Blatant Localism: Mai Ueda at The Cosmopolitan

Original at VegasChatter

Tea, Pandas And The Cosmopolitan’s Ever Bolder Art Projects

April 9, 2012 at 6:56 PM | by


The Cosmopolitan’sP3 art Studio is pushing the envelope of art and visitor participation with its latest installation. We’ve previously praised the virtues of Cosmo’s art devotion here and here, but a very bold new residency by artist Mai Ueda promises to be their most daring and quixotic yet. For the rest of April, Mai will be conducting traditional Japanese tea services — with a distinct twist. In the first event, we dressed and acted as pandas. Yes, we’ll get to that in a minute.


Still to come are tea ceremonies themed with a trip to the moon, a visit to a parallel universe and an unnamed surprise event. The first round was equally a surprise for the public with little to zero publicity, and we only by chance noticed the curious invite on the Cosmopolitan’s Twitter feed. It was enough to make us rush over there. You can now book in advance via this page. And it’s free. All you need is a willing and open mind.


Mai has a passion for creating temporary alternate worlds. But since everyone is self-aware of the situation, it isn’t totally immersive. You are obviously very conscious of your surroundings and, in this case, the temporary absurdity but it works. And, that nervous tension is clearly part of the process. Particularly when combined with Mai’s meditative approach and mesmerizing commitment to the ceremony. She is following a private internal script, but you have no instruction or knowledge where the journey and hour is going. So we sat on our padded mats and watched and followed.

This was our evening: We were told to remove our shoes, sign a guest parchment and put on a panda suit. Upon entering the ceremonial area, we were asked to not communicate in human voices and one-by-one were fed a small cookie and received tea ritually prepared and presented by the artist. It lasted about an hour. Curious? Here’s video of one of the performances. Future events will be much different.

After putting our vanity on hold for a personal overview by artists The Bumby’s, being watched by tourists while dressed as a panda induced no damage to our ego. And we’re rather proud to now be featured drinking tea on her website.


For all the strangeness of the evening — the gawpers at the windows, a couple of the participants goofing around — it still struck a chord with this writer who’s been puzzling over it for a few days.

Some notions did cross our mind. While this is a Japanese-themed piece, pandas aren’t native to Japan. Other than harajuku-cute kawaii!!, pandas don’t appear to resonate as Japanese iconography. Perhaps this is a nod to pan-Asian generalizations endemic among western culture. Certainly, you have gender issues at play in this performance.

While the tea ceremony tradition hints at subservience, it is also an act of precise personal control. There is a voyeuristic sub-plot to the proceedings. Mai videotapes the proceeding and the windows are open to The Cosmopolitan. The viewers outside, were less subdued or human-like than the participants dressed as wild, or zoo-kept, animals inside. With her back always to the visitors, the focus of the event shifts from the artist, to the spectators and your fellow travelers who have entered her world.

Another fascinating element was beyond basic instruction, zero context or background was given. It was a controlled happening. Which led us to thinking of precedent. It didn’t feel like traditional performance art. And, was more human than conceptual. Best we could come up with was 1960’s Fluxus work. And, after a Google search, that and another term which she may loathe, Neo-Fluxus, has been indeed been connected to Mai Ueda’s work.

So, long story short. We dressed as panda and had tea. But, this writer is still thinking about it. Thought provoked on the Las Vegas Strip is a rare commodity, so we highly commend and recommend it.

If you are the slightest bit intrigued, take a few moments to view the artist’s website. There are three more ceremonies to come. We’re not done ruminating on this project, and this writer will be returning for all three.

Mai Ueda’s Experimental Tea Ceremonies take place in the P3 Studio at The Cosmopolitan. Check this website for the most up to date times.

Tea Ceremony in a Parallel Universe
April 13 & 14

Tea Ceremony on the Moon
April 20 & 21

Surprise Tea Ceremony
April 27 & 28