Embracing the surreal: video animations by Tabaimo

tabaimo aitaisei josei
This exhibition at the San Jose Museum of Art showcases the work of Japanese artist Tabaimo, who creates bold video animations in a style influenced by manga and anime. It works well as a complement to the digital art show in my last post, which was also by Japanese artists and highly immersive.

However, the Tabaimo show distinguishes itself by offering more sense of a narrative. Each of the three main animations is loosely inspired by the same work of fiction, the 2007 novel Akunin (Villain) by Shuichi Yoshida. I was sufficiently intrigued by an exhibition themed around a single novel that I checked it out from the library this weekend – another post on this may follow.

The video installation danDAN (2009) gives the viewer a kind of intimate bird’s eye view of life inside an apartment building or danchi, which is a setting used in the novel. Tabaimo presents a rapid-fire series of vignettes, some mundane and some macabre. The pace is quick and the viewing angles a little odd, so you strain to make sense of what you are seeing.

A domestic interior is also central to the video installation aitaisei-josei (2015), though here the surreal gains the upper hand. Disembodied organs (the heart, the brain) that popped up previously now take centre stage, contrasting strangely with traditional motifs from Japanese art (the full moon, the pine tree).

The effect is entertaining, if enigmatic. The work references a pair of lovers (Miho Kaneko and Yuichi Shimizu) from the novel, and even a second pair of lovers (Ohatsu and Tokubei) from a famous bunraku play of the 18th century. This would probably remain obscure to most of us, but for the excellent labelling.

New Stories from the Edge of Asia: Tabaimo: Her Room
San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA
6 February to 21 August 2016

Above: Tabaimo, aitaisei-josei, 2015. Single-channel video installation. Running time: 5 min 33 sec. Image: the artist; Gallery Koyanagi, Tokyo; and James Cohen, New York. Photo: Kazuto Kakurai at http://sjmusart.org/exhibition/new-stories-edge-asia-tabaimo-her-room.

Wastelands: contemporary Chinese art at OVADA

cai yuan untitled
I went exploring this weekend to a warehouse in a less-than-popular part of Oxford, to see a show of contemporary Chinese art. The space is run by OVADA – the Oxfordshire Visual Arts Development Agency – and the show was Wastelands, a group exhibition around themes of consumption and waste.

I enjoyed the colourful contributions from Cai Yuan (b. 1956), who also co-curated the show. His large untitled installation uses cut sections of cardboard boxes painted in bright acrylics, suspended in the air and cascading over the floor in wasteful abandonment.

In his ISMS series, he presents single-colour panels, the paint lightly inscribed with words ending in –ism. I was expecting mainly political vocabulary, but it ranges much wider: for instance, “narcissism, sensualism, materialism, hacktivism, globalism, romanticism …”. The panels are arranged in pairs, so you can’t help but puzzle over them, wondering why A has been paired with B and so on.

Text is also foremost in Labels of Desire by Wessieling, comprised of placards with phoney fashion-industry labeling designed to prod your social conscience, such as “Made in Italy, Sewed by Chinese”. This reminded me a little of the Xu Bing installation Backbone, seen during my visit to LACMA, which used the visual cue of tobacco stencils to focus our attention on the plight of workers in the tobacco industry.

Other works include a baffling hotel-themed installation by Hua Mao First Floor Collective, and a deeply unwholesome film with zombies by Cao Fei (b. 1978). I confess I was left underwhelmed by the Ai Weiwei contribution, a film called Ordos 100 (2012) that documents architects trying (and failing) to build a new city in inner Mongolia. I didn’t have time for a full viewing, but the pace felt slow and the action stilted.

Overall, a show that I really wanted to see but then wasn’t fully convinced by.

OVADA, Oxford
17 July to 9 August 2015 (now closed)

You can view the film Ordos 100 on YouTube.

Above: Cai Yuan, Untitled, 2015. Acrylic on cardboard. Photo: SF.

Below: Cai Yuan, ISMS Series, 2015. Oil on canvas. Photo: SF.
cai yuan isms series
Below: Wessieling,
Labels of Desire, 2015 (left of photo). Laser cut and etched MDF. Photo: SF.
wessieling labels of desire
Below: Wessieling,
Labels of Desire, 2015 (detail). Laser cut and etched MDF. Photo: SF.
wessieling labels of desire detail v2
Below: Sun Yi, Untitled, 2015. Wires and nails on board. Photo: SF.
sun yi untitled

Yayoi Kusama at Tate Modern

The Yayoi Kusama retrospective finished in June but I feel somehow bound to include it: compared with the Yoko Ono show, it seemed crazy and eye-popping.  We might debate whether this is “Asian Art” but I shall be inclusive.  Both came from wealthy Japanese backgrounds: Kusama’s family was in seed-production, Ono’s in banking.  Both came to prominence in the 1960s and spent time in New York, although Kusama returned to Japan in 1973.  The Kusama show was very large: fourteen galleries, six decades of work, media ranging from paint and video to soft sculpture and macaroni (yes, macaroni).  I was captivated above all by the installation Infinity Mirrored Room – Filled with the Brilliance of Life.  A walkway leads through a darkened room, every surface a mirror.  The space is filled with tiny lights, reflected to infinity and changing colour constantly.  It is like a magical seascape at night – enchanting, exhilarating.

Yayoi Kusama
Tate Modern, London
9 February 2012 to 5 June 2012 (now closed)

See also the Guardian’s brilliant photo series Seeing Spots: Yayoi Kusama Exhibition at Tate Modern

Yoko Ono at the Serpentine Gallery

Yoko Ono’s first room is compelling.  Black-and-white film footage of a human eye and a burning match; military helmets hung upside-down, with jigsaw pieces inside; three mounds of earth with a sign “War is Over”; evocative soundtrack of a hawk’s cry.  The curating is terrific, different works brought together to inspire contemplation and yearning, the futility of war contrasted with the human need to observe and experience.

The show features some iconic films, including old and new versions of her performance work Cut Piece, where people cut strips from her clothing.  Also Bottoms (1967): “Ooh, it’s a naked bottom!” exclaimed a visitor; the attendants rolled their eyes.  But the walls of the show are peppered with sentences that seem more bland than whimsical, and a clear plastic maze that photographs well proves pretty dull to walk through, especially if you saw the Yayoi Kusama at Tate Modern earlier this year.

Serpentine Gallery, London
19 June 2012 to 9 September 2012