- The Washington Times - Friday, October 6, 2006

“Transnational” is the new buzzword for globally oriented shows, and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery’s “Perspectives: Simryn Gill” is one of them.

Miss Gill is “transnational” herself. She was born in Singapore of Indian ancestry, has Malaysian citizenship and now lives in Sydney, Australia. The conceptual artist says she wants to evoke the passings of cultures — especially literary ones — across geographic boundaries and time spans.

Exhibit curator Debrah Diamond sets out to show Miss Gill’s intent with a 1992 through 2006 mini-retrospective of three installations called “Forking Tongues” (1992), “Forest” (1996) and “Pearls” (2005-06), accompanied by elaborately worded wall labels.

For example, consider “Forking Tongues,” the show’s initial artwork in the Sackler’s cavernous ground-floor pavilion. At first glance, the 16-foot-in-diameter, floor-mounted spiral could be a flat Asian mandala for worship or a swirling cosmos. At second look, however, there’s silver-plate cutlery and dried red chili peppers arranged inside the circles.

She bought the cutlery from thrift shops and the peppers from food stands. They’re not particularly attractive as art objects.

For Miss Gill, these are transnational objects circulated by trade over many years, the flatware possibly from England, the peppers from both Asia and South America.

Exhibit curator Miss Diamond, who’s also coordinating curator of contemporary Asian art at the Freer Gallery of Art and Sackler Gallery, seeks to explain the artist’s intent in the wall label: “Trade routes and colonial encounters often resulted in a circulation of natural and material culture in many directions.”

But is it art if it requires so much explanatory text? Shouldn’t a work of art project its own messages unassisted by words?

The same query goes for the “Pearls” installation, strands of paper beads made from books. Here, again, the story overwhelms the art. When the artist visited the Sackler last March, she was inspired to make necklaces after seeing the museum’s jade, gold and glass beads collection. But Miss Gill’s “pearls” are of cut-up and glued book pages rather than precious materials.

Again, Miss Diamond’s label is necessary for understanding the work. She writes that “Pearls” began as a gift-giving project. She created text-embossed paper beads from friends’ books, made them into necklaces, and returned them “as objects bearing new layers of meaning.”

“Forest,” an installation made up of 16 black-and-white photographs, depends on words once more. “Gill tore pages of books into shapes that closely mimic leaves, twigs and aerial roots and inserted these forms into gardens and roadside locations in Singapore, where she was born, and Port Dickson, Malaysia, where she spent her childhood,” according to the exhibit’s Web site.

In viewing Miss Gill’s work, it’s instructive to look at Chinese-born Xu Bing’s “Monkeys Grasping for the Moon” in the Sackler’s atrium. Instead of stretching for meanings as does Miss Gill, Mr. Xu humorously combines modern and ancient Chinese characters.

Hers is a head trip rather than the aesthetic one of Mr. Xu.

Too bad.

WHAT: “Perspectives: Simryn Gill”

WHERE: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1050 Independence Ave. SW

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily through April 29


PHONE: 202/633-4880

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide