Asian Art News
By Lucy Birmingham
"Tabaimo at Gallery Koyanagi"
Japanese artist Tabaimo teases us yet again at her exhibition of recent drawings and video installation titled “yubibira” at the Gallery Koyanagi in Ginza. Imagine Hieronymous Bosch, Silence of the Lambs and Hiroshige, and then take a close look at one of her 30 drawings. You’ll suddenly feel an uncontrollable goose bumpy itch up the back of your neck. Centipedes, winged, flesh-eating moths, grasshopper legs, tentacles and an assortment of crusty bugs crawl in and out of the folded flesh of weirdly distorted hands. With no blood, puss or mangled flesh, the sumie ink-rendered drawings on washi paper are deceptively delicate, a kind of fun-creepy-clean, and appropriately titled “Mushiasobi” (meaning bugs at play).
This kind of acidic teasing and mischievous sense of humor is a Tabaimo trademark. She is known for her ukiyo-e inspired hand drawn animations and video installations which spoof and question elements of Japanese culture. Animated tricks, visual puns blended with wry political perspectives and high-tech virtuosity have brought well-deserved fame to Ayako Tabata whose pseudonym Tabaimo, is a creative take on a family nickname. She is one of the youngest artists to win the grand prize at the Kirin Contemporary Art Awards in 1999, the youngest female to exhibit work at the 2001 Yokohama Triennale and at the age of 26 the youngest ever to be appointed professor at her alma mater, the prestigious Kyoto University of Art and Design. The nearly sold-out “yubibira” show is testament to her growing popularity.
The drawings in this series show a more playful side of her repertoire with less obvious social commentary. The famous Grimm Brothers fairy tale titled “The King Frog” is the inspiration for two elongated drawings of ink and watercolor. Like a traditional written Japanese scroll, the allegorical story unfolds from right to left. Your eyes are carried along with the rescued golden ball as the deceitful princess and pathetic frog are sucked, plucked and morphed throughout Tabaimo's maze of curved fingers and palms. In the artist’s reinterpretation, the story's moral — that promises kept are rewarded — seems to cling to the original tale, but her subliminal messages taunt at your psyche. (Appearances v. reality? Or, is sex appeal just a matter of skillful manipulation…) Portions of the two drawings along with "The King Frog" story are published in a colorful, eye-catching, foldout book available for purchase.
One of the artist's more familiar illustrated video works is projected on a wall in a darkened room at the back of the gallery. Titled "hanabi-ra" (a pun on flower petals and fireworks) the video begins with flying black crows that scatter to reveal the nude backside of a middleaged man covered with colorful flower tattoos. The image of the motionless and headless body turns surreal as a butterfly and bee fly from flower to flower, a carp swims lazily above the man's skin and flower petals fall to the floor like small bursts of fireworks. Fingers then begin to fall followed by hands, arms, legs and body which fold on the ground into paper-like rolls. With its hypnotic gentle rhythm, it's easy to watch this short four-minute video again and again.
Unafraid to face, with a wry smile, prickly themes like frogs and bugs, as well as issues of death, regeneration, alienation, molestation, homoerotica, politics among others, the very talented and versatile Tabaimo stands out as one of Japan's exciting new young artists.