Yasumasa Morimura posuđuje ili rekonstruira slike povijesnih umjetnika (od Maneta i Rembrandta do Cindy Sherman) i slavne fotografije i portrete te u njih umeće vlastito lice i tijelo. Na fotografiji koja prikazuje Oswaldovo ubojstvo on je Oswald, on je i veliki diktator iz Chaplinova filma, on je i Mona Lisa i Greta Garbo i Einstein. Ukratko, u cijeloj ljudskoj povijesti riječ je zapravo uvijek i samo o - njemu.
Yasumasa Morimura - On-Self Portrait through the looking glass
Yasumasa Morimura discusses history, political art and the circularity of time
Special to The Japan Times
AM: You are known for self-portraits reinterpreting canonical works of Western art history. In your current show, however, you address the idea of history itself. What led to the shift from art history to history?
YM: In 1991, I had my first solo show in New York, featuring the series “Daughter of Art History,” but I also included another one-off work — actually on view here — re-enacting Eddie Adams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a street execution during the Tet Offensive. At that time the United States was engaged in the First Gulf War and I was responding to a deep sense of crisis.
I always thought to pursue that work further, but, in fact, reflecting on contemporary events was already part of “Daughter of Art History.” For example, I felt that (Pieter) Brueghel’s “The Parable of the Blind” (1568), with its line of blind people leading each other into a ditch, is a good metaphor for Japan’s Bubble Economy. So in my version, there is a rich developer, followed by a girl with all kinds of shopping bags, a soldier and even an artist.
The shift now is not so much from art history to history, as it is from working with painting to working with photography as a source material. If you’re dealing with historical subjects from the 19th century and earlier, then the embodiment of the age is in painting. The “Mona Lisa” is not just an artwork, it can help you understand the Italian Renaissance, or a Rembrandt can help you understand the Holland of that time.
When I began considering the 20th century, there were plenty of fabulous paintings to work with, but the medium that I felt most effectively manifests the age is photography.
AM: Is it possible to interpret a political stance from your works?
YM: That is not my intent. Political art can be a vehicle for expressing your own identity, thoughts and political position, but it is ultimately about using art to convey a message.
But if you want to convey a message, it doesn’t have to be through art. Maybe you could be a politician, or an activist, or even a terrorist. I try to engage viewers in a dialogue. I think good works create an impetus for reflection.
Another way of looking at it is to compare the Japanese words bureruand yureru. Bureru (literally, to blur) means that your opinions are always undefined, easily corrupted by what other people say. But there is a slight difference with the word yureru (to shake or waver). I know it sounds very Zen, but wavering between two points can actually be a way of defining your opinions.
For my current project, I’m dealing with controversial revolutionary figures like Lenin. Maybe people will ask me which side I’m on, and I don’t really have a good answer except to say that I’m on both sides. I think if you were to line up Leftist and Rightist ideologues back to back, there would be many overlapping points. The radical desire to change the world may manifest itself differently, but the spirit is profoundly similar.
It’s not as simple as picking sides. For example, I made many works dealing with Western art history, so someone could say, “oh, you must like Western art history.” Of course I do, but there’s more to it than that. There’s a love-hate aspect to it. Maybe there are times when you have to pick sides, but even as you’re going through that process, you’re wavering between the two extremes, and that feels more real to me. I believe art is what is able to express that reality.
In other words, a politician cannot afford to waver. Nor can a CEO, who always has to be ready with a decision. That’s fine if those are the demands of the job, but if art is reduced to those terms then it loses its essence. Making art is about being able to address what other professions predicated on daily “A” or “B” choices cannot. Rather than choosing between “A” or “B,” art is about recognizing that something can be not only “A” but also “B.”
AM: How about your new video, “Gift of Sea: Raising a flag on the battlefield” (2010). Is it partly a retrospective of your own career?
YM:There’s a retrospective element to it, maybe a spiritual retrospective. It features footage of the house where I grew up, or it revisits certain things that I’d done, like my performance as Marilyn Monroe at Tokyo University of the Arts in 1995. I’ve exhibited photographs of the performance before, but never the video documentation.
And it occupies the last room of the exhibition layout. Visitors progress through all the other works to reach it. But maybe more than a retrospective, it represents the things that I really want to say. Not that my other works don’t achieve that, but I think “Gift of Sea” in particular reflects the fact that I am now in a position where I can say the things I want to say and tell the stories I want to tell.
AM: So is it a “legacy” work?
YM:Well, no. When you think about Paul Gauguin’s last major work, “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” (1897-98), I’d say from the last part of the title that he’s looking into the future. I like the fact that it’s posing a question. But how would I answer that question? The idea that past, present and future follow each other linearly — actually, what I feel happens is you progress and then loop back to your past.
I’ve finally come to understand that these things loop back together. It doesn’t mean I’m going to repeat myself — there’s a new world waiting to begin. The more I make works, the more I question where it’s going, and the more I realize I’m heading back to where I started. It’s an interesting experience.
Yasumasa Morimura at the Hara Museum of Contemporary Artby Monty DiPietro
A survey of 20th century art will identify few individuals with as remarkable a story as that of Frida Kahlo (1907-1954).
The Mexican painter's life is one of those stranger-than-fiction phenomena: Already crippled by polio, a teenaged Kahlo was impaled on a steel handrail in a horrific trolley accident that shattered her spine. During a long rehabilitation she taught herself to paint, and went on to produce critically-acclaimed self-portraits depicting the agonizing pain that was her lifelong companion. She was courted by Breton and the Surrealists, whose company she spurned. Bold, beautiful and bisexual, Kahlo married, divorced, and remarried muralist Diego Rivera, and had love affairs with the likes of Georgia O’Keeffe, Isamu Noguchi, and Leon Trotsky, who was assassinated while staying with Kahlo in Mexico City. It is reported that at her cremation the incinerator doors exploded open, sending Kahlo's blazing body flying into the air, her lips twisted in a mocking grin, her long hair describing a fiery orange halo.
A long-time cult hero, Kahlo is the subject of a Hollywood biopic due for release this winter (Kahlo collector Madonna had coveted the lead, but in the end Salma Hayek beat out Jennifer Lopez to win the role). And so the world is finally "discovering" the extraordinary artist. Here in Japan, the first out of the gate in the Kahlomania race is artist Yasumasa Morimura, whose exhibition "An Inner Dialogue With Frida Kahlo" is now in at the Hara Museum of Art in Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward.
For about 15 years now, Yasumasa Morimura's shtick has been taking well-known Western paintings and superimposing his own face over the face of the original subject. The resulting photographic works have brought Morimura his own sort of cult following -- he is one of a handful of wildly popular contemporary artists in Japan, and enjoys a dedicated and youngish fan base that actually collects his works. The Hara show is Morimura's first in Tokyo since the successful "Self Portrait as Art History" exhibition at MoT in 1998, and marks the first time he has issued a body of work derived from the creations of a single artist. The show features 15 self-portraits as Kahlo, two large flower-rimmed tondos, 11 mirror works, six small pieces, and a video installation.
Morimura, who has only seen one of Kahlo's original paintings and has never visited Mexico, seems well aware that this show may seem to some both superficial and opportunistic. In one of the "imaginary dialogues" included in the exhibition catalogue, Morimura explains to an incredulous Kahlo, "I never look at the real thing. I thought it over, but decided to keep to my usual practice. That is, to take in only a very limited amount of information and to use only that information to create works dedicated to you, Doña Frida. It is not my intention to reproduce Doña Frida's life and work per se. This is not a look-alike contest. It's all a concoction of my imagination. In that fantastic sphere, the various elements of Doña Frida and myself mix into a muddle, a chemical reaction occurs, creating this imaginary Frida of mine."
In many of the technically perfect pictures, all of which are based on Kahlo canvases, Morimura has replaced not only the face but also other compositional elements, substituting for example the fresh flowers in Kahlo's hair with hana kanzashi (Japanese flower hairpins). However, the power of the works continues to be informed primarily by Kahlo's vision and not Morimura's treatment, and that is a problem.
The jarring juxtaposition of an Asian face onto the subject of a Western masterpiece like the Mona Lisa was what made Morimura's earlier work interesting. But because Kahlo was so startlingly unique in her own right, the pictures in this show come off more as caricatures.
Better is the video installation: Two distinct and purposely-unsynchronized sources generate images of Morimura and of Morimura playing Kahlo -- one character seated on either side of a single wooden bench -- engaged in a disconnected and surreal dialogue. It is evident here that Morimura admires and respects Kahlo, and the piece is quite touching.
While "An Inner Dialogue with Frida Kahlo" has its moments, what the exhibition ultimately illustrates is the folly of building a tribute on what is essentially a gimmick.