Containing works with titles such as Bubbles, Cave Dive, Coralscape, and Returning to the Water Surface, this series alludes to Goh’s visits to a port in Melbourne, and her intimate, intensifying relationship with water. As she gazed at the vast horizon and endless waves of the sea, the artist felt a profound connection to artists across centuries and geographies: from Katsushika Hokusai’s iconic Under the Great Wave of Kanagawa (c. 1830), depicting a wild, overwhelming wave on the verge of crashing down on three fishing boats; Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night (1889), in which the dynamic swirls of the night sky were arguably influenced by Hokusai’s earlier wave; to Hiroshi Sugimoto’s more contemporary “Seascape” series, composed of monochromatic photographs of still, calming seas across the world.
Goh’s series, contrary to these preceding artists, veers away from grand landscapes and naturalistic representations of water. Rather, she employs her found materials of rock, cement, acrylic glass and eggshell to create abstract, minimalist formations that draw our attention to the rugged textures of the stones and their soothing tones of grey and beige–details on small objects ubiquitous in seashores, yet often overlooked in the face of majestic horizons and seascapes. Spread apart on clean white ceramic backgrounds, the rocks and debris begin to resemble a birds-eye view of miniature island formations encircled and connected by soft, milky white waters. Here, Goh shows how seas can close the gap between the ancient and the new—containing the endlessstories and representations of past generations, while also holdingthe potential of being seen with a fresh pair of eyes, who can unearth hidden perspectives and imbue the waters with new poetry.
Water allows Goh to deepen her bonds not only to artists across time and space, but her own personal history and notions of home. Referencing the artist Miyanaga Aiko, who said that rather than separating the world, “the ocean forms a loose connection between adjacent landscapes,” Goh similarly sees the ocean not as a symbol for distance, but as a conduit connecting her present location in Melbourne to her homes in Johor Bahru and Singapore. At the same time, images of the sea evoke in the artist memories of her teenage years, as she studied in a high school located by the sea, offering her views of the Singapore Strait whenever she would look out the window. Created as the artist studied away from home amidst a global pandemic, the works in this series are thus profound mementos of port visits that gave Goh a crucial sense of comfort and rootedness during a time of great uncertainty, both personally and historically. Moreover, they are testaments to Goh’s broadening spaces of solace–whereas in Singapore and Johor Bahru, Goh retreated to enclosed, empty urban structures; in Melbourne, she also grounds herself in the vast, open and endless views of the sea.
“Beyond each wave, each horizon could be a psychological time-space portal, allowing us to meet the same eyes that have once looked at the same waves. Eyes of Shiba Kokan, Hokusai, Van Gogh, or eyes of our multiple younger selves, each time we look at the waves.” – Kayleigh Goh