The Japanese artist Tabaimo (b. 1975), known for enigmatic animations that draw on Japanese ukiyo-e woodcuts and postwar manga and anime, has created her most ambitious project to date as her contribution to the 54th Venice Biennale. In teleco-soup, she uses multiple projections and mirrors to fashion an environment in which visitors are immersed in a world turned topsy-turvy. The installation opens to the public on Saturday.
Teleco-soup is intimately tied to the architecture of the pavilion, a Le Corbusier-inspired building designed by Yoshizaka Takamasa in 1956. In this structure, an aperture in the ceiling opens to the elements, with rain falling into a circular well at the center of the room. Tabaimo alludes in her piece to Takamasa’s enfoldment of architecture and nature, even as she alters his structure. Having closed the ceiling’s aperture and encased the room in mirrors, she projects a 5-minute looped digital animation onto the walls, so that scenes multiply into infinity. There is also a screening inside the well and another on the outer wall of the wide drain on the building’s exterior, beneath its cantilevered floor. Standing within the darkened space, or peering into the well, the viewer is thoroughly immersed in the totalizing environment of the projections.
The animation consists of thousands of drawings digitally scanned, and alternates between settings: an unpopulated city by the water and the water itself-the latter both surface and depth, replete with rising air bubbles and undulating seaweed. There are also skittering clouds that the water seems to have swallowed from the reflections on its surface, so that it is difficult at times to tell whether one is submerged or aloft, in the sky. At certain points, a woman’s finger and a set of hands twisted like coral infiltrate the scenes, along with pulsating branches, a floating brain and a flying insect whose dismembered wings drift downward. Long black hair grows between and through the buildings, along with delicate mushrooms. Inside the well and on the well’s exterior, clouds and bubbles proliferate, confusing inside and outside, above and below.
The accompanying audio sounds a little like people talking underwater; it is, in fact, a reverse-playing pastiche of found and digitally invented sounds. As for the title, it too involves inversions: the word tereko signifies things going in reverse, while the “teleco” of the title is a sly mispronunciation of the Japanese that (with “soup”) presses against the word “telescope.”
Though it is purely a coincidence-Tabaimo began working on her project long before disaster struck-one cannot help but think of the recent tsunami when viewing teleco-soup. But, then, humanity’s relationship with the sea has long fueled the creative imagination of Japanese artists, and nature’s perils are a given of the island nation.
A.i.A. caught up with Tabaimo on a sunny afternoon at the Giardini.
FAYE HIRSCH: In this piece there are two worlds, but they merge. Could you talk about that?
TABAIMO: I was browsing the area between the real world and the imaginary world. I mixed inside and outside, the world up above and that below. Here we might be upright, walking, but I imagine that there could be an inverted world, as well.
HIRSCH: One always wonders if you, the artist, are represented in your animations-here in the hair and the hand, for example. Is it something of a self-portrait?
TABAIMO: It is somewhat, but at the same time, I am making a more general association with people, in the body parts.
HIRSCH: And also in the branches that appear, throbbing, as if veins or arteries showing the beating of the heart?
TABAIMO: Yes-it’s very simple.
HIRSCH: This work seems less tied to Japanese woodblock prints and anime than before.
TABAIMO: I use the color from woodblock prints but also other sources. I also actually mixed my own colors and then scanned them, and turned them into a new color element in the computer. I alter the colors so that they are very specific.
HIRSCH: Within the animations, there is a sense of infiltration into the depicted worlds, and between them. But the environment is so immersive, that one also feels oneself as a kind of infiltration, as well.
TABAIMO: I intend for the viewer to be totally involved in the experience of the work. I want there to be a kind of cooperation between myself and the viewer.
HIRSCH: You’ve been working on teleco-soup for a whole year. Have you shown any of it in Japan?
TABAIMO: It was made only for this place. It could be realized only in this building, because of the specific architectural situation.