In my admittedly limited experience, Venice in the summer is hot—water-guzzling, gelato-melting, desperate-for-shade hot—not unlike what we’ve experienced here in New York over the last several weeks. In the summer of 2007, as I dashed between air-conditioned venues at the Venice Biennale, I remember the relief I felt at finding myself in a cool, dark space inside an exhibition hall. I remember equally clearly the work that was on view there, a video, dolefullhouse, by the young Japanese artist Tabaimo. Over the course of several minutes, an empty dollhouse is gradually furnished by an unseen figure, and also begins to pulsate, revealing unexpected happenings behind its walls. In the end, the house floods, all is washed away, and the process begins again.
Tabaimo’s work examines the unseen, darker side of contemporary experience, exploring what lies beneath the seeming orderliness of the everyday world, and this piece was no exception. And she draws on all kinds of sources, from the aesthetics of traditional Japanese ukiyo-e woodcuts, to the sometimes-absurd narratives of Japanese comics and animations, manga, and anime.
The piece I saw in Venice led to a whole series of works, three of which were just acquired by MoMA, that look at the domestic sphere and the human body as mundane sites which in fact conceal surreal, comical, and grotesque goings-on. For Tabaimo, they are sites that must be excavated, with layers peeled away, to reveal the truth of what lies beneath the polite surface.
In wallpaper, a room, politely decorated with patterned wallpaper and Western-style furniture, seems to pare back its own surface, exposing a dense network of veins, vessels, and organs pulsating underneath its smooth facade. The printed top sheet actually hangs down, evoking the feeling of layers of old, peeling wallpaper.
In show through I and II she exploits the texture of thin gampi paper and its similarity to the delicacy and translucency of dried skin. She imprints each with a net of circulatory systems that seem to throb, encroaching on the organs centered within each one, and tethered in suspension by another network of translucent, monofilament threads.
The projects were the result of a residency at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute in Singapore. It’s a true twenty-first-century workshop, with facilities for every print technique you can imagine, and a staff that is game to try anything an artist can dream up, even when the dreams are as inventive and unique as Tabiamo’s.