From Carrying to Caring

PAST & NOW – a retrospective of Tatsumi Orimoto

PAST & NOW is the title of the retrospective of Tatsumi Orimoto organized by the Onomichi City Museum of Art (Hiroshima) from August 4th to September 16th. It honors one of the most active performance artists of Japan who has been traveling and showing his work in four continents since 1982.

The curators of the show and authors of the catalogue Noritoshi Motoda and Shinji Umebajashi enrol Orimoto’s work in 6 chapters.

The earliest works consisted of metal-bracelets and -tags which Orimoto attached to arms and clipped to ears of people – single or groups – he photographed in Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, Australia and Japan.


In the 1980s Orimoto attracted attention by carrying-events, in which he carried bread, carton-boxes, a chimney, a tire-tube and other things alone or with somebody in various ways. This type of performance is still going on until today, when he carries a rabbit, a duck or a baby-pig, which are part of his performances with animals.

Tatsumi Orimoto: Carrying a Baby Pig on my Back, Juni 13, 2012, Poster (c) ART-MAMA Foundation

Bread-Man, which made him famous worldwide, developed out of carrying bread. Without a container Orimoto attached a loaf of bread or a number of different types of bread onto his face or around his head. Covered by this strange type of mask he performed not only in museums, but also in hospitals, stations and even in trains and boats. In public places and streets he often gathered large groups of people who formed surreal processions.


His father’s death forced Orimoto to take care of his mother who suffered from depression and Alzheimer. From 1996 on he created and documented numerous performances and events including “Art-Mama” as well as neighbors and friends within the domestic situation. After participating in the 49th Venice Biennale in 2001 he took the chance to expand these events with public lunches and gatherings of up to 500 grandmothers (Convent of Sao Bento de Castris, Evora, Portugal) in international locations and museums from Brazil to Denmark.

Last but not least the exhibition presented hundreds of his watercolors and pencil-drawings, which he created alongside of his performances especially while planning art-events, traveling and having his beer in the evening.

Everybody who likes the work of Orimoto or looks for an opportunity to get in touch with it should not miss this catalogue. Thoughtfully chosen examples of his work and shoots from the exhibition give an excellent overview on his work.

The catalogue is available at the ONOMICHI CITY MUSEUM OF ART, 17-19 Nishitsuchido-Cho, Onomichi-shi, Hiroshima 722-0032, Japan; please call for details!  Tel: 0081 (0) 849-23-2281 Fax: 0081 (0) 849-20-1682

Art-Mama of Life-Art died

One of the longest experiments Life-Art came to an end Thursday, May 25th 2017. Odai Orimoto, better known as “Art-Mama”, died at the age of 98 in Kawasaki-City. She has become part of the art-world, since Japanese Fluxus-Artist Tatsumi Orimoto included her in his Life-Art in 1996 and launched photoprints of “Tire-Tube-Communication” showing Odai with neighbors in her garden and in her living room.[1] It seemed slightly disturbing to the audience, to see three old ladies with tires as necklaces, and later also “Art-Mama”

Small Mama + Big Shoes, Kawasaki 1997, Courtesy of the artist

with gigantic custom-made shoes. But Orimoto’s work is about the burden of getting old and feeling one’s body as a weight, which becomes heavier and heavier every year. These aspects of the mature body, which have never been reflected by Body Art were introduced by Tatsumi Orimoto for the first time in art history. He started this unique artistic collaboration with his mother who was suffering from depression and Alzheimer’s disease and it lasted for 21 years. The whole artistic production of that period was labelled “Art-Mama” and focuses on the aesthetic implications of the growing number of elderly people in many contemporary societies. Beside the physical self-awareness it deals with the shrinking field of vision, deteriorated hearing and haptic sensations.

The last time, that Odai appeared in a public performance, was at a lunch for 50 grandmas in the Kawasaki-City-Museum in 2006. After that Orimoto spent more and more time taking care for his mother. Nevertheless he travelled in Japan and abroad, to show his new work (see several articles in this blog – just tick on Orimoto, Art-Mama and other key-words of this article like artist’s mothers) which he produced at home including his mother as usual and experimenting with new objects and tools related to his care-taking like diapers and wheelchairs.

The Stress with the Wheelchair, Kawasaki-City 2012, courtesy of the artist

Last year Orimoto appeared as a woman’s drag as “Art-Mama” by himself. Here he investigates the field of similarity and imitation not only of facial expression but also on body-language and habits as a topic in the arts.

[1] The first European shows of this series was realized by Aktionsgalerie in Berlin in 1999 and Fotogalerie Wien in April 2000 (Catalogue # 160, Vienna 2000)

Time-Pieces of „Bread-Man“

Performance: Clock-Men, Tokyo 1991, courtesy of the artist

One of Tatsumi Orimoto‘s photo-performances shows him and his friend Shobara with big clocks, wrapped in card-board and attached to their heads. This action represents time as a challenge to art and life and relates to Orimoto’s back-ground in FLUXUS, when he was participating in the Clock Show in Clock Tower in Manhattan in 1974. The affection of Orimoto’s art for life and time has stayed as strong as ever until today. The Plate-Clock-Objects of 1971 combining the running of time and the supply with food became a paradigm of his life, whose main artistic issues are bread and his life as a son, who takes care of his mother. She has been suffering from depression and Alzheimer for more than 20 years. Performances titled “Bread-Man-Son and Alzheimer-Mama” refer to this.

Tatsumi Orimoto, Performances and Events in Copenhagen, Aug. 2016, courtesy of the artist

Every year Orimoto issues an edition of posters and folders of his performances of the past year. Since his mother has become too old – she is 98 now – to perform with Orimoto-san in museums and galleries, the artist has been looking for ways of compensating for her appearance by photo-performances at home or by transforming himself into Art-Mama. “I Make Up And Become ART-MAMA” was performed November 13, 2016 at Aoyama/Meguro, Tokyo.

Orimoto: I Make Up And Become ART-MAMA, Nov. 13, 2016, Aoyama / Meguro, Tokyo, courtesy of the artist