‘We must cease once and for all to describe the effects
of power in negative terms: it ‘excludes’, it ‘represses’,
it ‘censors’, it ‘abstracts’, it ‘masks’, it ‘conceals’.
In fact power produces; it produces reality;
it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth.
The individual and the knowledge that may be gained
of him belong to this production’.
We are looking at a black and white photograph of a woman, whose image is projected onto a mirror. The woman does not look at herself and her reflection is not returning the gaze. The mirror takes a focal point on the photograph, but appears as a prop, whimsical and playing with our curiosity. The woman looks like a prostitute wearing a wig, which disguises her identity. The reflection also wears a wig but a different one and even though they both seem to be the same woman, they appear as different personas. In this complex game of images, their replications and selves, one can never be sure of who is who: what is real and what is imagined; what is desired, confronted and feared.
The author of this self-portrait is Tokyo Rumando (b. 1980, Tokyo), whose photographs are currently on display in the Daiwa Foundation in London. The show titled Double Method is a project between Rumando and Hideka Tonomura (b. 1979, Kobe), an artist fixing her lenses on the idea of looking, playing with her own identity and merging reality with fiction. Tonomura’s images show her mother’s relationship with a man, whose face remains permanently obscured. Making love, counting money, lost in post coital thoughts, mama love is honest and touching. Both Rumando and Tonomura fashion their own records based on everyday moments blended with personal mythologies. Fuelled by voyeurism and vivisection, these exciting photo spectacles are centred around looking and being observed. The confrontational character of the series is both exciting and unsettling. With ‘Double Method’ we are entering an oneiric ground, where the roles of a prey and oppressor are intertwined. Thus, the performative character of the gaze remains active, fluid and elusive.
It is rather telling that Rumando worked as a model and a prostitute, and Tonomura as a bar hostess. As a result, creating personalities and narratives is something that they both have exercised, used to protect themselves and now deliberately apply to confuse and to instruct. Erotica and camera are one and the fine line between observing and being objectified becomes fuzzy. Charismatic and controlling, both artists employ their practise in directing our attention, which brings in mind Foucault’s disciplinary tool of power – not negative and oppressive but quite the opposite: the productive, revealing and somewhat fulfilling. In erotica, punishment can be pleasurable, and suffering can be rewarded in sexual gratification. We cross the boundaries willingly and in anticipation because the thrill is irresistible.
The idea of life and death resonates across the exhibition, especially in the series Orphee by Rumando. A mythological figure, Orphee is a poet obsessed with Death (Princess) and following his lover from the world of living to the Underworld. The visual poetry of his journey is manifested in omnipresent mirrors, through which characters communicate with each other. Through placing herself in the centre of the screens, Rumando transgresses the myth and becomes Orphee, the artists, the poet… the visionary. In fact, anyone looking at her photographs is a representation of the lover, who is smitten by the fable and communicates with and through mere shadows (photography).
Interestingly, this Greek myth finds its close equivalent in the Japanese allegory about a goddess Izanami, who gave birth to the Japanese islands. She too, like Orphee, travelled into the Underworld and was followed by her brother/husband. He looked at her after Izanami forbade him to do that, ashamed of her putrefying body. As a punishment she sent female furies after him. In A Japanese Mirror: Heroes and Villains of Japanese Culture, Ian Buruma points at an ambivalent nature of women in Shintoism and sex, which is intrinsically connected to death. A Japanese woman, culturally programmed for obedience and timidity, is also entitled to pleasure and her own sexualised, powerful gaze.
Exercised in the ‘Double Method’ is therefore an idea of an authoritative photographic tool, employed performatively, actively and so intrinsically connected to the artists’ selves that reality and fable become one. Through the ocular of the camera, Japanese women photographers are looking at themselves and us, and they are forces to be reckoned with.
*In French le regard means ‘gaze’