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Tatsumi Orimoto - Live In Translation

Updated: Sep 12, 2023


Tatsumi Orimoto

Live In Translation

The Exchange

Princess Street

TR18 2NL

September 2010


Japanese artist Tatsumi Orimoto surprised shoppers in Penzance when he made one of his famous Breadman performances in the town. Central to this performance is his use of bread, as Orimoto and other participants become living sculptures. Their heads and faces are covered with bundles of baguettes which are then tied with string. Onlookers stopped and stared as Orimoto led his band of assistants through the town centre. Starting at The Exchange Gallery, the Breadman will led a tour of tourist sites through the centre of Penzance, stopping for photo opportunities and offering bread to the public.


The use of bread is multi-layered, with associations ranging from its function as a staple of the western diet, to connotations of consumerism and poverty, or its meaning in Christian iconography as an emblem of sharing on the one hand and sacrifice on the other. The focus of his exhibition at the Newlyn Exchange Gallery, Penzance 'Live in Translation' is the work made in partnership with his mother, Art Mama, who he has nursed full-time since she developed Alzheimer's.


The exhibition features video, performance and photographic works from his archive such as, Bread Man with Mama, Art Mama: Big Shoes, and Mama in the Box, which span from the 1980s to the present. The Art Mama series documents the physical and mental decline of his mother, Odei. The artist lives and works with his mother in Kawasaki City, Japan.


Julia Waugh


Japanese artist Tatsumi Orimoto surprised shoppers in Penzance when he made one of his famous Breadman performances in the town.

Central to this performance is his use of bread, as Orimoto and other participants become living sculptures.

Their heads and faces are covered with bundles of baguettes which are then tied with string.

Onlookers stopped and stared as Orimoto led his band of assistants through the town centre

Starting at The Exchange Gallery, the Breadman will led a tour of tourist sites through the centre of Penzance, stopping for photo opportunities and offering bread to the public.

The use of bread is multi-layered, with associations ranging from its function as a staple of the western diet, to connotations of consumerism and poverty, or its meaning in Christian iconography as an emblem of sharing on the one hand and sacrifice on the other.

The focus of his exhibition at the Newlyn Exchange Gallery, Penzance 'Live in Translation' is the work made in partnership with his mother, Art Mama, who he has nursed full-time since she developed Alzheimer's.

The exhibition features video, performance and photographic works from his archive such as, Bread Man with Mama, Art Mama: Big Shoes, and Mama in the Box, which span from the 1980s to the present. =


Crumbs! Breadman toasts Penzance - The Cornishman


AMUSED AND AMAZED, Saturday morning shoppers in Penzance stood and stared as the Japanese performance artist Tatsumi "Breadman" Orimoto and his small army of volunteer "bread men and women" emerged from The Exchange and went walkabout through the centre of the town.


Living sculptures, with heads and faces covered with string-tied bundles of bread rolls, many of them donated by local bakers W T Warren & Son, they evoked comments ranging from "What are they doing?" to "I wouldn't have missed this for the world".


Adding perhaps, as someone suggested, yet another dimension to the town's folk lore, they were, in fact, part of the artist's Breadman performance in which he uses bread to emphasise its various roles, pardon the pun, from "its function as a staple of the western diet, to connotations of consumerism and poverty, or its meaning in Christian iconography as an emblem of sharing on the one hand and sacrifice on the other".


When presented recently by A Foundation in Liverpool his Breadman performance was watched by ten people, it says much for the art audience in Penzance that it was watched here by well over 100.


Just what his audience figures would have been if the artist had been aware of the pasty being the staple diet rather than bread in this part of the world, and had dressed his followers accordingly, is anybody's guess.


Born in Kawasaki City, an artist who quite cheerfully admits to having failed the entrance exam to Tokyo University no less than seven times, in the 1960s he left Japan for the USA where he gained entry to the Institute of Art in California.


"It has such nice weather, warm, hardly raining, and I only wore one T-shirt with a pair of trousers."


However, as happy as he was in the sunshine state, he began to feel that despite the good weather, a place without much energy in life could not produce art and, following the advice of one of his lecturers, he left California for New York where he became an assistant to Nam June Paik and part of the Fluxus art movement.


A pioneer of performance for camera and one whose work is centred around the theme of communication, since then he has gained international acclaim for "his comical and tender performances" and through his Breadman persona has been featured in a number of Biennales from Sydney to Sao Paolo, Venice to Yokohama.


While he can be light-hearted, there is a serious side to his work, the focus of Live In Translation, for instance, is the work he has made in partnership with his mother, Art Mama, who is now 91 and who he has nursed full-time since she developed Alzheimer's.


Documenting the physical and mental decline of his mother most movingly, his Art Moma series provides a look at the ways in which the artist has taken a universal issue which affects the whole of society and turned it into an inspiration for an on-going portrait of our relationship to self-image and the process of ageing. - Cornwalllive


Letter in the ‘Cornishman’ newspaper July 29th 2010


Breadman - walking around obscuring your face with twine and bread is not art

Having been actively involved with the arts all my life I value culture very highly.

I never thought I’d ever write a letter of this nature but I resent contributing via my tax bill to activities such as the stupendously crass “Breadman” event recently staged by the Exchange Gallery in Penzance, which involved a Japanese walking with his face obscured behind a tangle of twine and French bread. In a bewildering display of sheep-like behaviour a small number of local people were apparently persuaded to join in.


In the current economic climate I question the very existence of an organisation such as the Exchange which promotes such idiocy for serious consideration by the public. There are all sorts of other questionable purposes to which our taxes are put such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but at least in these instances there are substantial arguments for and against. In the case of “Breadman” there can be no debate beyond the fact that it presumably provides gainful work for people who would be much better employed doing something actually useful elsewhere.


Your respected art critic Frank Rurhmund always tries to write something positive or constructive in his reviews. However in this case he was obviously scraping the barrel: the idea that this sort of activity had anything helpful to contribute to the problem of Alzheimer’s is at best patronising and at worst insulting to sufferers of this tragic disease and their loved ones as swell as the more general public.


We have been told, and will no doubt be told again that it is “thought provoking”, in the tradition of the “absurd” or Dada-ist art, surreal, etc. Not only is it not art, but there must be many less costly and more effective ways to promote a genuine debate about Alzheimer’s and its devastating social and personal consequences. If nothing else, it would have been preferable to donate the resources devoted to this deplorable and dim-witted event direct to the Alzheimers research Trust. - G. Hewitt Newlyn


Letter in the ‘Cornishman’ newspaper August 5th 2010


Genius of the Breadman



Regarding last weeks letter from G Hewitt of Newlyn criticising the Breadman event at the Exchange Gallery, I feel that I must defend all those involved in this venture and congratulate them on having the courage and vision in promoting such a wonderful and cutting edge example of contemporary art!


Sadly it is all too common in these cynical times for such ground breaking work to be scorned and condemned as being “arty farty”, pretentious, a waste of money etc. and for the integrity of both artist and promoter to be questioned.


Concerning the work in question by the world renowned “Fluxist”, Tatsumi Orimoto, do these neo-philistines not appreciate the time, money and effort that went into firstly acquiring the materials (French loaves and a ball of string), and secondly the patience, care and precision involved in arranging said materials on the gentleman’s head? It is easy to mock visionaries such as Mr Orimoto, but have these folk the wit and imagination to do better? By placing everyday objects on his cranium, the artist has created a brilliantly iconic (and ironic!) image which metaphorically draws our attention to modern day angst and uncertainty through surreal juxtaposition; the bread obviously represents man’s material greed, and the string holding it on his head his attachment/enslavement to the same.


Indeed, so inspired have I been by this genre-defining work, that I will shortly be displaying my own “homage” to his genius which at present is a work in progress.


It involves myself seated on a papier-mâché throne in the shape of a Cornish Pasty with an ice cream cone crown on my head and a seagull on each shoulder. I shall be draped with a cloak fashioned out of old fishing nets and once complete I intend to seat myself at the top of Market Jew St. by Lloyds bank to be admired by all who pass - the working title is “The Emperors New Clothes” - Chris Mundy Penzance




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