I fled from Japan because I was dead. I took refuge in France to escape that mourning. One day, when I was three, my mother threw me out of the house. I left clutching a box filled with all my treasures. I went to a public park. The police found me there, the next day. Since then, I've always felt nomadic, errant, fleeing. When I got to France I had to learn the language like a child who'd just been born.
With the new sense of things I've acquired by switching cultures, and with the freedom offered by the French language and by the structures of French thought, I'm currently involved in taking photos of "bachelor brides", in which is unravelled--but the wrong way round--the dread of the terrified little girl discovering the ancestral bondage of arranged marriages and the humiliating fate of Japanese women. How can anyone forget that secret guarded by my mother, which I discovered when I was eight, and which made me so horrified ? I suddenly discovered that my parents set eyes on each other for the first time on the very day they were married--a marriage which had been totally arranged by their respective families.
Today, in a sequence of probably exorcistic figures, I embody a bride who is paradoxical, intangible and unwed, with identities which are simultaneously dramatic, fictional, parodic and contradictory. In surpassing my experience as a fashion creator in Tokyo, I am creating all kinds of almost monochrome self-portraits so as to present the virtual wedding of the unwed bride, by turns widow, astronaut, Chinese, manga, Egyptian, and so on (1).
A RIVER OF SENSATIONS IN MOTION
This series of self-portraits forms a sequence of identities, a raft of reflections which follow on, one from the other, like a chain of thoughts. It is a river of sensations in motion, where life bustles like the air in the sky. My intent was to present this series of images like an inner monologue--the famous "stream of consciousness" of James Joyce's Ulysses. It is in this stream of consciousness that the space and time of subjectivity take concrete shape.
The space-time notion is quintessential in Japanese aesthetics, which turns it into a concept: the ma. As in Joyce's novel, where the uninterrupted procession of sentences entails the porousness of ideas, the sequence of figures entails the permeability of meanings and identities, and reveals the moving ma of subjectivity.
I am not trying to unify my thoughts or my identifications, but rather to broaden my curiosity and my hunches, and to have the same freedom in my art as I do in my life. For example, as circumstances dictate, I cook Japanese food, Chinese, Provençal or dishes from Bordeaux or Italy: similarly, I explore several successive or simultaneous ideas.
In most of the photos, the bachelor bride is veiled. This veil, through which the promise dodges the eye prior to the nuptial blessing, defines the moment at which the marriage has not yet been consummated: it actually announces the promise of revelation and unveiling. This fragile fabric, soon to be lifted and removed, conjures up in this instant not only non-fulfillment and expectation, but even a ban. It expresses a feeling of uniqueness, a subtle sensuality, and a fleeting seductiveness, and describes the impermanence of things. So the wedding veil, which features in so many cultures, is more than a metaphor for virginity: it is a symbol of effacement and disappearance, a mark of virtuality and intangibility.
Over and above the mending of a damaged identity, over and above the pursuit of buried childhood, and over and above the remembrance of things past, my images lend the invisible being a visible expression. The monochrome tendency of my self-portraits, between visibility and invisibility, between appearance and disappearance, between apparition and abolition, tries to show the intangible mind's gaze. I am thinking of that saying from Zen philosophy: "A mountain is like a mountain". Tradition has it that one meditates sitting opposite a mountain. During the initial stage of meditation, the mountain vanishes. At the highest stage of Zen, the mountain reappears. This is the moment when the being is delivered from its mundane limitations and merges with the world.
Far from limiting the colour field, the yearning for monochromy exposes the sensibility to the infiniteness of colour. Through a boundless succession of layers of monochrome hues and faint tinges, monochromy uncovers a plural infinity of strata of colours which the gaze is incapable of counting. The number of colours making up a polychrome image tends to be limited; they can be counted. Conversely, the monochrome gives a chromatic infiniteness which is a temporal infiniteness. Even when the gaze contemplates ad infinitum the infinitude of the discreet shades of one and the same colour, the gaze exhausts nothing with time. The monochrome colour eroticizes the eye in an infinite way. It is a pure figure of duration wherein all imagery and all narrative are dissolved. And here, before the infinite colour, the gaze is exposed to the infiniteness of time.
The figure tends to dissolve in the monochrome shades of the monochrome colour which forms the image at the same time as it re-forms it as something incomplete. This quest for monochromy is a reflection on the successive instants of identity. In my photos, in the shadow of an indirect and very soft light, the monochrome colour floats like a touch of watercolour on the surface of water. It represents a whole host of sensations in which is revealed the permeability of subjectivity. It is a quest to do with self-effacement in the resurgence of the image of me.
The chimaeric imperative of Marry Me !, which provides the title for my exhibition, merely duplicates the contradictory meaning of these unwed and Intangible Brides, who essentially point to the paradox of a desire that is alien to itself. In looking towards monochromy, precisely where the meanings of the diaphanous, the immaterial and the intangible are determined, each one of my self-portraits comes across like an emergence, and an effacement.
This paradoxical representation, which aims at a beyondness of the image, is presented each time like an impossibility, a powerlessness, and a precariousness. It is this effect of incompleteness which rejects the ultimate meaning of the image in a beyondness of the image.
I have just produced a new self-portrait arrangement titled Autorelief. It has a blind mirror structure in which my own head acts as a surface for the image of my face. A colour slide covers the white resin cast of the face, as if it were painting it. The projected photograph envelops the volume of a diaphanous skin adjusted by the light. The two effigies are overlaid by direct contact. They do indeed represent the same face, but they are not of the same type - one is a cast, the other an image.
In the overlay of the two representations, the viewer perceives a decisive division between the face, its cast reproduction, and its photographic image. Over and above the celebratory nature of this exercise in redundancy (photo on sculpture, face on face), I see in this mirror device a muffled, ambiguous solemnity which also hallmarks my other self-portraits (The Intangible Brides).
The overlay of slide and sculpture lends a perceptible quality to the structural split, based on which all representation is separate from itself. What is overlaid in this arrangement, beyond the slide-on-sculpture superposition, is identity and separation. The two faces of my self-portrait are at once near and far, intimately removed in their closeness, and irreconcilable.
Distance and contiguity face one another in this gap which bans any ultimate coincidence between face, cast and image. There is an ambiguity here which has to do with this unfillable distance between the gaze and its object, and the abyss which points to place beyond the image in which the meaning of all representation is at once revealed and clouded.
In all, I look at my self-portrait with a kind of anxiety like a pure image, otherwise put, like a fascinating and fearsome power, which its sense projects beyond itself.
Translation by Simon Pleasance.
Catalogue Marry Me ! Actes Sud, 2004
(1) This series of photos, printed on silver paper, has been produced with a 6 x 6 format Hasselblad, on slide film, tungsten temperature, without filters, with a neutral light, white tungsten bulbs, without gelatin. The colour thus corresponds to the natural conditions of the shot. This monochrome series titled The Intangible Brides is currently composed of some sixty self-portraits, the most recent of which display diamond tiaras hailing from the Cartier collection, and ancient head-dresses from different ethnic groups on all five continents, hailing from the Antoine de Galbert collection.