The Japan Foundation is proud to announce the artist Tabaimo’s representation of Japan at the 54th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia. Recognized as one of the country’s leading young artists, Tabaimo first received critical acclaim for her multimedia installation Japanese Kitchen (1999), which combined surreal, hand-drawn animations with architectural elements in an unblinking examination of contemporary Japanese society. In Venice, “TABAIMO: teleco-soup” will continue that trajectory through an immersive multimedia environment that incorporates the unique characteristics of the Japan Pavilion in the Giardini, completed in 1956 and designed by the architect Takamasa Yoshizaka.
In Japanese the exhibition title, “teleco-soup,” connotes the idea of an “inverted” soup, or the inversion of relations between water and sky, fluid and container, self and world. Coined by the artist, this phrase builds upon an intellectual tradition in Japan that grapples with the country’s identity as an island state, or what in recent years has come to be known as the “Galapagos Syndrome,” originally used to describe the incompatibility between Japanese technology and international markets but now applicable to multiple facets of Japanese society in the age of globalization.
The structure of the exhibition further references a proverb attributed to the Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi, “A frog in a well cannot conceive of the ocean,” and an addendum to the Japanese version of the same, “But it knows the height of the sky.” Through the use of a multi-channel animation projection and mirror panels, Tabaimo will transform the interior of the Japan Pavilion into a well and the open space beneath the Pavilion, which is raised on pilotis, into the sky.
The animation begins with images of a minute cell that evolves into a body, and continues with depictions of Tabaimo herself as well as of all the people currently living in Japan and Japanese society as a whole, evoking a continually expanding space. The succession of images will lead to a recognition of the unimaginable breadth of the well – or contemporary Japan – and through the installation’s anti-gravitational orientation will connect to an infinite depth/height in the eternal world of the sky below, visible through an aperture in the floor at the Pavilion center. In this way extending beyond the confines of the Pavilion, the installation will destabilize relations between up and down, interior and exterior, broad and narrow perspectives, and immerse visitors into a bodily experience that asks them to question, Is the world of a frog living in a well really so small? And, How can we negotiate the points of contact between the individual and the communal – how do we negotiate our own Galapagos Syndromes?
The commissioner of the Pavilion of Japan at the 54th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia is Yuka Uematsu, Curator, National Museum of Art, Osaka