Moment and Eternity

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 April, 2012, 12:00am


Moment and Eternity
Third Floor, Singapore

At first sight, Japanese artist Shinji Ohmaki's latest work is like a delicate floral mandala, or a colourful tattoo blooming on pristine white skin. Yet, beneath the motifs - inspired by traditional kimono patterns - are intimations of death and destruction.

A kaleidoscope of ground-glass pigments painstakingly applied with stencils to the white, felt-carpeted floor, the installation Moment and Eternity is on at Hermes' Third Floor gallery in Singapore until June 3. While many artists would surround their time-consuming creation with velvet ropes and do-not-touch signs, Ohmaki wants his audience to step on his work. Visitors arriving at the gallery first admire the installation from a little area off to its side; they then sit down on cream-cushioned benches to slip plastic covers over their shoes before entering and walking through the 'flowers'.

The effect is almost one of Zen-like meditation, as shoppers flow by on busy Orchard Road below.

'I've been working under the theme of death recently,' says Gifu-born Ohmaki, 41, as he sits and observes how people react to the colours he has laid out - his form of 'voyeurism' about culture, as he puts it.

We are talking about how the earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku last year has affected the way he makes art, and he adds: 'After the tsunami incident, we really witnessed the death of people just like that. At the same time, we refuse to see as well. When you watch the news on TV, you don't see the dead bodies. This is a kind of refusal to see. It is only when we can see death, how to deal with somebody's death, that we can figure out how to continue life.'

Thus, Moment and Eternity is as much a nod to Japanese tradition and history as it is a memento mori. The title is double-edged: on the one hand, it is an attempt to link past, present and future; on the other, it is a reminder that everything can disappear in a moment.

'There are always two sides - a positive and a negative,' says Ohmaki, reflecting on the disaster still fresh in his country's psyche. 'In one moment, everything disappeared and we could do nothing, and that made us think about our daily lives and revisit what it is about the daily life and eternity.'

The elder son of a clothing business owner, he began thinking deeply about Japan's past after the country's bubble economy burst in 1993. As the nation went into economic and political decline, his family's business Infinit, which sold contemporary clothing, was also slipping into difficulty. When it was time for Ohmaki to enter university, his father told him that, with the family not doing well, he might as well do whatever he wanted. He chose to study sculpture at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, and graduated with his master's degree in 1997.

Fascinated by the connection between Western-style clothing and Japan's modern identity, Ohmaki decided to incorporate age-old kimono patterns into his art. 'These patterns have evolved throughout Japanese history. By using and stepping on them, I wanted to acknowledge that I am on my home ground. I wanted to somehow step into a new chapter of my life.'