Miwa Yanagi: Giappone @ Venezia (2)


Now that it is over, and Miwa Yanagi has made a welcoming return home to her native Kansai and an appreciative public in Japan, it is worth pondering a bit on the ambivalent reception of her work in western circles. Seeing her transformation of the Takamasa Yoshizaka designed Japanese Pavilion into a temporary black, membrane-like “tent” full of epic oversized photos of her mythical “Windswept Women”, was one of my priorities at Venice this year. I was not disappointed. I found the show, curated by Hiroshi Minamishima, an impressive and confident statement of her vision, all the more so that there was nothing like this kind of figurative yet allegorical and highly literary work anywhere else at the Biennale.

Yet, while on the road in the US and Europe, I have been asking around to curators and art writers what they thought of the show, and the almost universal reaction has been bafflement, distaste, and (for some) amused incredulity at what Yanagi presented. Her style is so far out of the mainstream of global art today – with its emphasis on either cynical kitsch, self-reflexive conceptuality, or politically correct social commentary about “developing” countries – that it seems many just wrote off the work. It was, they were suggesting, yet another esoteric, excessively aesthetic, typically apolitical “Japanese” style work, chosen by curators out of touch with the basic narrative of global art. There was nothing to be said “theoretically” or “politically” about this work; it traded in unfashionable references to beauty, ugliness, and emotion. Hence there was no value to it. One or two even seemed quite embarrassed for Japan – at how “out of touch” its curators and artists are.

Yanagi, of course, is not unknown internationally. She has in fact had a quite strong international profile for over a decade, and has been successfully marketed in elite circles of global art dealing and the art media. She is not a Japanese “unknown”. But you could see that her new work has upset curators and writers who had confidently pigeonholed her work as fitting perfectly their post-feminist discourses about the representation of Asian women, which allow them to raise the usual orientalist political questions about the place of women in Japanese society in the mirror of Western expectations. What suddenly were these wild female forms dancing nakedly in some mythological space, far from the historical material world or socio-economic contexts; these “old girls” with their haggard breasts, crazed eyes, and incomprehensible witches’ rituals?

Yanagi’s success in the past lies in the ease in which her work has generated academic discourse. She is a favourite of Japanese cultural studies, and her images are often used to introduce other social and political themes about gender and sexuality in Japan. The artist herself has also been markedly “un-Japanese” in her willingness to provide extensive artistic commentaries and theorisations about her own work, and its relation to femininity, motherhood, gender relations, memory or the inner world of Japanese childhood. Western writes accordingly loved her Elevator Girls: those typical blank and beautiful Japanese mannequins, that played up to every stereotype of Japanese femininity, hooked into fetishism for Asian women, and traded on the Western image of Japan as a gleaming and surreal high tech consumer utopia. These were the very same elements that enabled Jeffrey Deitch to take Mariko Mori’s quite simple visual ideas and transport her to world wide fame in the mid 1990s.

Yanagi followed this line, and both she and Mori fell nicely into the slipstream of feminist and identity discourses that was then surrounding the work of Cindy Sherman, Nan Goldin, Anna Gaskell and others, and which was such a massive source of academic debate in the 1990s. There was also the attendant boom in art photography on the commercial market. It made perfect sense that Yanagi was discovered in Kyoto by Yasumasa Morimura, and that he too had ridden to fame on the same trends. Important corporate buyers and museums in Europe stated to buy Yanagi’s work, alongside or as a cheaper alternative to Mori’s. Like Mori, too, the fact that Yanagi was a young, good looking and marketable woman, who had emerged somehow from outside the regular art school and art dealer system, was a great advantage in helping her break through to the global level.

Unlike Mori, though, Yanagi has got more interesting as she has matured. The My Grandmothers series was just as academically satisfying for those wishing to project gender theory, but it was also an aesthetic triumph: a clever idea, transformed into stunningly staged photos and moving poetry; another deserved hit. The Fairy Tales series too – which was bizarrely missing from the Venice show, despite it being announced – mixed a winning cocktail of the cute and grotesque. The hint of modern adult darkness in reflected, but warped Victorian fairy tales is, of course, a familiar trope in Japanese contemporary sub-culture, and another great selling point in the West’s selective consumption of contemporary Japan. Had these photos been shown in Venice it would have soothed reactions and made it more popular. But they would certainly have distracted attention from the uncomfortably intimidating Amazonian portraits at the dark heart of the tent. There is a feminist or post-feminist discussion to be had about these bold and brave photographic works. But you can see that the critics and curators have decided to avoid this squeamish terrain, and opted instead to focus elsewhere on much more easily understood representations of “third world” countries, where artists are still doing what they “should” be doing: offering alarming images of “resistance” and “freedom”, fit for western narratives about the developing or underdeveloped “others” in the world, and their inherent oppression and suffering.

There was no sign at the Japanese pavilion of the current trend at Venice of using national pavilions for “post-national” or “cosmopolitan” shows. The Japan Foundation ought to consider breaking its nationalist mould in future, say, by putting on some non-Japanese artists. There is something interesting nevertheless about the old fashion nation-by-nation expo ideal at Venice, since it is actually more interesting to see a hundred particularist versions of the contemporary and global – coming from different countries around the globe – rather than being stuck with one curator’s limited perspective, falsely sold as a “global” overview. That was the main problem with this year’s director Daniel Birnbaum’s show, and his rather disappointing Making Worlds presentation.

The scale of Venice, though, defies any attempt to go round the world in a couple of days. I didn’t make it to many of the pavilions and even missed obvious highlights like Bruce Nauman (USA) or Steve McQueen (UK). I enjoyed the black humoured and sarcastic “The Collectors” show by the Nordic countries, and thought that both China and Turkey delivered strong presentations – although both chose highly conceptual art much more in line with global academic and curatorial discourse. It was also great to see Yoko Ono and Gutai represented (see my blog of 2009/10/31). One of my favourite things at Venice came from an unlikely source. In the secondary Australia show, Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro, who always work with recycled junk, had built a mysterious black plastic block of old discarded VHS video cassettes of 80s movies from bygone era, in the middle of a classic old palazzo. The audience were invited to walk around and ponder its mystery like the Neanderthal men at the start of the film 2001 A Space Odyssey. However, it is not difficult to fit this work into the emerging global debates on environmentally aware, sustainable art. Similarly, the brilliant waterfront installation (above) – which wasn’t listed as part of the Biennale – of a global container crushing an old wooden boat, was a perfect commentary on the damage of globalisation, so much more obvious since the financial collapse last year. Over in the Giardini, though, it seems that nobody knew where to place Miwa Yanagi in their theoretical discourse.





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Miwa Yanagi: Giappone @ Venezia (2)
投稿元 : cheap christian louboutin / 2013年05月20日04:59





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