Dolls and Decay

Meikou Fujimura’s dolls take over a run-down exhibition space in Meguro.

poster for Meikou Fujimura Exhibition

Meikou Fujimura Exhibition

at Kakitsubata
in the Ebisu, Daikanyama area
This event has ended - (2007-09-28 - 2007-10-28)

In Reviews by Darryl Jingwen Wee 2007-10-21

The Kakitsubata Bekkan (the name translates as “Iris Annex”) stands forlornly just off the bank of the Meguro river, in a nondescript building redressed for this exhibition as a gothic-industrial dollhouse. The finishes are rough, the textures pointedly antique, but there’s a sense of playfulness and pastiche. This space is haunted, laden with curios, patina, and a loaded sense of pastoral ruin. There’s a bit of security fencing, torn apart and reassembled into a barbed pattern, a polished marble sink top, drooping stalks of decaying flowers languishing in front of a paint-flaked doorway, and mounted on the far wall, faded floral mosaic tiles. The radiator piping, flecked with rust, has been whittled and filed down to a sinuous Art Nouveau motif, a kind of industrial-pastoral structural feature.

On display in this gallery, whose atmosphere hovers somewhere between the macabre and the antiquarian, is an exhibition that treads similar territory. Meikou Fujimura has revisited a venerable decorative art, the Ichimatsu Dakihitogata. The delicate doll is said to have been modeled after the posture and demeanor of the Edo period Kabuki actor Ichimatsu Sanogawa. The Ichimatsu Dakihitogata is unique in how it carries, draped over its outstretched arms, the necessary accessories to accomplish its own costume changes. There are richly hued brocades cut out of kimono cloth, coarse and fine weaves in equal measure, and also a few kazarikanzashi (a kind of ornamental hairpin) on display (It’s not entirely clear whether these are meant for the dolls or for their immaculately turned-out owners.) In a self-consciously theatrical gesture, in equal parts fawning and sinister, the doll implores you to manipulate it between roles and guises. It is its own propmaster and retainer. Bendable at three junctions – waist, knee and ankle – the Dakihitogata can be made to sit upright in a seiza position. Looking stony and sullen but with the inscrutable expression of a cunning assistant, it stares back at you with twice the intensity you looked at it with in the first place. The Dakihitogata has assumed various roles since its conception: family heirloom handed down from generation to generation, talisman for personal protection (goshingu), and aristocratic plaything during the Muromachi period. Its craftsmanship and popularity reached a peak in the mid-Edo period, however, when it came within reach of even the common people.

The magic of this exhibition is in the canny presentation. The building is poised delicately on the brink of decay, but rescued from the junkyard by the unearthly beauty of the dolls’ finery and the enchanted air of the decorative accents, previously discarded and tenderly reinstated in this cabinet of wonder. The Dakihitogata is the same; previously destined to a dusty corner of decorative art-and-craft history, the Kakitsubata Bekkan has performed a feat of installation art that channels the theatrical spirit of the dolls into an otherwise unremarkable gallery space.

Darryl Jingwen Wee

Darryl Jingwen Wee. Born and raised in Singapore, Darryl graduated from Harvard College in 2006 with a BA in French, and currently works as a writer, translator and interpreter based in Tokyo. He edits and translates TAB event listings and writes about art, architecture and food for WSJ, Art Asia Pacific, Artforum.com, Bauwelt, Paper Sky and Singapore Architect. » See other writings

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