"Season's of Passion/A Requiem: Chapter 1" at Shugoarts Gallery
Art Asia Pacific March/April 2007
By Lucy Birmingham
Yasumasa Morimura, well known for his satirical, gender bending elaborate self-portraits of famous women and iconic paintings now reveals his inner macho in his most recent series of news photo recreations. No longer a commentary on art and the feminine – step aside Marilyn Monroe, Frida Kahlo and Francisco Goya – Morimura’s powerful lens now focuses on riveting political events of the 60’s and 70’s portrayed through photo’s that “changed the world.” In his two decades as one of Japan’s most highly respected international artists, this new definitive series titled “Season of Passion/A Requiem: Chapter I” shown at Shugoarts gallery in Tokyo is his strongest concept so far.
Far from some cynical joke, these passionate images are a call for reflection and learning. Through poignant images of our 20th century past, with its history dominated by the “action, conflict, construction, and destruction by men” Morimura offers us his face as examiner of our 21st century present and future. It is an uncomfortable and lingering portraiture.
Recreated in obsessively exacted detail, Morimura impersonates each individual portrayed in famous black and white news photos like the Pulitzer Prize winning photo by Eddie Adams taken during the Vietnam War. With a bullet captured mid-air before execution, Morimura is both the police chief and Vietcong prisoner. Other impersonations include the 1960 photo of 17-year-old Japanese right-winger Otoya Yamaguchi stabbing politician Inejiro Asanuma and the 1963 still from live televised footage of Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby shooting accused Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.
But the most striking images in this exhibition are a series of recreated photos of the brilliant and ill-fated novelist Yukio Mishima. Morimura has long held an interest in Mishima, solidified after a potential training experience with the Self Defense Forces (Japan’s national army) during his first job after graduating from college. Morimura's photography work shows a mock-up of the old Tokyo headquarters of the Self Defense Forces. There, he has replicated the photo of Mishima’s famous failed 1970 coup d’etat attempt after which he was decapitated in ritual suicide. Titled “A Requiem: MISHIMA, 1970” shot as both still photo and in video, Morimura wearing an exact copy of Mishima’s militaristic uniform, headband and white gloves, can be seen copying Mishima’s defiant gestures. The video however does not offer us Mishima’s diatribe but instead Morimura’s personal attack on the art world. Art today he bellows, is influenced by “mass media…fads and fashion…drunk on global strategies and commercialism.” Even if art makes money, it is not necessarily good art. He shouts criticism towards his fellow Japanese artists who have “sold out to commercialism.” It is Morimura at his best, derailing concepts of art and society.
This “Chapter 1” series has caused quite a stir. And it appears there is more to come. Morimura is hoping to add possibly two more chapters that will include recreations of news photos taken during World War II and the U.S. Occupation of Japan after the war. An exhibition in 2009 at a major museum is now in the planning stage.