You may remember New York-based artist Mika Tajima and her noise-band moniker The New Humans from their performance at the Walker Grand Re-Opening party. They performed their piece Grass Grows Forever in Every Possible Direction in the space age Skyline Room (the eyeball of the Ice Cube Monster). Blessed be an installation that results in leftover beers. We had Budweiser for weeks.
Mika Tajima/New Humans are featured artists in this year’s Whitney Biennial. Beyond the Whitney, Tajima is currently exhibiting in tandem at The Kitchen (NYC) and COMA (Berlin). I recently had the pleasure of meeting with the artist at her performance/installation The Double at The Kitchen.
The piece explores multiplicity, boundaries, translations. As viewers enter the gallery, they are confronted with a partition running the diagonal-length of the room, built from panels inspired by Herman Miller’s cubicle-zygote Action Office invented by Robert Probst. Along the panels are Xeroxed images of an artist painting landscapes on the Iraq wall, Tajima’s own extrapolations on Action Office designs, gigantic mirrors, comically poetic press releases filled with the Utopian dreams that inspired Action Office, and promo posters from the Mick Jaggar cult film Performance.
Peeking through the perforations of angled panels, you sense the other side is operating with a similar vocabulary. Turning the bend, the audience sees that Tajima has crafted each panel as a double-sided artwork. With this system, the artist cleverly criticizes Probst’s design: a Cubicle Problem that due to over-privatization, people often create double-work. But this obstruction is more than a comment on office workers making the same PowerPoint – Tajima intends this incision into the space to highlight how “an architecture of isolation is a violent gesture”.
Just past the wall, a swinging lampshade casts dramatic light beams on two mirrors… another homage to Performance (as evidenced by the film’s trailer).
On my initial walk-thru of the installation, I thought, “How am I gonna make this relevant to the Performing Arts blog?” At first glance, Tajima is blending elements of interior design, film history, installation, architecture, screenprinting, sculpture… kinda a little bit of everything except performance. This is a calculated move by Tajima, who continually agitates expectations, employing a widely varied methodology which she calls her “rubric of practice.” Whether opening up for Motorhead in Norway, or exhibiting at the premier American biennial, Tajima instigates audiences to question what they plan on experiencing.
She is well aware of audience expectations of a performative artist having a show at The Kitchen, a vanguard of New York’s performance scene. As we walked around the installation, she’d highlight different components of the installation (the lampshade, the poster, the rotating panels) and define each one as a performance. In an effort to combat the notion that performance should entertain or even that something should “happen”, she creates a space that hints that something could happen, or did happen. As we spent more time in the gallery, more of these moments of performance began to emerge. A large stage-like space framed by the wall and the lampshade, myself posing in the mirror, sneaking into a nook between the gallery wall and a panel to look at an image. Tajima says she’s exploring the Artaud-ian notion of audience as performer, wherein viewers experience the artwork around them.
Tajima also disrupts expectations at a macro level, in that her projects often stretch beyond traditional modes of duration or location. This desire to create a “continual monument” – a concept inspired by the radical Italian 60’s design collective Superstudio – manifests throughout her body of work. For instance The Double is one project occurring in both NYC and Berlin concurrently, assembled by similar components with slight variations. Also, the video piece in the Biennial extends from Disassociated, her installation/performance at Elizabeth Dee Gallery.
Tajima’s goals and tactics are reminiscent of recent Walker artists Jerome Bel or Tino Sehgal. What I love about this work is how it forces organizations and audiences to ask core questions – Why have we divided artwork into defined genres? Why do people pay for a cultural experience, and how/why do we market these experiences? How have our expectations for aesthetic experiences been shaped and manipulated?
Long story short – the next time Motorhead comes to town, be sure to check them out. Their opening band is full of surprises.
all images are courtesy the artist and Elizabeth Dee, New York.