The Bread Of Life And The Mother.
It is often said that a mother son relationship is unbreakable so perhaps this is a good starting point as introduction to the artist Tatsumi Orimoto. It is a relationship that informs his daily life and creativity, either including her presence or directly inspired in other ways by the intensity of their relationship. as a performance artist, draftsman and photographer. The artist has often communicated his ideas specifically in a frame that magnifies the immediacy of the maternal bond, as in his Art Mama series that began in the mid 1990s. However, through extension, this could also act as a metaphor for considering the interactive condition of the family as a whole, for besides his mother often includes neighbours and friends as in Tire Tube Communication 1996 and 50 Grand Mamas 2006.
It has become a striking feature of much of his work, both in performances and their photographic documentation, that marginality and the everyday are elevated to a central roles.
Tatsumi Orimoto’s career began some 45 years ago, he was initially an assistant to Nam June Paik and shortly after he became an autonomous artist, beginning with the creation of actions and performances that seemed meaningless. In fact his initial impulse was influenced by Fluxus and the use of vocabulary of ordinary objects and the sense of puzzlement they can create, a marked feature that runs throughout Tatsumi Orimoto’s work. This was very evident in a series of documented body interactions, hand and foot actions and notably the five pull to ear projects 1983-85. In later stages and strings were attached to human ears, reminiscent of farm animals. Specific use of words to express different forms of uncertain aural inference, the suggestion being psychic points of localisation, points of identity and or points of individual inclusion and or exclusion and personal understanding and misunderstanding. The artist’s use of photography and it’s role in site specific documentation of actions, performance and events has become a primary means of generating a sense of transglobal inclusion, indeed this has become increasingly pertinent in his work.
Image: Pull To Ear © Tatsumi Orimoto
It is significant that Tatsumi Orimoto’s bread performances first seem singular events at the 21st Sao Paolo biennial in 1991, began a train of thought that has evolved through numerous subtle variations and developments and has criss-crossed the world over 30 years. the role of bread as a global and stable food metaphor operates crucially at the centre of socio cultural concerns having to do with a political critique of negative forms of neoliberalism that leads to increasing mechanisation alienation and human exclusion.
Whether through bread-head performances in the street, interventions at cafes, in art spaces or communing with cows, Tatsumi Orimoto confronts the commodity that sustains European life. The 26 Bread People Punishment stands as an example of the extremes of contemporary globalising attitudes. The participants stand blindfolded and tied to a post on individual podiums, carrying trays of bread, which through the performance become scattered, while the they are disoriented and humiliate while they try and brake free. A culmination of what was seen at ARCO 2009, where a complete series of Bread Men and Bread Cycles Objects performances were enacted.
Image: Punishment © Tatsumi Orimoto
The question of commodities and human dependencies is treated from another perspective, in the Oil Drum performances, beginning with 16 Drum Cans + 16 People in Tokyo 2002. This project was expanded in 36 Drum Cans + 80 High School Students, 9 Drum Cans + 9 High School Students in Tokyo 2003 and subsequent variations. Japan is among the most dependent oil importing economies, while simultaneously being a major exporter of automobiles. The idea may in some respects relate to Art Mama and other projects, where the protagonist often carry a weight, sometimes a bicycle or car tyres around their neck. In the first car 16 figures of different ages arms by their side, appear in the drum cans rotating in sequence in the photographs, ending with Tatsumi Orimoto and Art Mama then just Art Mama. The people disappear and at different stages these pristine drum cans are occupied then increasingly unoccupied. No direct reference is made to oil, the effect is clearly puzzling, it suggests an inert sense of commodity life, where dependence exists without communication.
Image: Oil Can Mama © Tatsumi Orimoto
The question of social inclusion, be it in comical form as in the Boxing Partner series 2003, where the artist and friends simulate boxing, which turned into a chaotic street fighting match in Berlin 2008. In Art Mama Medical Care: Collaborating With 9 Alzheimer People 2002 and other related works there is a strong sense of social cohesion and commitment. In this respect his work is best understood through his Art Mama projects of the last 20 years, including his 2008 Kyoto show Living Together Is Art, with such works as Bread Man + Alzheimer Mama 1996. His mother suffered from the disease and became the most vital part of Tatsumi Orimoto’s performance and action artworks. Notable photographic works that demonstrate the influence of this relationship are Tire Tube Communication: Mama and Son 1995, Art Mama: Small Mama Big Shoes 1997, Art Mama: Big Box 1997, Art Mama: Mama And Me Passport Photo Box 1999-2000. Through the black and white series Art Mama + Son 2005, is the revealing of an extraordinary interdependence and commitment.
The daily development of a growing intimacy in the wake of his mother’s advancing illness and debility, Tatsumi Orimoto’s desire to include her either directly or indirectly in all his artistic practice shapes the commitment the artist has to all forms of inclusion and human interactions. In other words Mama is both a living participant and a fulcrum by which the artist foregrounds what it is to be human, negotiating what is important in terms of dependency and challenging the homogenous tendencies and similitude of globalisation. It is a critique that stresses the importance of direct and open communication suggesting that this serves as fundamental to human relations. Indeed the artist has repeated, this aspect of his work is driven by the need for continuous open communication.
Image: Ghost Dolls © Tatsumi Orimoto
In the last few years these platforms have been considerably extended from a basic position and set of relational building blocks, including bread, oil drum cans, Paper mache shoes and other sundry objects. Thus the performance language of these objects, including his recent Finger Dolls takes on a site specificity that dialogues with the place it has occurred, extensively through Europe and Asia.
Image: Dirty Dolls © Tatsumi Orimoto
Still to be discussed are the artist’s drawings which serve as a distinct counterpoint to his actions and performance work, created over many years they are images of intense personal anguish and interiority. Reminiscent in some respect to the properties of Art Brut, but a fantastical world of cathartic expression and exorcised anxiety emerges. The apparent joy in the communication of performances and actions in the artist’s outer life is derived from the expense of a high emotional cost. While Art Mama Diary is a record of Tatsumi Orimoto’s commitment, to people and the World, his drawings are a record of the price paid for a desire to establish meaningful forms of positive communications. It is ever the way, that open commitment to social inclusion always weighs heavily upon the needs of an inner self.
Image: Changing Diapers © Tatsumi Orimoto
Dr Mark Gisbourne is an art historian, curator and critic, formally a Tutor and Lecturer at The Courtauld Institute and Slade School Of Fine Art, as well at Sotherby’s Institute. He is a member of the Editorial Advisory Board and correspondent for art.es in Berlin.
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