at The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
in the Chiyoda area
This event has ended - (2007-03-10 - 2007-05-27)
To each side are glass vitrines filled with flowers and the travelator reaches ahead into a vanishing point of blackness. This is one half of Miwa Yanagi’s Elevator Girl House 1F one of the surreal photomontages featured in this compact show Fiction for the Real. With only fourteen works on display by exclusively female artists, this is an interesting attempt to put some focus on a theme that is inherently vague.
Sharing superficial similarities to the work of Cindy Sherman, Miwa Yanagi’s photographs feature fictional architectural spaces that work as a backdrop for hinted narratives. Where Sherman often uses one central face or body, Yanagi creates epic but disquieting stages inhabited by multiple, identically-styled women. With their strong contrast of red and turquoise, the neon-lit images are theatrical and almost ritual.
It is as though you are observing some sort of ceremonial group activity, except you are not sure who the participants are and what they have been doing. The women are sitting or crouching casually in surreal urban settings. The moment seems to have passed and as a viewer you are excluded from being an actual witness to what may have just taken place. The ‘ritual’ presented is an anti-climactic one.
As in Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot, the women seem to be waiting but it’s not clear what for. The overall effect is one of something hinted at but not grasped – a fleeting mood, like a half remembered dream, the emotion of which lingers long after the details have been forgotten.
This eerie atmosphere is also present in Chiharu Shiota’s video piece Bathroom, a looped DVD shown on a TV set placed at the far end of a narrow white room. The minimal echoes of this work’s ambient sounds seep into the other gallery spaces, giving you an impression of the work even before seeing it. The first image is of a claustrophobically narrow bathroom with a women sitting in the bath, except that the bath is filled with something black and her face is obscured. As the video progresses various close-up black and white shots show her ‘washing’. The textures of the black material in the bath seem watery, half way between the textures of ink and mud. Sinister like the popular Japanese horror movies of recent years, the drama in this work builds slowly but without any final resolution. Where Yanagi’s females seem collectively bored, this woman’s emotion is understated and in its subtlety conveys a real sense of desperation. Shiota makes space for the imagination to make its own associations and conclusions.
Leiko Ikemura’s collection of ceramics, shown together with one of her paintings have the least obvious sense of narrative to them, but form an interesting juxtaposition to the work of French artist Sophie Calle. Where Calle creates written and photographic narratives through her fictional diaries, Ikemura presents loosely worked objects and painted images. They retain a suggestion of archetypes – animals, spirits, women are all visible in the the pieces but they ultimately remain stoically undefinable and visceral. Calle’s photo diaries are limited to two dimensions and therefore lack the immediacy of Ikemura’s work but their content still retains the power to seduce the viewer into a false sense of intimacy.
In this exhibition, you find yourself forming a voyeuristic relationship to a fictional narrative, but by presenting us with this tendency through her fictional diaries, Calle highlights the fact that we behave this way more often that we at first realize. We ourselves become the protagonists of an ongoing ‘diary’ and act out our own roles.
The text presented at the entrance to this show suggests that the fictions represented “…tell you stories quietly or eloquently, to stimulate your ability to feel the real.” I came away from this exhibition unsure of whether I had felt the ‘real’ through these works or whether they perhaps came closer to showing the fictional nature of reality. The real that we experience is in part the fiction of our own consciousness in which stories, myths, everyday and fantastical elements merge into an indivisible whole. All four artists present us with intriguing worlds into which we can choose to enter and suspend our sense of reality. However as in any fictional world, once you leave there is no guarantee that things in the ‘real’ world will still look the same.