Japanese installation artist Tabaimo produces animated videos that depict mundane, everyday situations that morph or degenerate into something fanciful based on simmering underlying tensions, anxieties, fantasies or obsessions within the general Japanese psyche.
In Japanese Kitchen (1999), a typical domestic kitchen manned by a fat housewife, the order within this setting of every item performing its intended function gets upended when the local politician ends up spinning around in the microwave as he makes his speeches, and human fears, murderous intent creeps into the housewife and her relations with her husband. They both apparently kill each other in the end.
In Commuter Train (2001) the typically stoic environment of the Japanese subway train is transformed into something fanciful with a man body surfing on a tongue-like object, a rooster peeking in through the window, a pile of inter-locking arms that have been cut off lie on the floor, which might not be so far-fetched if one sees some of the crazy things happening on the morning commute.
Japanese culture has had a long tradition of using drawings to illustrate some fanciful or imaginery ideals, popularized by manga and animated-manga. Tabaimo’s style can be seen as a re-interpretation of the orthogonal traditional Japanese painting style; where the focus is not in any one place and forces the eye to flow through different spaces in the painting, by mixing this within the modern manga illustration style, but differs from commercial manga by weaving together various disparate elements of human existence and having multiple narratives, storylines going on in a single piece.
In Public ConVENience (2006), we see her attempt to show her work in a 3 dimensional setting, by using 3 channels showing different orthogonal views of the same room on 3 screens to create a real 3 dimensional room in which visitors walk into, the line between film, or animated space and the real space is blurred, as the life sized characters walk around, passing from screen to screen, while the visitor participates in the story by being immersed in it.
Her characters start off doing the usual things within a public toilet, but as usual, her imagination takes off after a while, as a character donning deep sea diving gear dives into the toilet bowl, or when a turtle crawls out from the waves within a latrine, as if at the beach. Tabaimo herself has said that ‘unimaginable’ things happen in a public toilet, and this often gets depicted in toilet graffiti, so it is in a way fitting for her imagination to run wild on this premise. The video also incorporates breaks, fade outs, and scene shifts, by panning the camera around to different view points within the toilet scene, this seems to be reminiscent of performances in Kabuki and western theater.
We see a similar display in DanDAN (2011) but this time the space created by the screens is rotated and fixed onto a wall, with the spaces of the apartment rooms, rectangular and compactly arranged like a tatami mat, scrolling into and out of view.
The sea and the surface of the sea, is a theme that features quite prominently in Japanese art. In The Great Wave Off Kanagawa (1832), a woodblock print by the Japanese Edo period painter/printmaker Katsushika Hokusai, the breakers of the sea form ‘fingers’ which seem to lunge out and downward, intent on grabbing whatever is in its path.
In Midnight Sea (2008) the flattened, animated foam breakers of the sea are given form that resemble jelly fish or hair, projected on the floor as visitors walk over it, bringing back the feelings elicited upon seeing the black waves of the sea at night; the fears and anxieties of not knowing whether dangerous predators lurk beneath the dark surface of the ocean.
There is a deep sense of surface within the Japanese culture, instilled in every child; on the surface everything must be kept polite, orderly, upright, kind of boring, while underneath the surface resides fears, fantasies, cute dreams, lusts and all sorts of dark intent. In BLOW (2009) an underwater scene of a pond is projected from underneath onto a curved, half pipe shaped floor on which visitors walk on. Here, as the air bubbles rises up, the skeleton of a leg forms, rising up to the surface as muscles and tendons attach themselves onto it, and after it penetrates the surface into the air above, which is the division between the curved floor and the wall projection, becomes clothed with flesh and metamorphosizes into a flower.
Teleco Soup (2011) which is Japan’s entry for the 2011 Venice Biennale, we see the same half pipe floor plate except this time, it rises up all the way to the top of the wall, allowing the surface of the water to be a moving flowing line, making the half pipe looks as if it was a transparent boat placed into the water, with the visitors walking inside the boat. This combined with mirrors placed on some of the walls, adds a layer of fragmentation to the work.