Discover more about Tabaimo: MEKURUMEKU with the rich content on this page, that includes curatorial text, installation images and MCA Chief Curator Rachel Kent introducing the exhibition .
Also watch a timelapse video of the exhibition being installed.
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Japanese artist Tabaimo’s video works immerse gallery visitors within constantly moving, changing environments that combine visual imagery and sound. Using single or multiple screens within purpose-built architecture, they depict people, cityscapes, objects and events that unfold with often surprising outcomes.
Drawn by hand then animated on the computer, Tabaimo’s images sit between tradition and modernity, recalling Edo-period Japanese woodblock prints in their line work and style. She employs rich colour combinations and shading reminiscent of the prints of master artist Hokusai (1760–1849). Set in motion as animated sequences of imagery in theatrical, set-like spaces, the resulting works peer into hidden corners of the human psyche to reveal a world of beauty, anxiety and horror.
The title MEKURUMEKU suggests a ‘tearing apart’ of layers to reveal hidden truths within. The artist’s video installations do not follow one narrative trajectory and have no single message to convey. Rather, they seek to reveal what she describes as ‘aspects of what is hidden’ in ordinary public life. Individual works are linked in their dream-like, surreal quality: moments of irrationality and violence erupt then disappear again behind a veneer of public civility. Evoking the world about us, but also one within, they sit between the public sphere and an equally immense, private world of the individual unconscious.
Tabaimo encourages gallery visitors to use their bodies and engage physically as they move through her video installations. Her carefully designed architecture channels visitors through space: surrounding them with projected imagery from in front and behind, as well as overhead and sometimes even beneath their feet. In today’s entertainment culture, she observes, we have become used to sitting passively and watching events before us. Her works offer an alternative, immersing us within their shifting imagery and dynamic spaces.
For her MCA Australia solo exhibition, Tabaimo presents six video installations from the early 2000s to the present, as well as a suite of delicate drawings that illustrate her creative process. Introducing the MCA’s Level 1 south galleries is Japanese Commuter Train (2001), a six-screen hexagonal installation that mimics the interior of a conventional passenger train. People come and go, apartment blocks flash by the windows and strange, unexpected events take place as though in a dream. Haunted House (2003) is a circular projection that glides back and forth across a curved screen, like a periscope, to reveal a dense urban landscape within which moments of violence quietly unfold. The single projection dolefullhouse (2007) depicts a doll’s house and giant human hands manipulating its contents.
The ocean forms a recurring motif within Tabaimo’s art, as a meditative and destructive natural force beyond human control. In the Level 1 north gallery, BLOW (2009) comprises a large cylindrical structure that viewers walk through, like a tunnel, as watery bubbles swirl beneath their feet. Also included are two major new installations commissioned for the MCA that imagine parallel worlds in micro and macrocosm, travelling through the human body to the vastness of the ocean beyond.
Tabaimo was born in Hyogo, Japan in 1975;
she lives and works in Nagano.
Text by Rachel Kent, Chief Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
Commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
The title of this work sounds almost identical to the title of the exhibition itself. It comprises “mekuru-meku”, the Japanese word used to name the exhibition, meaning “dazzling” or “dizzy”, combined with “mekuru-mekuru”, a word whose sound represents the pages of a book turning and thus the idea of development.
Here again I had in mind the contrast between “inner and outer” or “up and down”, and the way in which these are sometimes reversed.
The work begins with the image of being enclosed in a large box – yet it is only when information enters from outside that viewers actually become aware that they are on the inside.
If your body is then flipped inside-out, your internal organs fly away while your eyes turn to gaze inwards.
At this point I particularly chose female images as the central motifs. Long hair, fluids streaming out, sweet cubes of sugar…Doves often appear in my work, and each time, I deliberately imbue them with all the associations that “doves” are said to have: “Peace”, “Carrier of germs”, “Annunciation”, etc. etc. The story each work tells changes significantly depending upon the relative weight the viewer gives to these associations.
– Tabaimo, artist’s statement, 2014
Commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
TOZEN’ is a fusion of two Japanese words, Tōzen and Tozen.
The former, Tōzen, means ‘the way that things are as a matter of course’, while the latter, Tozen, implies ‘the boredom of having nothing to do’.
In this piece I focused on a colour I do not normally use much: ‘white’. This was prompted by a conversation I had with a Japanese ethnologist, where the discussion turned to the ‘scariness’ of white. White is associated with concepts such as brightness, purity, peace and good – yet they say it is not a real colour, it does not exist in this world.
White walls and screens are flat and empty – nothing happens there unless you make it. Yet these very screens and walls do in fact have existence, substance, thickness, and there is always a ‘beyond’, a ‘depth’ from which they separate us. We cannot touch what is beyond the surface covered in white. But we can create there.
– Tabaimo, artist’s statement, 2014
BLOW takes the form of a darkened tunnel that visitors are invited to enter. Inside, they are surrounded by bubbles rising up from the watery depths beneath their feet. BLOW reveals a series of metamorphic processes: in one instance, human feet and faces arise from the waves, in anatomical form with muscles and sinew on view, then transform into flowers.
Visitors stand at waist height amidst the artist’s liquid projections, positioned between two worlds above and below the water line. In its physical structure and imagery, the work suggests a passage through the body, something that is reinforced through the Japanese word ‘iki’ (‘blow’) as an exhalation of air from the lungs.
dolefullhouse depicts a miniature Western-style doll’s house and a pair of human hands that reach inside, arranging its furniture. dolefullhouse allows viewers to decide upon scale. Moving up close, they appear to be almost inside the house but when looking from a distance they become gigantic, like the hands that rearrange it.
In a recent television documentary, Tabaimo described her desire to create a doll’s house that represented the human body, introducing an octopus as an external, invading force.2 At the outset of dolefullhouse human hands open up the doll’s house façade and a great rush of water spills out. They reach in, adding pieces of furniture and creating a sense of ‘home’ which is undermined by their intermittent itching, first at each other, then across the surfaces of the house itself – scratching, peeling, tearing at skin and upholstery. An octopus insinuates itself at the window and door, sliding its tentacles inside slyly. As the walls and floor peel away a vast, throbbing network of veins and organs is revealed at the house’s watery core and the façade folds shut once more.
2. Tabaimo: dolefullhouse, Exclusive, Art21 video documentary, 2012
Haunted House has its origins in a childhood outing by the artist to a local amusement park, with her father and sister. They did not actually go into the haunted house attraction there, deepening its mystery and the potential for horror inside. Tabaimo remembers a signboard outside inviting visitors to imagine what might be happening within. On a subsequent visit, the artist was inevitably disappointed on entering the house. She has since observed that the sign outside and the power of her imagination were enough to give birth to ‘traumatizing imagery’ well beyond the reality of the funfair house.
Tabaimo has described a similar sensation when looking from a train onto myriad apartment windows as they flash past, each with its own secret life and stories to tell. In a 2009 interview she commented: ‘These windows all sit side by side, but behind each one of them exists a completely different world, and on the other side of the wall that separates them, an unthinkable tragedy may be unfolding.’1
1. Artist’s statement, Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, 2009, p.3
Japanese Commuter Train is the earliest work featured in this exhibition by Japanese artist Tabaimo. It takes the form of a corridor, surrounded by six screens in a hexagonal format that viewers are invited to walk through, placing them within the space of a train carriage along with commuters drawn by the artist.
Themes of inside and outside inform much of Tabaimo’s art. In this work, windows frame the view onto a world outside, while inside the carriage strange and unexpected events unfold yet no one seems to notice. One commuter stows an infant on the luggage rack above the carriage seats while another hangs their child up by the head, through a handrail. A mysterious inter-title appears between the imagery in Japanese Commuter Train that reads ‘a lizard’s casting off its tail’. Describing the act of autotony, whereby an animal sheds its tail out of fear or self-protection, it finds metaphoric expression through a male commuter who detaches his arm at the elbow joint and tosses it onto the carriage floor. More and more severed arms push through the man’s clothes and paper bag, until the conductor throws him into the front carriage, shuts an iron barrier and detaches the carriage.
While the meaning of the scenario is elusive, Tabaimo notes that it is a visual expression for a society in which responsibility is avoided, while corruption flourishes. As the lizard avoids capture by shedding its tail, growing another later on, so too people in positions of power avoid taking responsibility while those beneath them wear the consequences, perpetuating the cycle of corruption and social decay.