[From Ashley Rawlings...]
Takashi Murakami is still all over the place, isn't he? His blockbuster ©MURAKAMI exhibition at MoCA L.A. and the Brooklyn Museum, his commercial collaboration with Louis Vuitton and Kanye West, the 15-million-dollar sale of his "My Lonesome Cowboy" sculpture at Sotheby's in May, and the staging of his GEISAI art fair in Tokyo this month certainly prove that the giant of internationally known Japanese contemporary art is no spent force.
However, it goes without saying that a whole new generation of Japanese artists has emerged since Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara stamped the "kimokawaii" (twisted cute) aesthetic on the international art scene in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
People often ask me who they should be looking at now. There are dozens of names that come to mind, but one of them is Tabaimo, whose animated video works convey a sense of unease lurking in Japanese society. Her key work "public conVENience" (2006), which depicts a women's public toilet, shows a series of bizarre, unsettling actions taking place: a woman trying to flush a turtle down the toilet, a baby being born out of a nostril, and a moth with camera shutters for eyes snapping shots of an almost-naked woman as she looks at herself in the mirror.
Tabaimo also happens to be a milestone artist for me on a personal level, as she was the first artist I ever interviewed, in the summer of 2006 while she was holding her solo exhibition at the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art. It feels like I've spent the two years since then doing nothing but back-to-back artist interviews for Tokyo Art Beat, and then non-stop gallery director and curator interviews for Art Space Tokyo! In fact, seeing her exhibition at the Hara, and how the curators had gone to such great lengths to install her work seamlessly into its intimate gallery spaces, reminded me of how great the museum is and so it was one of the first places that came to mind when Craig and I started drawing up our ideas for Art Space Tokyo. For an artist like Tabaimo, showing work is not just about wheeling it in through the freight entrance and deciding which part of the empty white cube it looks best in; it's a much more considered affair.
What interests me is the idea of setting up a space — be it narrow, dark, or on a slope — somewhere which is not easy to stand, somewhere which makes a variety of demands on how you approach it: basically an environment which denies you a comfortable viewing experience...they need to be proactive in their viewing if they are to understand what I'm saying. I think the viewers' stories themselves are the work, so by making the work together in a sense, by setting up spaces which cause the viewer discomfort — spaces which have elements in them that need to be overcome — the works become a participatory experience.
It's not like Tabaimo is completely unknown outside of Japan; she was featured at the Venice Biennale in 2007 and had a solo exhibition at James Cohan Gallery this spring. But for those who haven't heard of her and want a sense of the next generation of Japanese artists, it's worth keeping an eye out for her.
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Ashley Rawlings and Craig Mod are co-authors of Art Space Tokyo. A specialist in postwar Japanese art, Ashley lives in Tokyo, where he works as a freelance editor, writer, and translator. Craig is a Tokyo-based print designer and online developer who co-founded Chin Music Press and Hitotoki.
Books mentioned in this post
Ashley Rawlings and Craig Mod is the author of Art Space Tokyo: An Intimate Guide to the Tokyo Art World