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Drawing Room is a room installation. Entering through a door, the viewer is confronted with a sea of paper covering the walls and part of the ceiling. The wall to the left is less densely covered. The coverage becomes greater on the end wall and the wall to the right, culminating in piles of paper on and around a desk positioned to the right of the door. The desk also contains cigarette ends and the staple gun used to attach the paper to the walls. A chair lies on its back in front of the desk, as if knocked over. Crumpled coloured paper appears to spill off the wall onto the floor beneath the desk and chair.
Takahashi preserved all her post for the period of a year and used the personal letters, bills, faxes and junk mail as the basis for this installation, which was originally created and installed at the Drawing Center in New York in 1998. In addition to mail and personal documents, it includes used envelopes and cardboard food packaging. Every line of text on each piece of paper has been carefully obliterated with a thick black marker pen. The linguistic sense of the documents has been destroyed, but the heavy erasure marks, suggestive of an overenthusiastic censor, turn the configurations of text into abstract shapes. The obliteration of text took place prior to the first display of the work. While preparing for the exhibition at the Drawing Center, Takahashi ceremoniously read each letter and document aloud before crossing it out, sealing her past in an autobiographical ritual.
In addition to training as a fine artist, first at the Tama Art University in Tokyo and later at Goldsmiths and the Slade in London, Takahashi has a long-standing interest in ethnomusicology. The intricate conglomerations of paper in this installation create complex visual rhythms. In some parts of the room bits of paper are grouped together by colour or size. To the left of the door, documents trace a curved line across a small midsection of the wall. Further in, the installation becomes more complex as paper covers the wall more fully and extends on to the ceiling.
When the work was acquired by Tate in 2002 the artist reconstructed the installation in a rented space, using the same materials as the New York version with a few additions. She added the desk at this point. As is typical of her practice, Takahashi lived in the space while making the work. Normally she re-makes works each time they are shown, but in this case she worked with Tate Conservators and Curators to ensure that the work could be dismantled and reassembled without her direct intervention. Following her installation, a team of Tate Conservators took the work apart piece by piece, recording the constituent parts so as to be able to re-install it exactly as the artist intended each time it is shown.
Drawing Room is characteristic of Takahashi’s improvisatory working process, although the almost exclusive use of paper is unusual. Takahashi is best known for large-scale installations made in situ in various art and non-art sites. She has made work in spaces including offices, schools, a police station and a tennis court. For her site-specific works, she salvages materials particular to a venue and re-arranges them in crowded configurations that appear to have a life of their own. At first glance these installations often appear chaotic, but their underlying structure soon becomes apparent. Because her materials are often discarded or obsolete objects, it is possible to read Takahashi’s work as a critique on global consumerist excess. Although she acknowledges this aspect of her work, the artist herself is more interested in the physical properties of her materials and their symbolic and mnemonic resonances. This may be particularly true of the personal correspondence and love letters she used in Drawing Room.
Mary Horlock, Jemima Montagu and Ben Tufnell, Turner Prize 2000, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London, 2000, reproduced p.9 in colour.
Robert Preece, ‘Staging Controlled Chaos: an interview with Tomoko Takahashi’, Art Asia Pacific, no.25, 2000, pp.50-5.
Claire Bishop, ‘Tomoko Takahashi: Accumulation of Memories’, Flash Art, vol.33, no.211, March-April 2000, pp.94-5.