CONTEMPORARY PHOTOGRAPHY GALLERY SHOW EXHIBITION JAPAN
Peer inside Japanese-style houses built in Taiwan at the turn of the century with a new series by photographer Tomoko Yoneda, called “Japanese House”, which is on show in an exhibition of the same name at Tokyo gallery ShugoArts until 3 December 2011.
Focus on historic Taipei
I focused on Taipei because it has been the political capital of Taiwan throughout [the country’s] history. Although these family houses are strictly private spaces, they give evidence of historical events and rulers.
Taiwan was a dependency of the the Empire of Japan from 1895 to 1945 and “Japanese House”, which was previously shown at the Kuandu Biennale, “Memories and Beyond”, in 2010, allows the viewer a glimpse inside three Japanese occupation-era residencies that are still standing in Taiwan’s largest city, Taipei, albeit in various states of preservation and decay. The series offers glimpses into the residences of General Wang Shu-Ming, who served under former Taiwanese president Chiang Kai-Shek; the house of the daughter of Japanese war-era politician Kantaro Suzuki; and a house at Beitou Hot Springs, an area that was once known to occupying Japanese as the “Hakone of Taiwan”.
The meticulously researched captions that accompany each of the photographs in “Japanese House” are integral to the meaning of the works; Yoneda uses the captions to guide the viewer to a particular moment in time and space.
I usually spend many hours researching. I visit libraries, search [for information] on the Internet, read books and interview people. I knew [a lot about] the Japanese houses in Taiwan before I visited them, but during the project my knowledge of them deepened and this is … reflected in the images.
The artist’s knowledge of the places that she depicts is clearly evident in the features that she chooses to highlight: the design of the peeling wallpaper; the layout of the furniture; the fabric used for the curtains. Each part of the image, regardless of size, is a window into the different histories imprinted on each space. A focus on the layers of history that are infused in present moments is at the core of Yoneda’s overall body of work.
“Japanese House” represents a space in which modern and historical events are mixed. Rulers change with time and so do spaces.
Between present and past, the visible and invisible
Viewers of “Japanese House” are invited to explore the memories attached to each of the places and asked to construct a mental picture of what happened in them. Who lived in the houses after the Japanese left? What has remained of the original interior? Why is the space now empty?
My priority when photographing these houses was to try to draw out the essence of the original Japanese construction and … to show apparent or less evident changes to the interiors that happened after the Japanese occupation [period came to an end]. Considering the subject is architecture, I used a more formalistic approach to photography. I usually try to detach myself from a subjective way of photographing (for example, using dramatic angles or colours) so that the audience can read the image with more freedom.
The subjects and themes explored in “Japanese House” parallel those from previous series produced by Yoneda, in particular her exploration into the ongoing dialogue between the present and past and her efforts to expose stories concealed by time. In “Kimusa” (2009) the artist explores a building in Seoul, South Korea, that was constructed in 1928 during the Japanese occupation of the country.
The building was used as a military hospital from 1910 to 1945, but later housed the Defence Security Command (DSC), “a central headquarters for counterintelligence corps to defend its border from threats of communist North Korea”. During this latter period “the venue was used for the interrogation and human torture” of suspected communists. It is currently being transformed into a platform for contemporary art by South Korea’s National Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). Follow this link for more information on the history of “Kimusa” on Janna Bullock Arts Journal.
In a photograph called Beach (2002), part of the series “Scene 01”, the artist depicts a happy beach outing in Normandy, France. The title of the work, however, reveals that the shot was taken at that same location that the D-Day landings of the Second World War took place. Likewise, in “Beyond Memory and Uncertainty” (2003), the photographer captures planes returning from an Iraqi bombing raid; they stand out dramatically against a clear blue English sky.
More on Tomoko Yoneda
Tomoko Yoneda studied photography in Chicago and in 1991 graduated from the Royal College of Art in London. Major solo exhibitions include “Beyond Memory and Uncertainty”, held at Shiseido Gallery in 2003 and “An End is a Beginning”, held in 2008 at the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art show. She has shown work at the Yokohama Triennale (2005), the 10th Istanbul Biennale (2007) and the 52nd Venice Biennale (2007).
- Modernity through eyes of 8 South Korean photographers – October 2011 – Korean photography goes to Europe
- Documentary and art photography crossover exhibition attempts to portray alternate realities of war – October 2010 – read more about the link between art photography, documentary and history
- Top 5 sites for Japanese contemporary art by Matthew Larking – June 2009 – this posts lists the best sources of information about contemporary Japanese art
- Japanese contemporary art – changes and trends- by gallerist Koyanagi – March 2009 – Interview with Japansese gallerist Koyanagi on Japanese contemporary art
- Survey of Japanese photography at paris Photo November 2008 – October 2008 – Paris Photo pays homage to Japanese photography
Subscribe to Art Radar for more on photography in Asia