The Great Fight

To quote the Chinese-American martial artist Bruce Lee – also the source of inspiration for Oliver Laric’s exhibit “Be Water My Friend” at Tanya Leighton Gallery: “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup… That water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.” Does Laric intend for this philosophy to instruct how we are to work with and perceive art as well?

Naturally, when perceiving objects around us, our mind looks for recognizable shapes and forms to make sense of phenomena. This is the reason some art enthusiasts simply do not “feel” abstract art that goes beyond their perception and understanding. Yet, if we take Bruce Lee’s philosophy and Laric’s exhibit into account, the beauty of water is that its shapelessness and formlessness allows it to transform into any shape and to essentially take on new meanings. Its power is thus limitless. This water metaphor is definitely telling for Laric’s installation filled with various object works and reproduced material that take on a renewed life in an unusual setting.

The Impermanence of Things

The collection of various objects, images, and books that make up Laric’s exhibit merge under an underlying oriental theme, whether a miniature Japanese Shinto Shrine modeled after a type of shrine that is rebuilt every 20 years as a “gesture of renewal to emphasize the impermanence of things” or the brightly colored counterfeit polo shirts rebranded by His Church, which remind me all too much of the very static wardrobe of fraternity boys.

What’s particularly interesting in this exhibit is the question of authenticity raised. As with the boundless flow of water and the renewal of time, cultural objects are constantly in flux and being redefined. Take for example the 13 adaptations of Chinese military general and philosopher Sun Tzu’s (544-496 BC)  “The Art of War,” or the Buddhist Shanzai Phone (looking a bit more hip and bling-bling than the bare Iphone, I might add). In this sense, the invitation card showing a somewhat dreary image of Foxconn prepared me well for the forces of globalization, exported culture, and consumerism that are highlighted over and over in this exhibit.

Oliver Laric, Fish Spa, 2012.
Oliver Laric, Fish Spa, 2012. Courtesy of Tanya Leighton

Fish spas?!

Spending 6 months in Thailand last year, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see another fish foot spa again. Imagine, for the equivalent of a few euros you can submerge your feet in oversized fish tanks with parasitic-like little fish that chomp on your dead skin cells (and the person’s before you)… Laric’s combination of a 17th century Victorian-era “Chinoiserie” chair next to the fish tanks adds a nice juxtaposition, which not only effectively contrasts the cultural exports of different eras, but also makes the fish spa appear much more luxurious.  

If you would like to get a sense of art as culturally-inspired fabrications (particularly coming from East Asia) and bathe in the luxury of globalization, then this exhibit is definitely for you. 

  • Tanya Leighton Oliver Laric – “Be Water My Friend” March 9th – April 14th 2012. Tues – Sat: 11pm-6pm


Article written by Julie Anne Miranda-Brobeck