Morimura Yasumasa: part 2

A desire to revisit the 20th century, ascertaining something along the way

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Requiem and self-questioning, or past and future

– The final work, Gift of Sea: Raising a Flag on the Summit of the Battlefield is inspired by the iconic photo Raising the Flag on Iwojima, and wraps up the show with a question in your own voice. The entire exhibition struck me as a requiem, posing the question: what was the 20th century all about?

For me requiem means to inherit something deceased as memory, and the desire to seek connections in that memory. Questioning on the other hand looks to the future. A requiem for the past becomes a present that finds a connection, and from there one questions oneself and embarks on the next stage. In my view, connecting past, present and future in this way encourages an openness, a freedom and flexibility of thought and expression.

Gift of Sea: Raising a flag on the battlefield  2010  HDTV (color), stereo

– One could say you’ve employed photography to tackle photography; what was your ambition there?

Basically I see what I do as critical art. Certainly you could say that in the ‘Daughter of Art History’ series I did paintings about paintings, and this time, it’s photos about photos. Photos taken in the past, already existing, are in a sense deceased. So what, you might say, but when that photo first made its way into the world as a hot-off-the-wire piece of reportage, it was intimately connected to the real world and told a vivid tale. Years go by and in due course it ends up in an art museum collection as a famous shot – now well and truly dead and buried, to put it bluntly.

We may study such photos and find much of interest, but I prefer to bring them back to life as things of the present. A bit like reconstituting freeze-dried tofu and serving it up again to eat now (laughs). As one approach for doing this, I tried placing myself in the photo. Whether that makes me the hot water or the stock that gets poured on the tofu I don’t know, but in any case that’s the purpose I serve, at the same time – being the chef – seasoning it to my taste. That’s what it feels like, anyway.

Journeying between pinnacles and flatlands

Gift of Sea: Raising a flag on the battlefield  2010  HDTV (color), stereo

– Another thing that struck me about Gift of Sea is that apart from the familiar Marilyn Monroe figure, the cast is anonymous.

Initially I thought if I could string together the climactic moments that made the 20th century, the pinnacles if you like, that would cover the territory pretty well. But gradually it struck me that the vast stretches of time, great spans of human endeavor, in other, anonymous locations were just as important a theme. In the sense too, of setting out to find my own high points, after journeying through both. This occurred to me from around about the work modeled on Lenin’s speech, A Requiem: Vladimir at Night, 1920.5.5-2007.3.2. For that shot I assembled well over a hundred locals in Kamagasaki (an area employing a lot of day laborers). Having the series end up as something more than simply a parade of famous people was beneficial for me too.

A Requiem: Vladimir at Night, 1920.5.5-2007.3.2  2007  Chromogenic print

– Now the series is complete, at least for the present, what are your thoughts looking back?

My main reflection would be that naturally enough I suppose, the answers are never as clear as we’d wish. People of my generation and older can share in that era, and doubtless will find plenty to ponder. It’ll also be very interesting to see how the children of the 21st century, those born in the ’80s and ’90s, find the exhibition. In a way the questioning is actually directed at people of that age group. Not in a preachy sort of way mind you. I’m not saying, “See how rotten the 20th century was? Don’t you dare repeat that in the 21st!” (laughs). Society and the working of the media have changed, and if the 20th century was the age of the photograph, the 21st is sure to be something different. But if I may say so myself, this time I believe I’ve produced a body of work sure to invite comment of some sort from people right across the generations.

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Morimura Yasumasa
Born 1951 in Osaka. Known for a self-portrait technique using his own body to transform himself into various entities. The humor, poignancy and sense of unease running through his work, such as the ‘Daughter of Art History’ series inspired by paintings from history and gender-bending ‘Actress’ series in which he plays Hollywood stars of the past, have an extraordinary power to undermine viewers’ values. Also a prolific author whose writings include the autobiographical essay Geijutsuka M no dekiru made (Making of the artist M).

Morimura Yasumasa A Requiem: Art on top of the battlefield

11 March – 9 May 2010 (Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography)

26 June – 5 September 2010 (Toyota Municipal Museum of Art)

23 October 2010 – 10 January 2011 (Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art)

18 January – 10 April 2011 (Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art)

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