Sinta Tantra is an emerging contemporary artist working with installation and sculpture, distinguished for her bold use of colour. She was born in New York and studied at the Royal Academy of Art, in London, where she continues to live and work. Her work can be found locally in London at Canary Wharf and Regent’s Park, and overseas. We recently spoke with her to discuss her relationship to ritual.
CON.TEXT: What role does context have for your work?
SINTA TANTRA: Context is very important to my work – I would go as far as saying that without it, the artwork would be lost and void of critical engagement. Context enables dialogue, sense of purpose and place to be activated. Context is the glue that binds different components together to form a cohesive whole. Within my work, there is the socio historical context of site juxtaposed with the individual narrative. I find it fascinating how ‘context’ moves so fluidly – zooming in and out from the mircoscopic to the global scale.
CT: Are there any routine acts that you do in the process of your life and art?
ST: A few months ago I went to Margate Contemporary to see the Alex Katz exhibition. Just outside the main exhibition, they displayed a video of Katz painting in his studio over the period of a day. It was like watching a choreographed performance. I often wish that I was the type of artist who incorporated routine and ritual in such a way like Katz, but in reality the execution of my work happens over a longer period of time – involving many people, many e-mails and practical considerations. It doesn’t feel particularly zen-like at the time but on reflection, there is an element of focus in which I have to maintain, pushing the visual concept right through to the end to realise it’s actualisation. There is no particular routine act performed, its more a case of constantly asking myself what is it that I want to express to the world.
CT: What does ritual mean to you?
ST: Ritual and religion are very much integrated. My earliest memory of ritual was in my father’s village in Bali. Groups of men and women would come together to pray, create offerings and chant songs for religious festivals and ceremonies. The act of ritual forms a transitional experience from one state to another. Ritual is where one would perform important values as expressed by the society concerned – and in the case of the Balinese ritual, daily offerings of flowers and holy water maintained the fundamental balance between order / disorder of the cosmos.
CT: Do you feel your work is sacred?
ST: Nothing is ‘sacred’ – or to be more specific, the idea of anything being sacred has now become defunct in contemporary terms. To say that something is sacred is to say that it fixed thereby going against the very spirit of art as constantly progressive. But it is also disconcerting to think of a world where nothing is sacred, where anything goes and where traditional values are swept aside to make way for modernism. In truth the answer is more complicated than this interview allows for. The word ‘sacred’ brings with it a baggage of religious dogma and hierarchy. Yet if we were to omit the word ‘scared’, yes, I would like to think that art (not necessarily mine) has the ability to transcend and make us experience in new and profound sensations – transforming even the worst cynics in us all into believers.
CT: What role does ritual have in contemporary art and everyday living today?
ST: As previously discussed there is the ritual of art making as well as art viewing. In my practice I am particularly interested in reconfiguring ideas around the ‘white cube’ and the cultural rituals at play. As a viewer, although there is the freedom to walk around at leisure (with the aims of education and self improvement), the institutional environment often presents us with such linear narrative of interpretation that it can at times alienate the very people it aims to include. Ritual within the museum / gallery system maintains an institutional hierarchy with art objects as the very centre. Naturally artworks outside this context run the risk of being ignored, misunderstood and even damaged by the public. And yet for me this is where the most interesting contemporary artwork takes place – on the edge of inside / outside space – not necessarily divorced from the museum / gallery convention but challenging the very essence of perception – how we experience, how we feel and how we want to build our future.