Mika Tajima is marking the passage of time with flowers.
She’s currently several bouquets into “Energetics,” her solo exhibition at Pace gallery. Each week, the artist returns to the gallery to swap out the dead and decaying arrangement from her ikebana vase, displayed underneath UV fluorescent lighting. “While they’re dying and wilting, they’re actually giving off this uncanny kind of glow,” says Tajima of the white flowers propped inside the vase, “Three Mountains.”
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“In ikebana, the main tenet is that you can express the universe in three elements in an arrangement. So it’s heaven, earth and human — past, present, future — and that these are always transforming. The concept of transformation is in the practice itself,” says Tajima. In context of her show, the UV-aided performative piece is “also an expression of our relationship to technology,” she says. “It aids us, it’s enhancing our lives — but it’s also killing us, controlling us, influencing us.”
The exhibition, on view through Feb. 24 at the gallery’s 540 West 25th Street location, is itself a marker of the eight years since Tajima’s last solo show in New York. As suggested by the show’s title, the works on view are all centered around the study of energy transformation and the attempt to render something physical out of the abstract, including imagery from brain scans and a sculpture that encapsulates the emotional sentiment on social media from a specific day.
“What information is hidden or lost in the process of translation?” mulls Tajima, standing in front of one massive textile painting, part of her “Negative Entropy” series, the largest works on display.
The image is a portrait of an anonymous subject’s brain activity, reflecting an individual fleeting cognitive moment. Tajima collaborated with a neurosurgeon to record the output from deep brain stimulation, a surgical intervention that aims to heal areas of the brain through electrical stimulation. The procedure generates a harmonic sound, which Tajima transcribed into spectrogram images and then wove on a large scale. There’s a familiar quality to the works; she assigned colors to the images based on color trends seen in fitness apparel, a reference to performance and optimization.
“And then in front of that is this very oppositional piece,” says Tajima, walking toward the glass-enclosed pedestal situated in the center of the room. Lodged into a rose quartz crystal is a small circular disc, a “5D memory crystal.”
“It’s the most advanced way of archiving massive amounts of data very stably,” says Tajima of the material used for “Sense Object.” The data etched onto the disc is, more or less, a permanent archive: the information is stable for a billion years. In the case of “Sense Object,” that data is sentiment culled from text-based social media within the U.S. on Jan. 1, 2023. Tajima points to the 24 squares lightly etched into the translucent disc, each representing an hour of data. “That’s millions of people’s emotional data, in front of the tiniest moment of a person’s thoughts or brain activity,” she says, gesturing back toward the textile works.
While her creative process is research driven and informed by algorithmic interpretations, Tajima adds that she’s also driven by intuition. She was drawn to quartz’s piezoelectric quality, commonly used in timepieces. “It’s forged over millions of years, it comes from the Earth. The Earth is the tech, the power energy that’s forming this thing,” she adds. “There’s something very magical, mystical, scientific and technological about something that’s coming from the Earth — not unlike humans. Something very magical and mysterious about life itself.”
A suite of larger rose quartz sculptures are situated in another corner of the room, each punctured by jacuzzi jet nozzles, creating tunnels within the material reminiscent of acupressure.
Smaller woven paintings reflect communal experiences: meditation at a temple in Tokyo, and a luxury meditation spa catering to the “tech bro-y” crowd. There’s also a reading from a construction site in Yokohama and from an energy company in California working on fusion energy — the latter of which is the smallest work on view in the gallery.
“There’s a lot of temporalities and scale in the show,” she says. “We’re having all these different expressions of energy being made or harnessed or captured and produced in the show. Human energy being the biggest one.”
Later this spring, Tajima will debut another solo exhibition, “Super Natural,” at the Hill Art Foundation in May, and will be part of a group exhibition at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles opening in the fall. The solo exhibition will feature more woven paintings, including one created from the sonic output from a sound bath.
Although her work is rooted in theory and deeply connected to digital technology, it’s most salient when experienced in person. The exhibition space at Pace is scented, and the olfactory element underscores the sanctity of the physical experience, allowing visitors to appreciate the scale of her work at a visceral level outside of a screen.
“Then you can start to make that correlation between how you experience the world to: I’m an individual, I’m having this experience that nobody else could ever know, because it’s me having this experience in the world, and I’m more than just a data set,” she says. “I can feel myself being small in the world, but also the massive potential of myself in the world.”
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