Two weeks ago, Maui-based artist Michael Takemoto and his wife, Rae Takemoto, were in the Contemporary Gallery working on Michael’s site-specific installation Transcendental Infestation. His medium? Rubber cockroaches and adhesive. Chatting with Michael as he determined precise roach placement, I asked him about the inspiration for the work. “I’ve worked in this medium before,” he said. “This medium,” Rae laughed, “rubber roaches and Superglue! The medium works with Michael’s personality—it’s fun, playful, and a little bizarre.”
If you saw The Biennial of Hawaii Artists 2003 at Spalding House (when it was still The Contemporary Museum), Michael’s new installation won’t surprise you. His work in that exhibition included portraits of Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush, and Kim Jong Il rendered in rubber roaches. Museum curator of contemporary art James Jensen, who curated that show, tapped Michael to do an installation for the just-opened exhibition Natural Unnatural Supernatural.
“I like to experiment with different techniques and mediums,” said Michael. “Cockroaches are so much a part of our lives, and they’re going to outlive us all.” Roaches have been on his mind since he and Rae helped their son move out of his Honolulu apartment. “It was like this, but with real roaches.”
Jensen gave Michael no restrictions. “I’m really happy that Jay gave me free rein in this space. In the creative process, it allows me to work spontaneously and intuitively—lets me explore possibilities.”
While Michael stood on a ladder placing roaches on the wall, Rae, an educator at Maui’s Pomaika‘i Elementary (the only arts-integrated public school in the state), sat on the floor making formations of roaches. The masses of the rubber insects make up a scary critter corner—Transcendental Infestation shares the space with two snakes. Come see the final result yourself. And enjoy watching people yelp as they get their first glimpse of Michael’s visual ode to uckiness.