The image can distort the magic of an idea, but true magical action transcends any singular or monolithic expression. When I last profiled Jason Hirata, he was convincing people, if only for a moment, that they were part of something magical and extra-ordinary through a series of poetic, cloak-and-dagger text messages. Now his images are simulacra of Bubble Tea posters - the kind you'd see in hanging sunbleached in Vietnamese cafés and pho houses. Hirata has created worked shoots, images designed to convince you of their reality even as they betray their own artificial nature. Each one displays a number of variegated and humorously adorned vessels of what appears to be bubble tea but is actually household facsimiles with tapioca pearls. Soy sauce and milk is an incredibly unappetizing flavor combination, but it does provide a pleasing creamy light brown to simulate coffee flavor visually. The backgrounds for his posters are stock landscape images, primarily of tropical or forested locales. The boba tea floats through space and the internet, tapioca pearls suspended in reality.
Hirata was inspired by a particularly surreal bubble tea poster he viewed at a Vietnamese restaurant in the Rainier Valley. The poster depicted multiple frothy flavors of bubble tea popping out over a radioactive cerulean ocean. It was a riot of mis- and over-applied Photoshop effects, but the result was more than merely strange. The permutation of over-the-top elements on an equally stimulating background was intriguing on both a content and compositional level. Finding another hole in the real to investigate, and being unable to contact the mysterious and clearly genius person who had designed this initial poster, Hirata took on the role of the designer—trying to perfect and replicate the design ad nauseum to extract its maximum value. In this case, trying to take on the unimaginable viewpoint of some far-off and Google translated advertising employee isn’t trying to become someone else, or even some sort of institution. Hirata is purely interested in an art that transcends evaluation because of the artist—an art without an artist.
Some would interpret the recuperation of advertising imagery, whether exotic or mundane, to be a banal operation in content-less pop. But Hirata isn’t interested in some cheeky tweaking of capitalism or mass culture, he wants to access the enjoyment of a defined and arbitrary objective as a tool to further understanding and mastery. While in the gallery they are eye-catching and eccentric studies, I think the real power of the exhibition comes from the fact that Hirata will be distributing the posters to local restaurants that serve bubble tea. This proves the power of the initial inspirational poster in the Rainier Valley—the encounter with a magical object produces the conditions for further sorcery, and the art object is again a ritual and powerful mental weapon.
—Jessica Powers, a curator, writer and educator living in Seattle.
Top Image: Jason Hirata, Bubble Milk Tea, Archival Inkjet Print, 20" x 28", 2011 © photo credits: flickr.com/fencreative, flickr.com/horiavarlan, flickr.com/brostad, flickr.com/null0