The woven prints featured in Mika Tajima’s latest show, Negative Entropy, look like their creator yanked her canvas out from beneath a tablecloth of sand. Some prints are violent, with sharply skewed lateral mountains of thread. Others are subtler; their smooth gradients reflect the slow passage of time—a soft murmuring. But these tapestries are more than handwoven prints reminiscent of Rothko or Newman. They are the sounds of manufacturing, woven by the very Jacquard looms whose dying days Tajima is hoping to record.
Today, numerous cities house the forgotten ruins of the textile industry that long defined nineteenth- and twentieth-century wage work. These decaying riverside clusters of industrial-revolution identity sit idly—and die quietly—as freeway office parks and downtown towers transform contemporary work culture.
At several manufacturing areas throughout Pennsylvania’s once-booming industrial regions, Tajima recorded the sounds of production—giving purposeful voice to the once mundane drone of machines. Transmuting these recordings into digital image files, she then worked with a weaving designer to physically translate the images into a Jacquard fabric.
Recorded at textile factories as well as data centers, Tajima’s Jacquard translations not only give voice to the transient, but also to obsolescence; the looms weave their own dying lament—lost is the mechanical clatter of the machine-room floor, now replaced by the steady hum of cold server rooms. This act of silencing is reinforced by Tajima’s decision to stretch the fabric onto acoustic baffling felt—material applied to the walls and ceilings of buildings to absorb sound energy and reduce reverberation.
The loom—fixed at 27 inches in height and 54 inches in width—produces either single or “quad” representations of its recordings. In the latter case, this limitation’s resulting quadtych (seen above) seamlessly blends the repeating image, thereby capturing the repetitive rhythm of the manufacturing floor.
Tajima’s woven prints were made in collaboration with The Fabric Workshop as a part of the Artist-in-Residence Program. Using the same methodology as Negative Entropy, she hopes to extend the series to record the voices of various “translators”—in the loosest sense of the word.