Tabaimo (also known as Tabata Ayako) was born Hyogo, Japan in 1975. She is the middle child of three daughters; her mother is the ceramicist Shion Tabata. The name ‘Tabaimo’ is a nickname which is a play on ‘Tabata’s little sister’ (tabata no imoto) (Rawlings, p. 100). She first decided to use the name Tabaimo in her first private exhibition in Kyoto after her graduation. She currently lives with her family in Karuizawa in Nagano prefecture.
Tabaimo studied at the Kyoto University of Art and Design where she gained a number of influences, including from her teacher, the artist Keiichi Tanaami ( b 1936 ) who himself is a renown Pop artist with a very diverse career (including the first art director of Japanese Playboy) and was recently labelled as a ‘Japanese Pop Surrealist’. Tabaimo takes further influences from anime and authors of horror manga such as Junji Ito and Kazuo Umezu. She has also been inspired by Japanese traditional art: it was from the chance encounter with some traditional 18th century Hokusai (1760-1849) ukiyo-e prints in a book that influenced her uses of colour. Her illustrative technique is complex and labour intensive, but she continues to outline her drawing in hand by pen, and uses computer as the device for technicalities and animation.
In 1999 by the age of 23, Tabaimo won first prize in the Kirin Contemporary Art Award for her graduation piece, the video installation 'Japanese Kitchen' (1999). She graduated in Information Design and also won the University President’s Award. Japanese Kitchen, seen to show the dark side of Japanese contemporary society, was surreal in its animated rendering and infused with puns. The work shows the story of an everyday housewife making dinner in her small apartment and the peculiar society that is ensues all around her.
Even with the success of this first work, Tabaimo felt that she would be a graphic designer. But by 2003 she reached a major turning point in her life. She received a grant and interned at a graphic design studio in London. Her immersion in the West for the first time led her to give up the graphic design career and start to ‘redirect her gaze away from Japanese society’ in order to question what being Japanese meant to herself. (Uematsu Yuka, 'Danmen', p. 109).
The mesmerising work 'hanabi-ra' 2003 ('hanabi-ra' meaning flower petal but also a pun for ‘fireworks’) is an animated, single screen installation. The animation shows the back of a standing man, his head not visible, covered in what looks to be floral tattoos. The floral image on the body is a direct appropriation from a print by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), 'Chrysanthemums and Horsefly', from an untitled series known as 'Large Flowers', circa 1822-34. It is interesting to note that Tabaimo has already used this motif of the flower bouquet in her earlier video installation 'Japanese Commuter Train' (2001).
As the animation begins, sinister black crows flutter and fly over/through the body where the action is taking place. An idyllic panoramic fantasy emerges with a horsefly flying from flower to flower, and a carp (symbol of masculinity) occasionally swimming through the foliage. It is a surreal image as the flower petals gradually float from the body one by one landing on the black ground on which the figure stands. Slowly whole flowers float down, and suddenly there is a frenzy of petals and flowers falling, until all that is left are their green stems. Subsequently the figure himself starts to fall apart, limb by limb, landing on the ground (the flower stems still intact and standing), to finally expose that the man is an illusion and is actually pieces of paper. The final act is a large horsefly flies over the sombre scene.
Aesthetically beautiful but with a sense of trepidation, there is a dark side to this work. For Taibaimo, the flower petals falling also resemble the ‘burning embers of fireworks’. The blooming flowers also have the meaning of regeneration, yet can at the same time have an allusion to death. The black crows imply an impending doom, and the attractive horsefly - pollinator of flowers - may not be as it seems, although it is part of the regeneration cycle, it also is partakes in the cycle of death for the pollinated flowers.
The idea of pain or being uncomfortable pervades much of Tabaimo’s work, much of the darkness derived from the influence of manga culture. ‘In her work Tabaimo seems to delve into the dark world of the manga subculture which, at times, inevitably includes some violence or cruelty. There are also considerable psychological components to her work, which perhaps give us some sense of Tabaimo’s own thinking, imagination and outlook on life.’ (de Weck, 'Boundary layer', p.60)
The work 'hanabi-ra' is situated in a dark space which the viewer must enter, similar to a small room which is totally black, with the video projected on one wall. Taibaimo gives a reason for placing her works in such physical contexts:
I want to bring visitors inside my work. You cannot touch most artworks with your hands. I often feel a distance with artworks even though they are right in front of my eyes. I hope that the spectators feel very close to my works. Also, by inviting them into a sort of unstable space, both visually as well as physically, I want them to experience watching the animation video through feeling some ‘suffering’. Watching an animation video silently for ten minutes is already painful. I wanted to add more pain so the visitors are forced to feel my work using all of the senses, not just watching with their eyes. For me as an artist, it is such a pleasure to see that people go through certain necessary pains to feel my work (Akiko, p, 52).
In many ways, it is Tabaimo’s intention that the viewer becomes enmeshed in the work, to become both the viewing subject but also the participating object. It is in this way she is able to express her own experiences through art and for a viewer to interpret it for themselves.
'Tabaimo: Boundary Layer', Parasol unit of contemporary art and Koenig books, London, 2010.
'Tabaimo', Fondation pour l’art contemporain, Paris, 2006.
'Tabaimo: DANMEN', Yokohama Museum of Art /The National Museum of Art Osaka, Seigensha Publishing Inc, 2010.
Morishita Akihiko, ‘The Pain of Ordinariness: The Art of Tabaimo’, 'The Sharpest Point: animation at the end of cinema', Chris Cehman and Steve Reinke (eds.), Toronto: YYZ Books and Images Festival/Ottawa: Ottawa International Animation Festival, 2005, 85-94.
Ashley Rawlings, ‘All that creeps below the surface: Tabaimo’, 'Art Asia Pacific', issue 71, November/December 2010.
Meredith Mendelsohn, ‘Working practice: Tabaimo at James Cohan Gallery’, 1stdibs, October 5 2011. http://www.1stdibs.com/introspective/working_practice/tabaimo_at_james_cohan/ (accessed 1/9/2014)
'Tabaimo: MEKURUMEKU', Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 2014.
AKIKO, Miki, ‘Tabaimo’, 'Tema Celeste', May/June 2003: 50-55
Asian Art Department, AGNSW, September 2014.
Place where the work was made
single channel digital video animation, colour, silent
duration: 00:04:25 min, aspect ratio: 4:3
Signature & date
Signed l.l. certificate of authenticity, black ink "Tabaimo [in Japanese characters]". Not dated.
Yasuko Myer Bequest Fund 2014
Not on display