Video Installation in Translation: an interview with Tabaimo

“The feedback I really take to heart comes from the audiences who come to my show and talk to me there. I feel like I’ve been going around collecting these opinions on an individual basis, because personal thoughts are what I remember the most.”

poster for Tabaimo Exhibition

Tabaimo Exhibition

at James Cohan Gallery
in the Chelsea 26th area
This event has ended - (2008-03-14 - 2008-04-12)

In Interviews by Kosuke Fujitaka 2008-05-27 print

Tabaimo is a Japan-based artist who exhibits worldwide, including the Venice Biennale 2007, Fondation Cartier in Paris and the Hara Museum in Tokyo. She recently had her second solo show in the US at James Cohan Gallery, featuring two hand-drawn animation video installations, public comVENience and haunted house, and a series of drawings. I talked with her in NY about the show, her career and what it means to present “Japanese” artwork in other countries.

TABAIMO 'public conVENience' (2006)Video installation

Why did you choose these 2 installation works for this exhibition?

Actually, because this was a solo exhibition held in a gallery, I wasn’t really involved in the selection process. The gallery decided on the pieces after talking it over with Koyanagi-san. Also, the fact that it was a gallery had a certain influence on how they thought the work should be displayed, which works were likely to sell, the sort of curatorial vision guiding the exhibition – there were all these additional factors that influenced the decision. These two video installation pieces were eventually chosen, I think, because they wanted something with a concrete narrative and story behind it, instead of an abstract work. Since this was my second show in New York, taking over from where the last one left off about 3 years ago, they tried as far as possible not to pick older installation pieces.

TABAIMO 'dolefullhouse' (2007) Video installation

Did you think of showing dolefullhouse this time around?

dolefullhouse was shown at the Venice Biennale last year, and lots of people saw the work there. I really wanted audiences who had been following my work up until that point to see that particular piece, but in fact what happened was that many of those viewers ended up feeling confused and uneasy. Even with a Western audience, though, who might have very different sensibilities and attitudes from myself, the piece went down really well. Also, I got a lot of very interesting feedback, profound interpretations of my work that were much more substantial than anything I expected. I did think of showing it here, but as far as New York was concerned I was looking more to give people a sense of the direction my work was taking, to show something that would give a clear picture of my artistic position. That’s why I decided not to have that piece at this show.

You’ve made lots of “Japan”-themed work that has been exhibited widely overseas, in Europe and America. Do you ever feel a gap in terms of reactions between different audiences at home and abroad?

I did, until a few years ago. My work seemed to be particularly interesting to people fascinated with some aspect of Japan, but some of these audiences tended not to look squarely and directly at the work. And then there were these viewers with absolutely no idea of Japan, who seemed to home in on a totally different aspect of the work, with little understanding of it. Most people just appreciate it on a visual level, the beauty that’s on the surface. This is something I’ve come to realize, the reception my work tends to elicit. I kept wondering if everyone was just taking my work on a superficial level and understanding it that way.

When I showed in New York three years ago, with English translations and explanations at the exhibition, I think my message got across much more effectively. More importantly, though, I think lots of people have laid the foundation here for a wider understanding of Japanese culture, and not just for art like my own. It’s because this conducive atmosphere has already been established in New York that Japanese art is so well-received. Even so, there are some things about Japan that are less easy to communicate… Still, even taking those instances into account, I really enjoy hearing what people think.

TABAIMO 'haunted house' (2003) Video installation

How do you get to hear feedback about your work? Through reviews in the media? Or do you rather get comments directly from the audience?

The feedback I really take to heart comes from the audiences who come to my show and talk to me there. I feel like I’ve been going around collecting these opinions on an individual basis, because personal thoughts are what I remember the most. On the other hand, I don’t really remember what gets written in reviews, although of course I read them. I tend to put the opinions of those people who come to my exhibitions first. If I don’t really share the sentiment, though, it doesn’t seep in.

With audiences, too, there tend to be two main types – people who just look at art in places like museums, and collectors who buy the work. Do you ever think about how these two groups perceive your work?

Not really. I knew that collectors came to see my shows, but I still feel extremely detached from that scene. That might change soon, but at the moment I concentrate mainly on the production process, without bearing any one particular group of people in mind when I make work.

So you don’t really maintain relationships with people who buy your work?

As I mentioned earlier, my work tends to be bought up by galleries. It’s not really about someone using their own money to buy a work of art, but rather people who want to share that work with even more people by buying it. I really enjoy that whole process of how the work gets spread.

Is it the same with your drawings?

With my drawings, I don’t really know. Recently, I’ve finally started getting round to making more of them, though.
Still, from now on I’ll probably concentrate mainly on installations, not drawings. Even the drawings for this show are in the end a sort of installation, if you think about it. Of course, I would be delighted if people bought them, but since I’ve just started I don’t really have a track record of talking in depth with people who buy my drawings.

TABAIMO 'public conVENience' (2006) Video installation

I’d like to ask you about the more technical side of how you go about making your work. I’ve heard that you use a scanner to scan handmade drawings in order to make your animation pieces, and that you’ve used that technique for around 10 years now. In that time, obviously, there have been lots of advances in computer technology, both in terms of hardware and software. Has that had any impact on your artistic process?

Well, I’ve always been making the animations using hand-drawn pictures, so that’s something I can’t change. How much I rely on computers to make my work hasn’t changed much, either, I think.
In the end, computers are just a tool, and I really have no desire to make a computer-based work. I think that balance between analog and digital is really key. The colors in my work have changed, but essentially I still do things like scan woodblock prints and fill in the colors myself, or make it monochrome, modifying or making adjustments to the work as I see fit.

Do you do that work alone?

I generally use a brush to flesh out what I’ve drawn, but I also sometimes ask friends to help out, or even get my younger sister to edit the work. But it’s always two people at the most, working very closely together on my art for a couple of months. As far as paying them goes, I don’t often have the money to employ lots of people to help in the production stage of the work, so I usually try and tackle all the work myself, without a large production team. There are one or two people who are clued in to the project at any one time. Any more than that, and it becomes a case-by-case basis where I try to figure out what they are able to do, or where they size up the work objectively. I suppose there’s more and more of a feeling of working as a team, but the number of people is still small.

For the technical bits, though, I leave all of that to Kishimoto-san. He usually experiments with all these new technologies that I’ve never even seen, starting out by testing if the work will come together in terms of technology. He’s really an essential link in my work.

With the speed of computers increasing all the time, and all these new software programs that make new things possible…

Faster speeds make my work quite a lot easier to complete, and it’s helpful in that sense, but the number of things I have to do increases as well. In my case, although I haven’t made that many works compared to some other artists, it’s still a jump of two or three times what I used to be making.

Have you ever considered having a production studio, in the way that Takashi Murakami or Jeff Koons do?

I think that’s a really tough thing to do. I’ve heard that the studio staff working for Murakami are hired not just because they can promptly respond to what he wants to do, but rather because he sees them as disciples. He’s trying to foster new artists, to create a movement like the old Kano school in Japan. I think it’s quite difficult to control the quality of work with that kind of setup. If it’s solely about creating work, you might need help from certain specialists, but Murakami seems like he’s looking to provide them with experience, like a kind of training school. That’s really hard. I don’t think I could ever do that. It’s beyond my capacity.

How about a professional production studio?

I envy that, but financially it would be too tight for me.

Maybe it will be possible when you make and sell more work?

Having more sales is frightening. When I get to show my work in a foreign country, just taking care of the work takes a lot of time and money, even when it’s not a new work. For instance, when a museum that owns my work lends it to another institution for a show, it becomes crucial that my voice gets heard in the installation. I don’t have a whole lot of work, but taking care of each piece and maintaining their quality requires a lot of energy, past works included. There are times when I think it’s impossible.
Still, there are more people like Koyanagi Gallery and James Cohan Gallery who can handle my work professionally. Without their support, I couldn’t have managed it all.

TABAIMO 'hifu...en' (2008) Chinese ink on Japanese paper

Your works that use “hands” as a motif – like the ones that were exhibited at the Goth exhibition at the Yokohama Museum of Art, your previous solo exhibition at the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, and the drawings in this show – they all seem different from your other narrative-driven works. Could you tell us what lies behind these two types of work?

I made Ginyo-ru in 2005, and then another version called Guignorama. It was after I came back from England when I made Ginyo-ru, and my experience there largely influenced my decision making and thinking about that piece. When I was in Japan, I was able to point to things with certainty. But I was living with a Brazilian guy in England, and when we were watching the news on TV and discussing his concerns about society, I came to realize that there was a big difference between the way I view society and how he did. I came to realize how different your point of view can be, how so much is different depending on the society you grow up in.

When I was in Japan, though, I used to be able to express clear views on things and justify my standpoint. This was up until I experienced life abroad, but once I got to meet people and started building relationships, I began to see society differently. I was in this state of flux, and I wasn’t sure about exactly how I should draw. Up until that point, I looked at society and treated it like a mirror in which I could see myself, and I made work by looking at that reflection.

TABAIMO 'Tawamushi' (2008) Chinese ink on Japanese paper mounted on panelmidnight sea.

These works are very personal, and yet I think viewers can find their own stories in them, just like anyone can find a different side of him or herself under different circumstances. My work doesn’t always have to have viewers looking at a common motif.

In particular, the piece public comVENience evolved as a result of accepting my own uncertain state, and focusing on my doubts about society or the Internet these days.

Do you view Japan differently as a result of your recent activities abroad?

Actually, not at all. It’s an extremely interesting place for me that offers hidden poisons to uncover. I don’t view Japan differently, but I’ve become curious about other things. At the core of this is the Japan that I grew up in. This hasn’t changed, but I’ve broadened my perspective and my work and interests have evolved. Regarding Japan, I still perceive it as I did through the Japanese kitchen that I created in 1999. 


You took up a Western motif in your latest work dolefullhouse?

The work may have appeared to be inspired by Venice when it was shown there, but I wasn’t focusing on that at all. I think it’s significant that Japanese dollhouse lovers envision Western-style structures as their ideal dollhouses. They don’t start out aiming to create a Western style house where Westerners would actually live. When they attempt to express their version of an ideal dream dollhouse though, the Western style emerges. I can imagine that dollhouse lovers in the West may choose Western buildings and furniture without a second thought, but the fact that Japanese dollhouse lovers choose the same furnishings when envisioning their dream dollhouses is fascinating.

You’re not a dollhouse lover yourself?

I’m not a fanatic, but I am interested in the tastes and sensibilities of those who are fond of dollhouses. I like looking at miniature furniture objectively, not as potential collectors’ items. You’re not looking for pieces that will make everyday living more comfortable. One’s ideals and personal feelings affect the process of dollhouse-making. The resulting house is not what we would normally think of as a house, and a wide gap emerges between real life and the dollhouse. There is the sense that you are able to make changes in the world, as if you are equipped with an invisible hand of god that is controlling the dolls. Would the exhibition viewers perceive that controlling hand as their own as they viewed the work in that exhibition space in Venice? Or would they look at the exhibition from the viewpoint of a doll living in a large dollhouse? I incorporated all these contrasting perspectives into the work.

One last question. Are you still distrustful of the internet?

The Internet is an extremely useful tool. I use it all the time, and I’d be in trouble if it was to be taken away from me. But I also think that it’s this unstable thing, and being used at a time when the connections it can make are still unclear. It’s up to us to put a distance between the user and the Internet, at a time where the dangers lurking are invisible and easily accessible. So many people don’t realize that this is actually the most dangerous aspect of using the Internet. I can’t even say that I’m always clearly aware of this. I would like to think of myself as a good person who wouldn’t look at a certain kind of site, but the reality is that a part of me enjoys visiting that kind of site.

Choosing which sites to browse is different from choosing a magazine or book to read. Perhaps the difference is what makes the Internet so real, but it’s very scary. It’s an interesting world, but it is scary that there are people who think that anything is possible in that world. I believe this attitude regarding the Internet is a product of the times, and that people will eventually become better at putting a healthy distance between themselves and the virtual world. The Internet is different from television, too. Even lies can become truths. The Internet is capable of conveying amazing truths, but also amazing lies. I’m not sure how I should assess all this information, and at the same time I don’t want to be controlled by it. Personally, I am able to distance myself from the Internet, but I can’t force others to do so. It bothers me that I am powerless to do anything, reduced to being a passive observer as this process continues.

Thank you.

Translated by Darryl Jingwen Wee, Manami Kamikawa and Mayuko Kohno

Kosuke Fujitaka

Kosuke Fujitaka. Born in Osaka, 1978. Graduated with a BA in Economics from the University of Tokyo. He wrestled with Excel and Power Point in the Sony Ericsson R&D, cost control and marketing departments for three years before launching Tokyo Art Beat with Paul Baron and Olivier Thereaux in 2004. In 2008, he moved back to NYC, where a decade ago he had come across many important life elements, and has now launched New York Art Beat. Kosuke is also a co-founder of 101 Tokyo, a young international art fair in Tokyo happening every April. He thinks that art leveraged by IT, wine and beer can make the world a better place. Personal page as art guide (Only in Japanese) » See other writings

Comments

About NYABlog

NYABlog's writers and video reporters deliver regular reviews, features and interviews to stimulate discussion about all sides of New York's creative scene.

The views expressed on NYABlog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of their employers, or NY Art Beat.

All content on this site is © their respective owner(s).
New York Art Beat (2008) - About - Contact - Privacy - Terms of Use