photo courtesy of the artist
Maika'i Tubbs began making art from recycled trash in New York, where he noticed trash bags piled as tall as him appearing and disappearing daily. Having earned a BFA in painting from the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa in 2002, he moved to New York for graduate studies at Parsons School of Design, where he completed an MFA in 2015. Much of his early work includes sculpture and installations with melted and repurposed plastics, whose color and sheen remain in the finished work. More recent installations include rocks made from fusions of beach plastic, cigarette butts, cardboard, plastic shopping bags, Styrofoam, and other trash materials, inspired by "plastiglomerate," an anthropogenic stone that geologists identify as a by-product of human pollution. Currently based in Brooklyn, Tubbs was born in Hawai'i, where this agglutinate marker of the current Anthropocene epoch is a startling reminder of man's impact on the environment, especially where it is found accumulating in coastal areas such as Kamilo Beach on the island of Hawai'i and Kahuku Beach on O'ahu.
Seductive and conceptually challenging, Tubbs's work confronts us with our complicity as consumers in cycles of waste and overconsumption. It also reminds us of the necessity to unlock creative potential to solve some of the problems that confront us today. His work has been represented in numerous national and international shows and is featured in permanent collections of the Landesmuseum Hannover in Germany, the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, the Honolulu Museum of Art, and the Hawai'i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, State of Hawai'i Permanent Collection. For more information, please see maikaitubbs.com.
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Written in Stone (installation and detail views), by Maika'i Tubbs, 2016.
Twenty-four books, 4' x 4' x 1'. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Tubbs asks, "Are books the literary equivalent of cassette tapes in the digital age, or will their tactile qualities save them from extinction?" Each stone in this work is made from two books collected on New York City curbsides. One book and knowledge source is obliterated to encase and protect the pulped remains of another, creating metaphorical summations of the originals—hybrids that lure the curious into discovering what lies within the hidden pages. Sheets of text protrude through the stone, reminding us of their origins and pointing to the evolution of our changing environment.
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Erasure (detail), by Maika'i Tubbs, 2008.
Audiocassette magnetic tape and casings, wire, 13' x 6' x 1.5'. Photo by Shuzo Uemoto.
This sculpture installation comprises sixteen 'ō'ō birds (black honey-eater, Moho nobilis), woven out of magnetic tape sitting on branches made from audiocassette tape casing. Yellow 'ō'ō feathers were used in traditional Native Hawaiian capes until predation by introduced animals and loss to diseases following Western contact led to the species' extinction. Each bird in the installation unravels into a pile of tape below with a tiny magnet attached to the end. The magnets are small and unassuming, like the first mosquitoes brought to the islands, but they also have the potential to slowly erase the magnetic tape, leaving no data behind.
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Next Show in Fifteen Minutes, by Maika'i Tubbs, 2008.
The Hawaiians (1970 book by authors Gavan Daws and Ed Sheehan and photographer Robert B Goodman), 15" x 10" x 8". Photo courtesy of the artist.
Next Show in Fifteen Minutes is a performance that looks at stereo typical depictions of Native Hawaiians and expectations sometimes placed on them to perform "on command." In this performance, Tubbs picks up a book from a pedestal, opens it, and folds the pages into a circus tent while singing in Hawaiian. He then unfolds the pages, closes the book, and repeats the performance after fifteen minutes.
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At Your Disposal (installation detail), by Maika'i Tubbs, 2009.
Plastic forks, spoons, knives, 9...