Interview: Tabaimo

‘MEKURUMEKU’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Sydney, presents Japanese artist Tabaimo with six video installations from the early 2000s to the present. During her time in Sydney for the opening, I spoke with the artist about the delicate reality she constructs in her work.

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Lucy Rees: A lot of Japanese contemporary art is considered Kawaii or cute. With your blend of surreal happenings that incorporate manga-like drawings and reference Ukiyo-e woodblock prints, your works are far removed from this aesthetic.

Tabaimo: I didn’t think originally about being an artist. I was a graphic designer for many years but it didn’t work for me. I would say that art grabbed me and picked me up and here I am. I really work by how I feel in an intuitive manner. I had no idea that there were even schools of art when I started. 

If you live in Japan, Manga and Anime are all around; it’s ubiquitous but it’s not something that I am necessarily interested in or inspired by. If I draw a line and animate it, it represents something about me – that is what I am more interested in. I am getting input from the world, responding to it, and then internalising it as my expression.

LR: Your animations begin with hundreds of drawings made with a pen or an automatic calligraphy brush. It must be such a laborious process.

T: When I draw a line it is an expression that came from my hand. If I draw a line on a computer it just exists perfectly between these two paints. It’s important that if you draw a line, it’s your line and you take ownership of it. It is indeed laborious; it’s like a Buddhist ritual of observance. It is incredibly disciplined. I don’t know if I like it but I know it needs to be done. I sit down and task myself to do it. Having said that, coming up with the subject is harder.

LR: Your installations are often on a 5-minute loop and there is no single narrative. Do you plan the story before you begin?

T: I don’t start with the finished work in my head. I build on elements as I’m drawing. If an element comes up that I have done before or seen before I am really disappointed. If it turns into something that I could never have imagined in the first place, that is great.

LR: You have created two new installations that respond to the MCA’s architecture, peeling back the walls to reveal the ocean outside. Tell me about the use of artifice, mirrors and optical illusion.

T: I work in fictional spaces, and so mirrors further assist in pushing this dimension. I really want viewers to experience something in my works. We are generally too passive. I want people to stand here and react and feel.

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LR: Your videos encompass motifs of femininity such as bodies of water, blooming flowers, petals and hair. What is the role of sexuality in your videos?

T: When I started I really didn’t want to make art that was obviously about gender. I didn’t want to be categorised in this way. Over time, however, I have come to the realisation that you are born with what you have. I was born a woman in Japan. I think it comes out in your work whether you choose it or not. It’s not like I have a particular insight into men; I have insight into being me, so it’s a very internal space that I am revealing. 

LR: The single projection dolefullhouse, 2007, depicts a doll’s house with giant human hands rearranging the contents before a large octopus takes it over and the house is transformed. I read this as East and West, with the octopus as the United States invading Japan.

T: It is welcome that people interpret my work however they like. In my daily life I am not a political being; it’s not actually on my mind when I create things. The octopus is nominally an invader from the outside, but the tentacles become blood vessels, and it’s the moment that transformation occurs that really interests me – an exterior force is internalised.

LR: Sound is a major element in your work, assisting to create a sense of uncertainty or fear, or envelope the viewer in an immersive state of meditation. How important is sound?

T: People don’t often realise that my works are a combined whole – the video and audio are equal elements. Even if I opt to go totally silent and there is no audio in the space, that silence is equally charged. There is the sound of breathing and whistling, and it’s actually me making those noises – something from inside me conveyed to the outside world. It mirrors the very core of my work – the juxtaposition between interior and exterior.

Tabaimo: MEKURUMEKU, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 3 July – 7 September 2014.

This interview was originally published on the Art and Australia website.