Issue #176
Have Gun Will Travel October 14, 2011

Mika Tajima
The Architect’s Garden (installation view)
Courtesy of the artist
Photo credit: Sandy Carson

Interview: Mika Tajima

by Katie Geha

New York based artist, Mika Tajima came to Austin in September to install her exhibition The Architect’s Garden at the Visual Arts Center. I toured the gallery with her after it opened. In this interview, Tajima discusses objects and the performances they dictate, facades as modes of determination, and Richard Linklater’s iconic Austin film, Slacker.

Katie Geha [KG]: Can you discuss some of the general ideas behind this project?

Mika Tajima [MT]: When I started thinking about my installation at the Visual Arts Center, I had just come off a collaborative project with Charles Atlas and New Humans in London. I really think about that project leading into this one.

The London project investigated the politics of walking as well as film production as performance. The result of that show was the footage that we amassed over the exhibition period. So the video that is projected at the Visual Arts Center is a montage made up of the various types of walking which links it back to this show in thinking about how spaces are shaped for human interaction, motion and behavior. Because the gallery is in a University setting and nestled in-between classrooms, I wanted to think about it as a transitory space, where students are flowing in and out of or passing in front of the large windows that look into the gallery. I think about the “performance” in this space more as a type of detour, an accidental activity that was not intended. I wanted this project to be site specific so I was also thinking about refusal and the idea of the slacker as a mode of self-determined, passive refusal.

KG: It’s similar to the way people create a pathway just by continually walking through it.

MT: Yes, exactly.

KG: How do the objects in the space relate to the performative aspects of your practice? Are they backdrops? Props?

MT: The performance aspect is contingent on the visual work. They are demonstrations of what these spaces can be. It is set up like the way that an architect creates the garden or space, but allows for performative slippages. Maybe people will be sleeping under the stairwell, or kids are going to smoke pot behind the bushes. I always start with the objects as a skeleton, so that they’re shaping any kind of activity, whatever that might be—film or making music or walking through a space.

KG: So what about the objects in this space? Why scaffolding?

MT: I’m interested in the tension between the structure, the support, and the surface—what is in service of another part or what becomes secondary to the other. I was thinking about it in relation to film scenery—that there are a lot of dimensional images that create the scenery but it turns out that these are just surfaces and there is this entire architecture holding these trompe-l’oeil backdrops. Like in a Jacques Tati film, there appear to be huge buildings but when the camera pans around, you see that they are just large pictures pasted onto structures. This all led me to scaffolding—a symbol of a site in development or a temporary skin for a modern ruin: things that are half-built.

KG: What about the paintings?

MT: For the Plexiglas paintings, I was thinking about painting registering as décor, as sinking into the background, or as just another tool for the architect. In a way, they are not paintings at all, they are just shells of a painting, or, a painting encased in a clear form. I’ve installed them in a grid pattern on the wall to create the visual logic of a showroom and titled the series Furniture Art, which references Eric Satie’s Furniture Music. I was thinking about ambient music and how it sinks into the background and I liked the idea of aural décor in relation to visual or workspace décor.

I’d call this a painting show, albeit a kind of weird version of it as the objects are constantly trying to skirt this normative understanding of painting. Some of the paintings are signboards (they’re not on the wall and post information of other events or information), and these others look like paintings but they’re actually Plexiglas.

KG: You reference a lot of film in your work—Godard or Linklater. How does film relate to your sculptural practice?

MT: I like the metaphor of film and the process of making a film. The film-making process is demonstrating different possibilities of spaces and objects. The film Slacker, for instance, is defined by its use of Austin as a very specific visual backdrop, creating a new psychogeography of the city.

KG: Film is also projected onto another surface, a flat thing. And I think you might like flat things.

MT: I do, I do. I also like how there are all these things that reveal their structures. In the video, you see the backdrop but you also see the structure that holds it up. So it’s constantly revealing the surface of things.

KG: How does Slacker relate to this installation specifically?

MT: The film is really used in this installation as an idea rather than as a formal visual element. My hope is that the work in the installation is constantly presenting itself in a circuitous way; that there is never just one possibility or singular space. I was also considering the mode of the slacker as being part of the legacy of the French Situationists or the early 20th century flâneur—this idea of a passive refusal that relates to the monochrome; a major theme in the exhibition that represents another form of refusal. Maybe the monochrome is painting’s response to Slacker, which I think is really very funny. 

Katie Geha is a Ph.D. candidate in art history at the University of Texas at Austin.

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