Two black and white photographs mounted side by side in an album. Both prints are the same photograph, though one is slightly bigger and yellowed. The photograph is a half-length portrait of a person in traditional Balinese garb: a large fringed collar and a headdress decorated with flowers, with their eyes cast down to the right.

The Poem is a Temple

Sep 11 — Nov 27, 2021
  • Sriwhana Spong



Gallery, Western Front




Link to pdf

Western Front is pleased to present a solo exhibition of work by Sriwhana Spong, a multidisciplinary artist from Aotearoa New Zealand, living in London. The exhibition brings together two works: a sculpture that is part of an ongoing series of instruments based on the Balinese gamelan, and a single-channel film shot in and around the artist’s ancestral home in Bali, Indonesia.

The painter-tailor (2019) constructs a family portrait from 16mm film and HD video footage collected by the artist, her relatives, and the family dog. The hook to which the film repeatedly returns is an untitled painting by Spong’s grandfather, the Sanur artist I Gusti Made Rundu (1918–1993). This painting, the intimate surroundings of the family compound, and her father’s memories weave a net in which fragments relating to the effects of colonization, invasion, and tourism on image-making in Bali gather.

Two men stand in front of a low wall outside, holding up a white sheet like a backdrop behind a shrub. Palm trees and the roofs of houses are visible in the background.

Presented alongside the film is Instrument H (Monster Chicken) (2021), a sculpture made from approximately 50 bronze casts of chicken bones and twigs collected on Spong’s daily walk between her house and studio in London during lockdown, which passes two 24-hour fried chicken shops. The work, with its bones sucked clean and discarded by humans and foxes, charts a strange intimacy between city dwellers, while reflecting on human-animal interactions and their ecological impact and evoking the ancient cultural practice of osteomancy, a form of divination performed by throwing bones. Each day at 2:30 p.m., the sculpture will be activated as an instrument, and moved through the space and surrounding neighbourhood before being placed in a new arrangement for possible future-telling.

The sculpture is part of an ongoing project commenced by Spong in 2015, and for which she is creating a personal ensemble inspired by the Balinese gamelan—a unique orchestra of mostly percussive instruments whose precise tuning traditionally varies between gamelan—creating what the ethnomusicologist Andrew Clay McGraw describes as a community’s “aural watermark.” Compelled by the notion of a place and its community having its own unique sound, each of her instruments is named after a friend or collaborator. 

Two men stand in front of French doors in a white wall, and hold a white sheet up like a backdrop behind a golden retriever dog.
A man holds a red cloth backdrop up behind a small girl as they stand on a deck in a backyard. Another man crouches a few meters away from her, taking her picture as she faces the camera.
A view of the exterior of a house, looking up under a gazebo-style roof on wooden stilts. The image appears to be from a camera that is worn by a dog around its neck, as the underside of the dog’s chin, whiskers, and pink tongue are prominently visible in the top of the image.

About the Artist

Sriwhana Spong is an artist from Aotearoa New Zealand, living in London. She engages different mediums, including sculpture, film, and performance, and creates works where experiential knowledge, autobiography, and fiction are entangled with research into relevant materials, processes, and forms. She draws on the writings of female mystics to produce works set in motion by oscillations between distance and intimacy, where separations between genres dissolve, and the binaries of contemplation/action, mind/body, inside/outside collapse.

An interior view of the corner of a bedroom. A bed’s wooden headboard and two white pillows appear in front of a large patterned fabric painting in a wooden frame on the wall. A small framed photograph of a young boy with a dog hangs on the perpendicular wall, next to a French door.


Western Front is a non-profit
artist-run centre in Vancouver.

We acknowledge the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and səl̓ílwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations as traditional owners of the land upon which Western Front stands.