James Cohan will present, Clue to Utsushi, a new exhibition by Japanese artist Tabaimo. The exhibition will feature four works previously presented in her 2016 show Utsutsushi Utsushi at the Seattle Art Museum and a new work, Shinju Trail, created for this show. Clue to Utsushi is the fourth exhibition of Tabaimo’s work at James Cohan.
Tabaimo creates complex video works and spatial interventions that observe and incisively critique contemporary Japanese society. Her works are aesthetic feats, but a distinctly sinister ambience lurks under the technical polish of her videos. By conjuring this ominous mood, Tabaimo captures the tension between appearance and reality, revealing the imperfection of human perception. Clue to Utsushi further examines the idiosyncrasies of perception through the uniquely Japanese idea of utsushi – an artistic concept that has its origins in the pre-modern era.
The nearest English translation of utsushi is “copy” or “reproduction” but utsushi surpasses either. True utsushi simultaneously captures the essentialness and spirit of an existing work but avoids exact reproduction. Utsushi insists on its own originality but acquires a deeper significance through proximity to an archetype. This expectation allows a new generation of artists to manifest their own creativity while learning from past masters. Initially skeptical of utsushi as an aesthetic practice, Tabaimo has come to regard it as an important binding agent, connecting artists and their ideas across long spans of time. She also employs utsushi to probe discourses of originality/authenticity and viewer discernment.
For her exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum, Tabaimo engaged with the museum’s existing collection of Japanese art. She allowed these works to guide her creative process as an homage to great artisans and the importance of utsushi in Japanese cultural production. This exhibition further explores the intricacies and variations of utsushi. The Obscuring Moon is a traditional utsushi of famed ukiyo-e artist Utagawa Hiroshige’s Moon Cape. She expands the narrative of his wood-block composition and transposes the work to her chosen medium. Chirping is an utsushi of scrolls in the the Seattle Art Museum, and likewise the cabinet coupling in Two is inspired by a similar pair in the SAM collection. In the latter example these twinned cabinets are also utsushi of each other - unique but intrinsically bound together. Tabaimo presents Crow as a metaphor for the process of utsushi. She envisions herself as the crow, privileged with an aerial view that allows her to contemplate the overall form. Tabaimo’s engagement with utsushi reflects her larger practice of mining Japanese culture to create works with a contemporary ethos.
Tabaimo (born 1975, Hyogo, Japan), represented Japan at the 54th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia (2011) and has been the subject of solo exhibitions at the Seattle Museum of Art (2016); San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA (2016); the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia (2014); Yokahama Museum of Art, Tokyo, Japan (traveled to the National Museum of Art, Osaka) (2009-10); Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden (2009); Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris, France (2006); and Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Japan (2006). Her work can be found in the collections of the National Museum of Art, Osaka; Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Japan; the Israel Museum, Jerusalem; MUSAC, Leon, Spain; Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris, France; Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA; Asia Society Museum, New York, NY; San Jose Museum of Art, CA; Seattle Museum of Art, WA; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY. Tabaimo lives and works in Karuizawa, Japan.