EMI ANRAKUJI O Mapa
Miyako Yoshinaga | October 24 - November 23, 2013
In this solo show by Emi Anrakuji, her fourth at the gallery Miyako Yoshinaga, the artist has entitled the exhibition O Mapa, which translates to “The Map” in Portuguese. Earlier work by Anrakuji was erotically inclined, with an emphasis on dreamlike iconography. Here, the 25 mostly black-and-white photographs in the O Mapa sequence present the artist as possessing a hidden sensuality, for the most part due to the orientation of the photographic portraits, taken at sharp angles or from above or below her figure. Not only does the work construct a persona that is and is not the artist herself, it also comments on how our world is increasingly governed by surveillance that documents the public aspect of our lives. As a result, these pictures operate within a theater of indistinct intention, highlighting the fragmentary and often imaginary construction of a public, and also a private, identity. Anrakuji’s current images simultaneously reveal and conceal the artist, who works with situations evocative of dreams, in which motives are questioned and almost anything seems possible.
These images express intimacy, forging a bond between the artist and her audience, although it is hard to say just what that intimacy is intended to mean. Perhaps we can acknowledge that Anrakuji is sorting out a biography that places her within the realm of performance art, in which she acts out a version of the self that underscores the voyeuristic implications of peering in on the life of the artist as she herself has arranged it. There is no morality to be expressed here, only the high tension of small spaces filled by Anrakuji’s figure. The eroticism exists in a large sense, but it is not explicit—it occurs as a kind of ambience or atmosphere that intimates the projection of the artist’s persona in a physical sense. The silver print “Untitled-10406” (2013) takes place in front of a window outdoors; she is turned away from us and shot at an angle that imitates the straight lines of the window frames. It is not a sexual image, but sensuality has a place in its intentions: Anrakuji lifts her left arm and her head upward, recording an abandon we are both privy to and cannot see. The camera’s angle turns the composition into something idiosyncratic, a word that accurately subscribes the privacies and revelations of Anrakuji’s style.
“Untitled 10455” (2013) again offers a clandestine picture of Anrakuji from behind—in this instance, she steps through wire tied to bamboo poles. Wearing a light-colored dress, the artist contrasts its brightness with a mass of long black hair. In “Untitled 11007” (2013), the artist shows us a semi-nude picture of herself; she crouches over, holding her hands to her head. We never see Anrakuji’s features, which would betray her as performing her “real” self only; instead, we are offered versions of a self as it exists in the world—in this case, a garden with a fence. It is hard for a Westerner not to project a biblical twist onto the composition, but once again, the Japanese photographer seems to be addressing the extent to which she hides herself, vulnerable and nearly naked in an idyllic environment.
In addition to the intimacy that Anrakuji displays, the erotic tone suggested by her art highlights her emphasis on herself—as a person and as an artist. The terms of her photos demonstrate the essential sensuality of privacy—in which the artist allows herself to be herself despite the camera’s recording of her. There is also the notion that the artist’s motives are essentially unknowable, relying instead on a dreamlike atmosphere that presents a striking but illogical sense of being in the world. Anrakuji appears to be commenting on Japanese society, but the loss of privacy is very much a part of our contemporary Western experience as well. In “Untitled 11072”(2013), the artist records herself more or less fully naked; yet this act does not read as liberation so much as it appears to be an accommodation to prying eyes. This oscillating dialectic between statements of futility and assertions of power renders her art indelibly postmodern.
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JONATHAN GOODMAN is a teacher and author specializing in Asian art, about which he has been writing for more than twenty years.