23 September 2006

Nihonga 5: Kosemura Mami

Of all the Nihonga artists represented at the Yokohama exhibition, I found the work of Kosemura Mami (小瀬村真美) the most fascinating. I have not seen very many film installations before, so perhaps I will sound naïve when I describe how spellbinding I found Kosemura’s moving paintings. Each moving painting was inspired by a traditional painting. I haven’t had a chance to muddle my way through the interview with the artist to see if it describes her techniques, but it looked as though she filmed both real objects and painting objects, sometimes in real time, sometimes it looked as though the images had been composed frame by frame. Each moving painting is a DVD of varying length (5 to 23 minutes) being played on endless repeat.

The first moving painting one encounters is one of the series Flowering Plants of the Four Seasons (shown above). I believe that the first one represented spring (I’m not sure where summer was lurking, but I never found it). It consisted of a large canvas onto which two side-by-side overlapping DVD images were being projected together. The back side of the canvas had the autumn version of the same scene. From a distance, it looks like an illuminated painting of a pond scene complete with a realistic soundtrack of pond sounds (breeze, water, insects). The movements within the scene are subtle: the breeze gently ruffling leaves and causing reads to bob up and down. It is only when one looks closely at the scene can one see the digital artefacts of the medium. The winter scene was even more sparing with a pair of bamboo trees and a flowering plant set against a concrete wall as snow softly falls and coats the plants.

It was truly magical to watch these scenes evolve in subtle ways and it has left me pondering the relationship between a still painting and spectator and how it too evolves over time. Here is what the artist herself has to say about her own thought processes:

What interested me most about the folding screen paintings or wall paintings that were the basis for Flowering Plants of the Four Seasons was the fact that there is no boundary between painting a real object while looking at it and copying an image that has already been painted. Both types of sketching are related to the act of observing everyday reality.

A flower changes slightly and is given a new form as it moves lightly from one picture to another.

I feel a similar sensation in the gradual changes in vision that occur when editing my woks. How much can the form of the flower vary and still be identified with the real object? At what point should it be seen as an artificial creation?

Even if the flower takes on a strange form removed from its everyday condition through a gradual process of editing, our awareness is quickly brought back to everyday reality when it begins to move before our eyes

The two paintings could be enjoyed while sitting on a raised tatami mat the artist had provided for her spectators (as in the photo at the very top -- but it is from an earlier exhibitionby the same artist). In Priming Water, instead of projecting onto a blank screen was replaced by an old wooden Japanese sliding door. I’m not sure if it is what is known as a shoji door or if it has another name, as only the top half of the door had the square pattern with the rice paper. The bottom half of the door was a long rectangle of rice paper onto which an image of pond water was projected from behind the screen. In the pond water, one could see carp surfacing. Their movements were very realistic, as were the sound effects. The image, however looked painted, and I suspect that Kosemura may have painted the scene frame by frame in order to animate it.

The other painting that could be viewed from the tatami was inspired by Hashiguchi Goyo’s woodblock print Woman with Kimono Undergarment (1920). This moving painting, titled simply Woman in the Mirror, was either projected from behind the wall or involves a modified flat screen tv. The image was projected onto a tall Japanese mirror with a wooden frame that attached to a very low make-up cabinet. It had clearly been designed so a Japanese woman could do her hair and make-up while seated on the floor and then could stand and see her full profile in the mirror. The scene was of a traditional Japanese room with tatami, shot at a canted angle that recreated what one would see in a mirror reflection of one’s room. For this moving painting, Kosemura had dressed a model in a kimono with the same colour (red and white) as in the Hashiguchi painting. The woman was not looking at herself directly in the mirror but the spectator would catch fleeting glimpses of her as she passed partially into the frame and out again. We never see her face but do see her adjust her kimono. The image was slightly jerky and gave me the impression that it might have been done using the technique of pixilation, an innovation made famous by Norman McLaren in his animation Neigbours (NFB, 1952) though it had already been invented back in the early days of filmmaking. This technique involves actors being filmed frame-by-frame instead of in real time, turning the actor into a kind of stop-motion puppet.

Kosemura’s last moving painting, Comb, uses the same technique. Inspired by Hashiguchi’s woodblock print Woman Combing her Hair (1920). Again, Kosemura uses a model dressed in a similarly coloured kimono (this time a blue pattern) and again the model’s face is obscured as we watch her slowly brushing her hair. Again, this moving image has a painterly quality to it. These last two paintings have had me thinking about the male artist as voyeur, a term more commonly used when speaking about photography than traditional Japanese art. Kosemura’s work changed the way I looked at the Hashiguchi paintings and I wondered about his relationship to these two women he has captured in such an intimate and personal space.

I spent the most time in this room, as Kosemura has reignited my interest in the relationship between art, time, and space. The beautifully rendered moving paintings capture the poetry found in the minutiae of daily life. As in an Ozu film, even the briefest of gestures denotes volumes of meaning, if only we take the time to look and appreciate its worth.

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2006