Mika Tajima: Born 1975 in Los Angeles, California; lives in New York, New York. Howie Chen: Born 1976 in Cincinnati, Ohio; lives in New York, New York
New Humans, a collaborative founded by Mika Tajima with Howie Chen, explores the intersecting strata of sound, installation, and performance within the context of Tajima’s visual art practice. The elements making up Tajima’s projects slip from foreground sculptures to background props, staging markers, and functional structures, their status in continual transition and production. Challenging the audience’s expectations of sculpture as a static presence, Tajima combines multimedia installations with serial performance elements by New Humans including sonically spare noise music grounded in Minimal composition and evoking a post– John Cage mayhem. A constantly changing roster of collaborators from different disciplines contributes to a relentless layering of visual and aural textures, creating a discordant dialogue.
Appropriately, the web of collaboration is itself frequently the subject and object of New Humans’ cacophonous sonic, optical, and material mash-ups. The two New Humans performances that punctuated Disassociate (2007), an installation by Tajima at Elizabeth Dee Gallery in New York, were created in collaboration with poet-artist-architect Vito Acconci and violinist C. Spencer Yeh. This multilayered work responds structurally to Sympathy for the Devil (1968), Jean-Luc Godard’s closeup film documenting the Rolling Stones’ fractious, collaborative open studio sessions recorded just prior to the moment when the band’s first leader, Brian Jones, went absent from the group (and drowned shortly thereafter). Using the film as a reference point, Tajima notes, the installation and performances reflected the process of working together, with all of its contradictions, takes, trials, errors, and transparency of production.
The installation of sound-baffled modular cubicles in which New Humans performed—instruments included drums, bass, violin, and Acconci’s visceral, poetic voicing—was constructed as what Tajima calls essentially “double-sided paintings on wheels.” These screenprinted and roller-painted works, depicting diagrams for various modular structures (geometric manuals for stacking chairs and fractured schemata for building champagne glass towers), doubled as bulletin boards papered with related graphic work by Tajima and three invited artists joining the collaborative mix.
Giving visual and aural structure to the serial elements of their collaborative creation, New Humans’ time-based performances culminate, like Godard’s film, in a structure of dissolution: in the collaboration with Yeh, Tajima hurls a stack of 1960s-era Eames chairs into a tower of glass champagne flutes, simultaneously creating an instrument and sound from the obliteration as the glass smashes to the floor. It is this problematizing of expectations and formalisms through destruction and transformations that is the heart of the continuing project. TODD ALDEN
Mika Tajima / New Humans, Disassociate, 2007. Performance with Vito Acconci, Elizabeth Dee Gallery, New York, February 24, 2007