I know Tabaimo is old news for most people, but it seems a fair bet that her animated film installations about post-1990s disaster struck Japan are going to be a huge hit at Venice this year. Cool Japan is over, Tokyo has dropped off the tourist map, and Tabaimo's work -- easy to consume as it is -- continues to capture compellingly the gloom and anxiety of contemporary Japan. It is Japan as the world now finally sees it after March 2011. It's not the whole story; but there is a lot of truth in it. All through the lens of a typical mid 1970s born post-bubble child, who was too young to have enjoyed the 1980s, and who has instead grown up through the bursting of the bubble, the 1995 zero year, the long slide of the 2000s, the 2008 crash, and now 2011. Live through this, she says.

Hopefully, then, the time is right for the West to finally start understanding. I met Tabaimo at Louisiana in Copenhagen in 2008, where she had to put up with the indignity of one of her most harrowing works, Public ConVENience (2006), being presented as part of a naive celebration of Japanese Manga Art. She was furious, but there was nothing to be done. Superflat and Little Boy had set every agenda. Clueless Western curation has done her no favours, even as her popularity and recognition has grown through the past decade. But I am sure that in the hands of Osaka National Museum's Yuka Uematsu -- herself part of a new generation of smart young internationally savvy Japanese curators -- the show at the Japanese Pavilion in Venice will set the right tone at last.

I just saw for the first time her original graduation piece, Japanese Kitchen (1999) at Hara Museum, Tokyo, yesterday. It is a juvenile piece, designed to provoke and shock, but it contains all the essense of Tabaimo in one concentrated, inspired dose. Those delicious animated colours, the wobbly, sickening images. That slightly off-beat Monty Pythonesque portrait of Japan that so easily seduces. The scraping of a discordant violin. The sarcastic little subtitles. The hum of a radio weather broadcast, and the screaming of a politician inside a microwave. Someone punching holes violently in a paper screen. A despondent salary man, sitting in the fridge, waiting to have his head severed and put in the pot. The final horror. Postmodern Japanese gothic.

Above all, like many of her later works, the installation creates its own unique environment. Japanese Kitchen is literally a wooden box, into which the viewer has to step. At Hara, most Japanese visitors were unable to bring themselves to walk, profanely, into the room with their shoes on -- even though that is the clear instruction. From inside the little box, all perception is directed at the windows, by the stage of warped Tatami leading up to the screen. There is meant to be no escape. A story unfolds on the central screen -- an overweight housewife at work in a kitchen -- with side panels offering alarming high rise window views out into some depressed suburb of the big city. Simple lines capture the visual landscape of the Japanese city; the power lines scarring the sky, the ugly prefab architecture. Bugs crawl across the screen. A couple of schoolgirls pass by laughing. Then bodies start falling from the sky.

Apparently about 90 people a day commit suicide in Japan. An annual tally of about 30,000. A small town in the provinces somewhere. Its a grim reflection. After the final gun shot, bodies lay strewn briefly in the streets. The screens close again. All we are left with is an immaculate hinomaru. Red on white. The video begins again ...

While the obvious social reading of her work, and the easy televised narratives are the first reason why her work is so immediately successful, it is obvious that Tabaimo's real strengths run much deeper. With a strong family support team -- her older sister goes everywhere with her -- Tabaimo's work in the twelve or more years since 1999 has only got better as it became more abstract and less didactic, and she experimented with all kinds of 3-D installation and sound affects. The recent small book of images and poetry is like a ground work of visual archetypes: Tabaimo's world, A-to-Z. She is, reputedly, a workaholic, driven and singular in her vision. Still only 36, she remains the artist of her generation most likely to put Japanese contemporary art back on the map.





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