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But there is a theme that runs through this “film“ and through many of his recent works: tails. He says this very earnestly, the way other artists talk about the reprivatization of memories, of the politics of the body or post-figurative strategies for painting. Ochiai talks about tails – bushy, striped, wagging tails; about the black and white skunk tail, or the violin case the girl in his “film” carries on her back, and how much this violin case reminds him of a tail. “I love the unnecessary; things one doesn’t really need,” he says, and for a moment, he doesn’t seem tired anymore. Ochiai is smiling now. “Like this little scratchy sound in the music. It’s actually totally superfluous. For me it’s the most important part of the music. Or August! No one needs August, nothing important happens, everyone’s on vacation and just hangs around, but for me it’s the decisive month.” He stands up and comes back with a calendar on which he has listed the days of August – and only the days of August – until the year 2049. “Tails are like that: if you have to, you can cut them off, like with dogs. They’re not really important,” he says and lays a clay tail in his lap – an edition he made for his last exhibition in Tokyo. He says quietly, “It’s called Tail Tale.”

Tam Ochiai in his studio,
Photo: Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin


Tam Ochiai’s scrapbook psychedelia is effective: the longer you listen to his sparse explanations, the more you feel as if you’re sleepwalking through one of his pictures, lost in reverie and timelessness, like one of the child-women who look down from his paintings with melancholy eyes – unless they have fallen unconscious.


Tam Ochiai, 2005,
Photo: Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin


If it were to rain cats from the ceiling of his studio, one would be only slightly surprised. Ochiai says that cats were the heroes of his first book, also called Tail Tale, which is so far only available in Japanese. It’s about two cats who sit in a café and stuff themselves full of eclairs, gugelhupfs, chocolate croissants, Black Forest cake and other “superfluous” things, while discussing the latest trends in tails. “So, what’s the fashionable tail this season?” is a central question but all his detailed descriptions of colours could make a painting themselves.

About a litre of Entre Deux Mers wine later, we’re sitting in Ochiai’s favorite bar, the Pink Pony, where the waiters seem to neither recognize nor understand him. He sits silently and looks at the people who assure each other that they all look especially great on this day. Apropos of nothing, he says he feels a bit like Kafka: “Isn’t it crazy to live in Prague and speak German?” Tam Ochiai has grown even quieter. He watches and says nothing, until he suddenly exclaims, pointing at a boy who’s just sitting down, “That shirt up there – it makes me want to go home and paint. Look at how the blue and white stripes contrast with the brown sweater of the girl behind him.” Later, outside, the bill has been paid, and he’s not going home after all. The boredom doesn’t seem great enough yet, and the studio will have to wait. Ochiai says he wants to walk now, just walk.


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