02 March 2010

Mami Kosemura's Comb (櫛, 2006)

I first encountered the work of Mami Kosemura (小瀬村真美) at the Nihonga Painting: Six Provacative Artists exhibition in Yokohama in 2006. Both an academic scholar as well as an artist, Kosemura’s moving paintings are layered with references to art history and they open up many interesting questions about the relationship between art and reality.

Kosemura’s installation piece Comb (Kushi/櫛, 2006) is one of two pieces based upon famous works by shin hanga artist Goyō Hashiguchi (橋口五葉, 1880-1921). Hashiguchi is particularly famous for his bijinga (pictures of beautiful women) shown in very intimate situations: nude in the bath, a woman with her shoulder bared while applying make-up, a woman getting dressed. His work is valued not only for its beauty, but for its rarity. Hashiguchi made only 16 woodblock designs before his tragic early death from meningitis. 14 of the woodblocks and many copies of the prints were destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake two years after Hashiguchi’s death, making his work even rarer.

This animation installation is based on the woodblock print Woman Combing Her Hair (髪梳ける女, Kami Sukeru Onna, 1920). It depicts a beautiful, idealized woman combing her long, luxurious hair. She is dressed in a loose fitting yukata (cotton dressing gown) and appears serene and relaxed. The yukata is blue with a white sakura (cherry blossom) pattern with a red sash. There is a sensuousness to the woman’s pose and there is a voyeuristic element to the scene. The artist has given us an intimate glimpse into the minutiae of a woman’s daily personal grooming routine.

Mami Kosemura’s Comb gives a feminist interpretation of Woman Combing Her Hair. In the installation at Yokohama Museum of Art, the animation was installed in a wooden picture frame giving the effect of looking into a mirror reflection of the woman combing her hair (see a photograph of the installation here). The voyeurism of the original print is emphasized by the fact that in Kosemura’s Comb, we are only shown the bottom half of the woman’s face. She is rendered anonymous by a dark shadow cast over the top half of her face.

The positioning of the woman’s body mimics that of the original print, but some details have been slightly altered. The yukata has a more generic blue striped pattern, and the sash is pink. Although Kosemura has animated the woman to show the movement of her brushing her hair, the stop motion is not fluid but jerky. Kosemura’s technique is to take digital images of a posed model in costume recreating the Hashiguchi print. She then paints over the images and edits them on the computer. The resulting image looks like a moving painting. The effect is not to duplicate Hashiguchi’s print exactly, but to create a new work inspired by it. The end result looks less like a woodblock print and more like an oil painting in motion. Fine cracks have been overlaid on the image that create the effect of an aged painting. Unlike most Kosemura installations, this animation installation is silent.

Comb is a fascinating work that somehow manages to both make the subject more intimate while encouraging the spectator to view the piece with a critical eye. By animating the woman’s movement, Kosemura emphasizes the reality of the model. At the same time, the shadows over the woman’s face grant her anonymity and the jerkiness of the animation remind us that the woman is being interpreted by an artist’s hand.

Kosemura herself has described her methods as blurring the lines between ‘documentary’ and the ‘fictional’. In viewing a moving image, one has an impression of reality, but it has been mitigated by the painting and after effects added to the original footage. I’m not sure what she wrote originally in Japanese, as I could only find the English translation of her essay on her website, but it seems to me that the line Kosemura is blurring is between the photographed image and the painted image. Kosemura’s original image is not documentary because it has been posed, but the act of photographing her model brings her animated image closer to realistic movement than if she had drawn it. By using famous art as the basis for her animated installations, Kosemura is not only creating an original piece of art, but she is also offering up an interpretation of the art that inspired her own. The Yokohama exhibition also actively encouraged spectators to compare and contrast the works, renegotiating the spectator’s viewing experience of Hashiguchi’s print. There are so many layers to viewing an animation installation by Kosemura, with each work offering up fascinating new depths of interpretation of her unique animation techniques.

For more information about this artist, visit her websiteMIACA (Moving Image Archive of Contemporary Art), or the Yuka Sasahara Gallery.

Shinshaku Yotsuya Kaidan / Japanese Movie
Japanese Movie

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2010