by Shraddha NairJun 06, 2022
When the rush of selfies drives the world into a state of frenzy, it would be of interest to brush up the memory to relook at the act of taking one’s own photograph when it was a genre formally termed self-portraiture art. The exhibition My Self-Portraits as a Theater of Labyrinths at Kyoto City KYOCERA Museum of Art surveys the 35-year career of Yasumasa Morimura. The leading contemporary photographer of Japan has been creating self-portraits of himself as the protagonists culled out of masterpieces, famous historical figures, and movie actresses. The personal and world history intersect in the works of Morimura when he portrays himself as a personification of a multiplicity of individual identities. The concerns of gender and race as the monolithic subjects devoid of change are questioned to open the possibility of their subversions.
In an interview with STIR, Morimura enumerates on his experience about the photographed self-portraits in the guise of others, “Whenever I stand in front of a classical portrait painting (even if it is a print in a book of paintings), to me there is always a sense that the painting is a mirror. This feeling is especially apparent when the painting is a self-portrait of the artist. When looking at the self-portraits of Albrecht Durer and Rembrandt van Rijn and Frida Kahlo, for example, I gradually start to feel that the depicted figure is a self-portrait of myself, the very person looking at the painting. I come to the sense that I, the person standing before the ‘painting as a mirror,’ am the same as the figure reflected in the ‘painting as a mirror’ (that is, the figure portrayed in the painting). At the same time, I also experience the sensation of gradually becoming the person in the “painting as a mirror” as if I were staring at my own reflection. I physically sense that “I am Dürer (in the painting/mirror)” and “Dürer (in the painting/mirror) is me” at the same moment. It is as if we are not separate entities, but the mirror image of one another. This intimate relationship is extremely stimulating.”
Since the exhibition looks at the long career of the photographer, it is a mammoth task to display the works in a manner to underscore the skill, diversity and depth of the works. “I started out with a plan to exhibit about 800 instant photographs, but the idea gradually expanded. I first considered how to display these photos, all 800 of which are my own self-portraits. In order to show the diversity and complexity that I contain as a single human being, I wanted to create a labyrinth of corridors in the exhibition space in which to display these photographs," explains Morimura.
To articulate these thoughts in a physical space, the exhibition is divided into four segments: M’s Photo Corridor (approximately 800 instant photographs taken over 30 years, displayed in a labyrinthine space); Theater of Voices (a sound installation based on Morimura’s own short story); Square of Dreams and Memories (a space presenting new video works in which around 30 human characters appear) and Hidden Costume Closet (an installation of around 30 costumes and shoes actually worn in Morimura’s photographs). Through the corridors, theatres, squares, hideaways, Morimura expounds, “The internal world of “I,” a single human being, is made in this way to resemble an imaginary “city,” and the audience is invited to wander its spaces. This is the kind of exhibition plan that emerged in my mind.”
Inevitably, digitalisation has made self-portrait photography much easier to achieve. In the absence of the viewfinder or the LCD monitor, the exercise to check the facial expression and position of the body in real-time was non-viable. Despite such inconveniences, Morimura created a substantial set of instant photography collections. He says, “Generally speaking, photographic expression is considered to be a world of multiple art forms but instant photography comprises a world in which unrepeatable moments are frozen and preserved on a single sheet of photographic paper. The result remains as an irreplaceable memory of this world. Such a fascinating and precious world of expression has been born from these instant photos, and I wanted this time to exhibit a vast accumulation of such ‘precious moments’.”
The spectrum of expressive forms presented in the immersive exhibition from the 800 instant photographs, to video works featuring around 30 personae, and the voices of several different characters constitute Morimura’s self-portraiture. When Morimura deconstructs his individualistic persona to confirm the multiple selves a single body can embody, he hopes the audience will be able to experience similar diversity and complexity. “If I can share such uniquely human traits with visitors, I will largely have achieved the purpose of this exhibition,” he concludes.
The exhibition Morimura Yasumasa: My Self-Portraits as a Theater of Labyrinths is on view at Kyoto City KYOCERA Museum of Art till June 5, 2022.