Research - Tomoko Takahashi - Appreciating the overwhelming everyday. / by Ally McGinn

Japanese born installation artist shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 2000. Tomoko Takahashi creates large scale installations over-filled with everyday objects. Presenting the viewer with a massive array of relational connections that form an overwhelming whole.

The works are a chaotic archive of everyday life, and the overwhelming reality of the cycle of production and consumption.


Takahashi’s work is reliant on the retrieval and re-presentation of existing objects and materials. In 1997 she created a piece that was both performance and installation. ‘Company Deal’ saw a marketing office in London flooded with six weeks of it's own rubbish. Creating a chaotic tableau of obsolete office equipment, take out boxes and reams of redacted documents.

Tomoko Takahashi (1998-2010) Introspective Retrospective Installation detail.

Tomoko Takahashi (1998-2010) Introspective Retrospective Installation detail.

Recording texts of her work on the installations are a recurring part of her work. This form of documentary presentation is something i have been exploring in my practice recently.


She gained recognition when she won the EAST award at EASTinternational in 1997. At the Norwich school of Art and Design, she created ‘Leftovers from the Painting Department’ and ‘Storage for the Painting Department’. As part of an exhibition of her work at this time, she created an installation in a room usually used for storage.

The surprise of coming across this piece, in an unexpected location, is something I find utterly fascinating. A work that is clear in an art gallery comes to rely on it's nomination in another setting.

A painting shown in the storage space remains a painting, yet showing everyday objects becomes more insubstantial.

The pieces were composed of the items found, and left, in the storage rooms, (including; cigarette butts, buckets of paint, easels, canvas, furniture, and lockers) organised through Takahashi’s internal filter. The inclusion of elements of artistic practice is what most draws me to her work, although the cluttered inclusion of anything, and everything, is personally interesting as well.

The inclusion of anything, however apparent, as potential material highlights an interesting quirk of human perception. That we can shift our understanding of an object, and its value, through it's nomination as art.

Takahashi uses refuse as her medium and message. Each piece is triggered by her response to a site or situation. The installations fill the space and work with the natural (or unnatural) features of the gallery space. Arranged by an internal logic Takahashi composes and then imposes a new form of order on both the objects and the space they occupy.

"Many of my works are based on, and [are] strongly influenced by the venue where the work takes place. The intention here is to encapsulate the activity of the people who inhabit that space, often through objects which are left behind by them. For me, each place has its own natural music which is pre-composed by those inhabitants." (Preece, 1998 : 24)

Tomoko Takahashi (2000) Desk-Top Garden Sculpture.

Tomoko Takahashi (2000) Desk-Top Garden Sculpture.

In this way Takahashi has a relationship with the space, the works are site-specific.

My works have a shared element of site-specificity, in the ideal situation I would be able to spend time in a space before choosing and installing an artwork. In many ways an artwork is unfinished until it finds a space in which to exist.

They are potential artworks, and artistic exercises, until then.


Takahashi cites music as a key inspiration in her practice. "I compose and conduct my whole installation to make visual music………I always aspire to achieve such a world through my artworks. However, in my art practice, all the work is engaged through purely visual perception.” (Preece, 1998 : 25)

In 1998 Takahashi responded to a new space by developing a show that incorporated information and objects involved in the renovation of that space; The Tabernacle, a community arts centre in Kensington, London.

Takahashi involves the people associated with the spaces, in this case Gill FitzHugh, The Tabarnacle’s director, who notes being ‘more aware than usual’ and felt that the work made him more aware of the building, the builders and the process of renovation. (Preece, 1998 : 25)

This shows the impact of Takahashi’s work, not only on viewers but the people who feel some sense of ownership to the space itself.

This questioning of personal space, on a personal level, is something I am very interested in.

Takahashi links herself to the space, when she can, by living in the space while working. Living on site during installation allows the artist to have a more significant connection with the materials and space, and is an integral part of her practice. Takahashi has been known to barricade herself inside the space, to enhance the connection.

According to Takahashi, "I really can’t make proposals. I have such an improvised quality that I have to tell every curator that I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m sorry." She bows her head slightly and laughs hysterically. "But could you be patient and wait until the private view day? I’m going to finish somehow." (Preece, 1998 : 27)

This is something I feel incredibly aligned with, I struggle to pre-conceptualise my work, at least with any degree of reliability.

Takahashi doesn’t only use traditional gallery spaces, including other environments as her surfaces.

Her works have inspired some brilliant headlines in British newspapers, including; “Modern Art? It’s just junk” from the Express, and “Portrait a Load of Junk” from the Daily Mail.

Takahashi creates installations that appear spontaneous and unconsidered, they hover between order and chaos, a term she encapsulates as “designer disorder”

"I feel the work is highly ordered, and I hope it is readily apparent to the viewer. Of course, it is camouflaged because I want to get closer to this relationship. The work has a face that looks chaotic, but at the end of the day it is designed to be disordered, (Preece, 1998 : 25)

Tomoko Takahashi (2007) Abstract No.1 and Abstract No.2. Installation at Hales Gallery.

Tomoko Takahashi (2007) Abstract No.1 and Abstract No.2. Installation at Hales Gallery.



Preece, R.J. (1998) ‘Tomoko Takahashi: Demystifying the remains of our time’. World Sculpture News, 4 (4): 24-27.

Steiner, R. (2005) Tomoko Takahashi. London. Serpentine Gallery.

Withers, R. (1998) Tomoko Takahashi [Online] Frieze. Available from: [Accessed 03rd March 2018].


Tomoko Takahashi (2005) Rules of the Game. Installation view from the Serpentine Gallery, London.

Tomoko Takahashi (2005) Rules of the Game. Installation view from the Serpentine Gallery, London.