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Scent of Whiteness - solo installation at main concourse, Esplanade Theatre, Singapore
Extracted from Exhibition Catalogue - Scapes and Senses - Esplanade presents Visual Arts: Apr-Jun 2008
Published by Esplanade Co. Ltd, ISBN: 978-981-08-2045-9
  In the stillness
Exhibition Catalogue, Dr. Juliett Peers, 2005
  In the stillness 04 - Background of 'Investigation of ikat formation in Yaeyama, Ryukyu'
The space between
- international textile conference in Perth, Curtin University of Technology,
Naomi Ota, 2004
Exhibition Catalogue, Naomi Ota, 2002
  The beginnings are born in memory
Exhibition Catalogue, Naomi Ota, 2002
  Ryukyu Kasuri - The Treasure of the Southern Islands
Craft Victoria, Bulletin Vol. 9 No. #2 P 24 / ISSN 1320 0755, Naomi Ota, 2001, Naomi Ota, 2001
  Tidal Recollection
Exhibition review - Object Magazine, Juliett Peers, 1998
  View from the ikat
Exhibition Catalogue, Naomi Cass, 1998
  Scent of Whiteness >> Go to the project page
Exhibition Catalogue, published by Esplanade Co. Ltd

At Esplanade this quarter, artists display works that, though sometimes quiet on the visual side, are all the stronger for the physical and mental space they create around them.
Using colour sparingly in some cases, they return to the essence of art and aesthetics in their rigorous symphony of words, textures and hues that compete for attention all around the arts centre in the shape of announcements and advertising, these two and three dimensional works aim to produce sensations and nurture thought processes rather than force-feed information.
Many fine art practices today find themselves occupying the same visual terrain as popular culture. This is the natural result of both the universality of exposure to mass media forms, as well as the democratization of art-making. At Esplanade, with visual art as with theatre, music and dance, we navigate the creative world both inclusively and selectively, the aim always to choose works that express something beyond their exterior packaging and that are capable of nourishing our public's soul, intellect and senses in diverse and engaging ways.

Benson Puah
Chief Executive Officer, The Esplanade Co. Ltd

Extracted from Forward
Western visual art in the 20th century, more than any previous period, has been about creating effect and triggering reaction. Dadaism, Surrealism and in the last decades of the century, minimalist and conceptual art, have, over the years, fascinated the mind and challenged our understanding of beauty, altering the definition of art forever. Pop art, using both globally recognizable icons and accessible, indeed sometimes banal, ideas, is part of this 20th century sea-change and is now firmly implanted as a universal artistic language East and West. Yet in Asia, where artistic expression in various anonymous - and thus non-Western forms (ceramics, textile, metallurgical, stone and architectural art amongst others) is as old as Asian civilisation itself, many have forgotten the close and particularly Asian link between art, nature, hand and eye. This quarte's Scapes and Scenses brings to public attention installations and two dimensional works of visual art that highlight the importance of the latter, as well as their close connection in the Asian, and especially Southeast Asian context.
Installation work by Japanese native and Australia-based Naomi Ota worked respectively in fibre, offers local materials associated with traditional hand-craft culture. In its pared down, studied form, it evokes an intemporal aesthetic poetry related to senses of touch. Without screaming colour or conceptual gimmick, the Concourse-installed work succeeded in seducing through its elliptical allusion to ancient community-enshrined traditions, the pairing of beauty and the utilitarian, the close relationship with the land through its choice of material, and finally the pure, sensual pleasure of its form.

Scent of Whiteness - review
For Scapes and Senses, Ota produced Scent of Whiteness, a three dimensional work which she put up in the arts centre's central and light-filled Concourse space. Visual expressive language originating in Australia is often influences by the power of the country's breathtaking landscapes as well as extremes of its climate and seemingly unlimited space. Naomi Ota, though inspired for Scent of Whiteness by her indigenous country's Taketomi Island in Okinawa's Yaeyama archipelago, with this work references the transcendent characteristic of nature everywhere.
Ota's installation, crafted from fibre, is quintessentially organic in feel, an intricately assembled composition of white-hued stems, flat sand-dollar-like forms and honey-comb-like structures that filter air and light. Soft and flexible in appearance, the work points specifically to the sacred groves (utaki) of Taketomi Island where delicate white coral shards pepper the landscape. Japanese aesthetic sensibility, so often assimilating natural phenomenon with spiritual and philosophical values, is echoed here as Scent of Whiteness can be interpreted, through its stylised imitation of utaki, with yohaku-no-bi or the beauty of extra white, in turn understood as the emptiness of Zen Buddhism.
Whether the audience chooses to see the installation in such austere philosophical terms, or rather as its creator views it, intimately connected with the transient pleasures of everyday life, the piece, its volumes playing with positive and negative space as well as with light, speaks eloquently of joy and beauty whether these be of intellectual or more pedestrian nature.
At Esplanade, the various components of Scent of Whiteness swayed gently from the Concourse rafters or were positioned unobtrusively on the Concourse steps. The piece provided a quiet, subtle respite from the aggressively competing array of publicity banners and other advertising materials that populate the arts centre lobby, successfully diffusing the Concourse's random cacophony of coloured signs and pedestrian traffic.

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  In the stillness >> Go to the project page
Exhibition Catalogue - Dr. Juliett Peers, 2005

Naomi Ota's installation pieces have enriched the studio textile and fibre sculpture exhibition 'scene' in Melbourne for many years. They are characterised by a sense of intensity, introspection, stillness and concentration that always lends them an individual and unmistakable ambience. The craft medium of studio textiles has a complex positioning. It has somewhat shrunk since its undoubted heyday more than two decades ago in Melbourne and can often be obscured by a white noise of undisciplined and undertheorised, but well-meaning hopefuls in a world where concepts such as design, creative industries, postmodernism and cultural studies have markedly changed the terms of engagement for those engaged with object-based media and practices. In the sometimes chaotic and unstructured arena of local studio textiles, the refinement and concentration of Ota's installations consistently stand out as a distinctive and mature element. Ota's practice has a strongly cosmopolitan profile as well. She shows regularly at national and international surveys of textile artists, in Europe and Asia, as well as in the countries where her art training has been based: Japan and Australia

Whilst the gallery viewer with pleasure may read Ota's installations on their own formal terms through the sculptural and formal layout of the components, the implicit relations and constructions that they suggest as well as the spatial issues of the orientation of the components within the gallery, a textual commentary can augment this first appeal to the eye. Thus this essay seeks to unlock the further layers of research and reference that inform Ota's practice as well as identify Ota's strongly individual approach to technique and construction in textile sculpture. Ota's work also encompasses undercurrents of ongoing symbols and narratives, which equally deserve some attention.

One of the recurring symbolic/narrative elements in Ota's artworks is the sea. This can be a literal symbol - one of her earliest sculptures was a fishing boat interpreted through weave, exploring the auspicious and ritual motifs used traditionally by Japanese fishermen at significant points of their careers to ensure the favourable attitudes of the spirits. Thus too elements such as sand, associated with the coast, often feature in her installations. Ota is drawn to communities associated with the sea: islands, fishing villages, coastal settlements, especially the island of Taketomi in the Yaeyama group, one of the two hundred that make up the Okinawa Prefecture of Japan. The coralline form, which Ota frequently evokes in her installations is another reference to sea life. For Ota coral represents a quiet and slow strength, a quality of tenacity or persistence. Moreover a coral reef like a culture is made up of multiple small elements, insignificant as individuals but all contributing to a whole, thus too corals inhabit her sculptural practice. The whiteness and purity of bleached coral resonates with her current manner of working, from which colour is slowly being leached, as opposed to the bolder hues of earlier work. The arch of netted forms in this current installation, simultaneously both solid and fragile, has itself reference to coralline qualities. Coral is - like much associated with Ota's vision - concerned with borders, interchange and transmutation. It lives in the sea as a creature, but outside the sea as dead remnant it can be both useful and beautiful. On Taketomi Island a coral boulder with its richly textured surface can form an incense burner for an altar; it can equally be used as a practical construction material for roadways and walls.

In a broader sense the sea links to mobility, interchange, exchange, often expressed through trade and the peaceful transnational interactions of peoples. Such themes have been associated with Ota's work by critics and theorists.(1) These themes also mark a point where Ota's personal symbolism speaks to broader cultural desires and explorations when Australia seeks to reconsider its geographical position close to Asia. Ota contributes to these collective processes of re-orientation by proactively researching through formal academic reading, postgraduate study and visits to museums and craft centres, the culture of exchange in textile techniques and motifs around the eastern edge of the Pacific and further west. The coral island of Taketomi particularly engages Ota's attention and her own work contains multiple references to her emotional and empathetic responses to the ikat traditions which moved by trade across South East Asia from India to arrive in the Okinawa islands even before it appeared in mainland Japanese textiles. The embroidered motifs in a tawny red brown on white ramie that decorate Ota's coralline forms reflect the motifs of Taketomi ikat, sparser, more abstract than the decorative profusion of Indonesian and Indian ikats.

The environment of Taketomi has made a deep impression on Ota, and again references thread through her installations at various venues, including her latest exhibition at Craft Victoria. The snapshots, postcards and published collections of photographs that Ota has collected of Taketomi and surrounding islands present a landscape that is vivid, rich and tropical. Taketomi is less densely settled and built, whilst simultaneously more sparse and spacious than the heavily urbanised areas of mainland Japan. On her first visit, there were no bitumen roads and a handful of motor vehicles, on later visits, development is slowly encroaching and the cultural distinctiveness is diminishing. Taketomi, like the surrounding islands, had a long history of independence from the Japanese mainland. As part of the Ryuku Kingdom, an independent nation (now the Okinawa Prefecture of Japan), Taketomi belonged to an outwards-looking, trading culture with links to China, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. After the Shimazu clan from Kyusyu invaded Ryukyu in 1609, the islanders' textile skills were put to work for the Japanese in the form of severe textile taxes until 1903. Life was hard and frugal and as compensation the islanders developed a rich spiritual life centred upon performances and rituals at their minimalist shrines located in the sacred groves the Utaki. The space and void rather than elaborate buildings or rich fixtures identified the sacrosanct nature of the shrines, a sense of religious preparation and concentration was enhanced by the meandering paths that traditionally led to the Utaki, emphasising that the journey was as important as the endpoint. Ota sees an empathetic link between the sparseness of Utaki and the spaciousness and clarity of the Taketomi ikats, and her own work also seeks to engage with the feelings and memories associated with her exploration of the cultural and religious life of the southern islands. (2)

On a more tangible level the media of Ota's installation itself underpins the connections to Taketomi and to the Yaeyama region of Okinawa. Ota is regarded as an artist whose works are poised between sculpture and textiles. She trained in techniques such as weaving and there are some fine ikats in the National Gallery of Victoria. The coralline forms in this current installation are of papier-mache wrapped in loose fibres of ramie and embroidered with motifs from ikats, Ramie is a plant fibre that is - like bast and sisal - frequently grown and woven in Taketomi and the Yaeyama. Then the corals are covered in and strengthened by Shikkui, (Japanese lime plaster) - Ota prefers the bleached, purer quality of the white tones of Shikkui to everyday plaster from a hardware or building supplies shop. The wall hangings also feature ramie. The coralline forms are arranged to suggest a passage, either an abstract sense of movement or a trail resembling a path to a sacred place and thus the contemplative spatiality of Taketomi manifests itself in the gallery with coralline forms arranged to hint at the sense of a ritual open space.

Dr. Juliette Peers: Lecturer School of Architecture and Design, RMIT University

(1) See the essay by Naomi Cass "View From the Ikat" for Naomi Ota Tidal Recollection exhibition
Craft Victoria February 1998
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(2) I am grateful to the artist for sharing her experiences of Taketomi in relation to her work. For a written account of the importance of memory and emotions in space see the artist's statement in the catalogue for her Silence Descends exhibition in conjunction with Mami Yamanaka Gabriel Gallery Footscray Community Arts Centre 2002

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