEM SOMETHING THROUGH YOUR ART?
Yes – particularly as a mother of two young children, I am concerned about how they will develop the healthy relationships.
I am concerned about what we are teaching our children. This idea was clearly expressed in Healing Chromosomes, and remains an ongoing concern. My hope is that my work can help people to slow down, engage with one another on a human level instead of relying so much on digital communication, and think about how we can nurture ourselves and those around us. I am deeply concerned we are losing a very important part of our human function by being so very busy and always communicating through text or email instead of face to face interactions. Building relationships takes time, and it requires a lot of energy. I am concerned that we are choosing to engage face to face less and less. I wonder what will happen if we lose our animal instincts such as touching each other, or crying after having an argument or disagreement, or venting our frustration – – – these are all very important processes to learn from one another. If we leave these things behind in favour of digital engagement,we may lose our ability to build human relationships altogether.
WHY DO YOU PICK SUBJECTS LIKE CHROMOSOMES, NEUROSCIENCE? Because they are fascinating – in spite of how much we have learned in recent years, there is so much that we still don’t know. As an artist, scientific discovery becomes a departure point for a poetic journey of imagining what might be possible, without the burden of proof.
CAN YOU EXPLAIN THE PROJECT HEALING GARDEN SHOWCASED AT ART DUBAI?
Healing Garden uses local flowers as a lens for exploring emotions and building resilience. Themes include the properties of colours associated with each flower, as well as ways that each flower can promote healing such as aromas that help you relax, the medicinal applications of a plant, or the way that greenery can be calming and regenerative.
WHAT ARE YOUR MEMORABLE ART WORKS?
Each artwork has deep memorable meaning and it is not easy to choose. Healing Garden, for instance is a new and ongoing community engagement project responding to local flowers. It is a very simple process of choosing the colours based on the flowers, and creating paper flowers in the size and shape you like, using the combinations of your choice. It is a really simple application, but the depth and breadth of engagement that has been achieved so far with this project warms my heart so deeply. It is currently on exhibit at Art Jog, Indonesia, and next will take place at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, Australia.
Another artwork that has stuck in my mind over the years has been a Lizard Tail project in a place in Western Australia. The community had experienced many tragic events, and as I wove their stories and memories into the sculpture, I could feel the weight of their collective pain. At the end of a community engagement project, we usually do a performance together that is celebratory and inclusive. But this time was different. I felt the need to take the weight of the Lizard’s Tail from them, and dragged it across the barren landscape by myself. This moment, where I was only accompanied a very few people, including my husband who was documenting it, and our two children, remains vivid in my memory. As with Healing Garden, I have done many projects around the theme of Lizard Tail, and continue to do so.
I think there is something remaining to be explored, that there must be a strong reason why I continue to question and push to further develop these concepts. I enjoy the moment when an artwork exerts its own natural force, and I become part of the creative process with the work. This flow of energy might be described like being in the ocean – a feeling that I enjoy very much.
WHAT DO WE EXPECT TO LOOK FORWARD TO IN THE FUTURE?
I hope to spend lots of time reading, researching, experimenting and exploring in the studio… creating works that enable a conversation with my subconscious.
WHEN HIROMI IS NOT CREATING ART, HIROMI IS… for me there is no separation between life and art. I am always engaging with life as an artist. Whether is it a life-long commitment I have consciously made, or more that it is my nature, I am not sure. I would like to continue to engage with life as an artist for the rest of my life, and to keep asking questions – even the very difficult ones.
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