View of “Maria Taniguchi,” 2016. All works Untitled, 2016.

View of “Maria Taniguchi,” 2016. All works Untitled, 2016.

Maria Taniguchi

Ibid Gallery | London

    View of “Maria Taniguchi,” 2016. All works Untitled, 2016.

Known for a diverse practice that includes video, sculpture, and printmaking, since 2008 Maria Taniguchi has also been making black paintings that schematically depict a wall of tiny black bricks. Her recent London show included eight such works, all in vertical formats, with two sizes on view (ninety by forty-five inches and nine by four feet); in the past, she has exhibited much bigger ones—a piece shown in Basel in 2013 was nearly fifteen feet long. Here, as is often the case, the paintings were installed leaning against the wall à la John McCracken. They were also positioned spaciously apart.

In keeping with the repetitive nature of their representation, the paintings are all Untitled, 2016. Though mechanical in appearance, they are assiduously handmade. Taniguchi’s first step is to draw a grid of bricks in pencil on a black ground. Then she fills in each roughly one-by-two-and-a-half-inch rectangle with a thin black acrylic wash. Hence there are variations in the surface sheen, creating a variegated effect of shiny and matte. The result is that the elements, though similar, are never identical—like handmade bricks in a wall. And just as these brick-like rectangles combine to form paintings, Taniguchi considers that the paintings themselves “combine as one work.” Should we therefore think of them as a continuous, even infinite wall? And if so, does this mean we’ve been walled in, or walled out? In this presentation, the sparse placement meant that the interstices were as prominent as the paintings themselves, and because the works were installed leaning from the floor, one could easily peer behind to see their underpinnings.

At first glance, Tanaguchi’s paintings seem both stern and impenetrable, but despite this, her work makes myriad connections and references. The pattern creates a Lego-like quality—a repetitiveness that seems to have more in common with a child’s idea of play than with intense labor. Although the work’s appearance suggests a heritage in Minimalism, Tanaguchi’s reiterations are only superficially connected to a reductive impulse. Rather, the metaphorical circuits of Peter Halley come to mind. Just as Halley’s cells and conduits imply a critique of the contemporary world by their evocation of circuitry and carceral infrastructure, Taniguchi’s grid could be compared to the continuous digital scroll of a computer matrix, with each canvas being another link in the binary chain. The performative aspect of her daily practice implies that the paintings are also a physical expression of labor. Perhaps the Manila-based artist wishes to bring to mind an Asian work ethic, or to relate her labor to that of a region known as a source of cheap workers.

However, this repetitive work is finally more meditative in nature than mechanical, recalling the time-recording art of Roman Opałka or On Kawara. This product of daily routine emanates a sense of peaceful calm. “People look at these works and see abstract pictures, but in reality they serve a very practical purpose,” she explains. “These paintings take time and help me regulate my own production, my thinking. They set the tone for the rest of my work.” Each brick could be construed as a measure of time’s passage, but instead of a count toward infinity, as in Opałka’s work, or days marked off the calendar, in Kawara’s “Date Paintings,” Tanaguchi’s paintings possess a metronomic quality, setting a pace, just one brick and then one canvas at a time.

Sherman Sam