A Movement in Time

Mariko Azis

Mariko Azis (B.A./B.F.A. '16) in her studio. William Staffeld / AAP

April 12, 2016

A profile of Mariko Azis (B.A./B.F.A. '16) that appeared in AAP News 19 in the spring of 2016.

Through space and time, the artist Mariko Azis (B.A./B.F.A. '16) has come full circle. From her childhood in Ithaca and traveling through her family's homeland of Indonesia, to spending autumns in Japan, a semester in Rome, and doing studio work in Manhattan, she has returned to Cornell with a solo gallery exhibit to round out her studies.

Azis is a fifth-year, dual-degree student, who is adding a bachelor of fine arts degree to her bachelor of arts degree in psychology. With a world of experience to draw on, she chose Cornell as the best place for her studies, and it has changed her course.

Coming to Cornell was a homecoming of sorts, as she spent much of her childhood in Ithaca when her father, Iwan Azis, taught regional planning at AAP during spring semesters, with alternating fall semesters in Japan.

But it wasn't the study of art that originally drew Azis to Cornell. "I had no real instinct or inclination to study art," she says. "Cornell has a fantastic psychology department — that's what I originally came here to study."

Her studies in psychology eventually propelled her into art. A first-year psychology course with James E. Cutting, a leading scholar in the field of perception, led her to the unexpected conclusion that the two disciplines aren't really separate. Her work in psychology drew on interests in art history and film history, and explored the question of why people enjoy art. That line of study, some good friends in the art and architecture departments, and her fortuitous choice of a work-study post with the Cornell Council for the Arts (CCA) in her sophomore year led her to pursue a B.F.A. as her second degree.

In addition to her time on the Ithaca campus, Azis's Cornell studies have included a semester at Cornell in Rome and a semester of studio studies at AAP NYC in the spring of 2015.

Her time in New York City was "the best semester I had at Cornell," she says.

There, students in the small program were able to visit museums and work in the studio first in Chelsea and then in AAP NYC's new space at 26 Broadway. She attributes some of the success of AAP NYC to its small size and the quality of its educators, including her studio instructor John Jurayj. It's also the primary center of activity in the art world. "The students can go to so many galleries in New York and see how they change from one day to the next," she says.

In Ithaca, her work-study post with the CCA makes use of that gallery experience. The council has a dual role as a funding organization that distributes grants to faculty members and students to complete art projects, and as the organization behind a biennial art exhibition inaugurated in 2014 (see story on page 3). Now in her fourth year with CCA, Azis is a veteran on the staff and has responsibility for much of the logistics of the next biennial under the guidance of Stephanie Owens, associate professor of art and director of the CCA. Helping with the review of grants for the council inspired Azis to consider the possibilities of her own potential in art and led to a solo exhibit of her work at Tjaden Hall in October 2015.

Her current work is far from conventional painting or drawing, and pulls from her cultural origins and contemporary interests in time and motion. An early exhibit of her work was stark black-and-white photography, but from that fixed form she has moved on to explorations of more fleeting and temporal work.

"I've started to think in time-based work," she says. Much of that is digital moving-image works, installations, and videos.

She finds a wealth of inspiration in the varied cultures and spirituality of Indonesia. There, spirituality takes many forms, and its emphasis is on the immaterial rather than the material traditions of Western art, she says.

"Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world," Azis says, which means Islam has tremendous influence there. "It's also a little misleading because Islam came to Indonesia more recently." Buddhism, Hinduism, and Animism are more ancient influences there, she says.

"My parents raised me and my brother in Islam but in a modern way," she explains. "Indonesia is the paradigm of what a modern Islamic country could be. The country's motto is 'Unity in Diversity.' It's so eclectic, but so grounded in tradition at the same time."

"Whenever I go back to Indonesia, I spend a lot of time in Bali, which is a very spiritual place where the traditions of Hinduism are obvious," Azis says. "As you walk around, you will see offerings on the ground that are very delicate, and they are just placed there on the sidewalk where they may be eaten by a dog or run over by a car. The point of the offering is the gesture itself, ephemerally. It does not have to be thought of as having a value as a commodity."

Some of her work is transformational and influenced by the Hindu concept of reincarnation. Some is influenced by feminist art, video art, and voyeurism. "I do also appropriate a lot of pornography in my work, even though it's something I'm opposed to," she says.

The piece that's gotten the best response is an installation that was part of her fall solo show at AAP titled Live in Oriental Glory of Grandeur. One part of the exhibit was a loose video on the wall, but it was Encounter on the Three-Horned Mountain, a video installation projected on the floor in a moving mandala form, that attracted the greatest reaction, she says. The looping video created an image of colors in a circular form in which only human feet were distinguishable, but it was a projection of people having sex.

"What you see is the movement of bodies," she says, "in an act of creation and destruction."

That installation drew much positive response and some negative from observers who objected to the subject matter as being too gratuitous, she says. It's a perception that Azis finds interesting and understandable but rather out of sync with the ideas behind her work, considering how accessible and pervasive thoughtless pornography is in the global online culture.

The concept of temporal art is ancient and has been practiced by Buddhist monks who will create a complex circular mandala out of grains of colored sand only to destroy it once the work is complete. To acknowledge that cultural influence, Azis uses tones from the Balinese color wheel. "The Balinese have their own Hinduism and colors, and it manifests in the mandala eternally and perpetually repeating the full stages of life," she says. "For me to add color, it has to have some meaning." For that reason she sometimes chooses to turn over the control of the color projections to an algorithm that will repeat the colors in a semirandom series. "I don't have specific control, but let the piece have its own integrity in how it turns out," she says.

Currently Azis is working on a "bunch of different smaller projects. There's a possibility that they are all just one project."

She is continuing her work in the spring semester with a $2,000 grant to be a visiting artist at the Southside Community Center in Ithaca, producing video and photography. Among the techniques she's employing is the use of green paint as a mask with additive and subtractive possibilities to create transparencies in a work.

"It's really difficult for me not to work with timebased moving images," she says. "There's so much of a response when you move, you're more apt to keep that in mind." That particularly applies to work created digitally, she notes. "It's so much a part of the way people of my generation interact."

Azis's plans for after Cornell are not yet set. She expects that some time in yoga teacher training in Bali after graduation will help her to decide whether to pursue a M.F.A. or a M.A. in art education or some other field. "I'd like to stay in New York for a while and keep working on art, maybe look for some studio space." Her hope is that spending time in the place that has given her so much inspiration will help clarify her path forward.

By Dee Klees

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