BEIRUT: Identity is a problematic matter. Philosophers have long re-visited the matter. For Descartes it was enough that “I think, therefore I am.”
Hegel preferred to think of the self as something existing in opposition to the other. Japanese-French artist Kimiko Yoshida was mulling over identity when producing her latest series of works, now up at Mar Mikhail’s Galerie Tanit. Her solo exhibition “Tout ce qui n’est pas Moi” (‘Everything that is not Me’) includes 17 photographs, one installation and ten mirrors in Murano glass.
Among the photographs, twelve are self-portraits in which Yoshida was inspired by paintings by well-known artists. These are “not representations of the self,” as Yoshida wrote in the artist statement accompanying the show, “but more like a disappearance.”
One of these works takes its departure from Picasso’s 1938 painting “Nature morte à la Palette, Chandelier et Tête de Minotaure” (“Still life of a palette, a chandelier and a minotaur head”), all representing her made up as a modern representation of Picasso’s minotaur.
She wears a multicolored top that leaves one shoulder exposed, her exposed body parts – including face and hair – coated in immaculate white paint. A pair of high-heeled yellow shoes sit atop her head as minotaur horns.
The fact of painting her body white emphasizes her idea of disappearance of the self, as though neutralizing her skin color erases the impact her identity would have in the photograph. Here, Yoshida is represented as a minotaur and not as Yoshida herself.
In another self-portrait, viewers can see the artist dressed in red-and-white attire. This photograph is the artist’s adaptation of Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer’s “Officier et Jeune Fille Souriant” (‘Officer and Laughing Girl’). If we compare both works, we might not see the similarities – other than the headdress of Vermeer’s young girl and that of Yoshida.
Yoshida’s other portraits nod to works by French artist Jean-Antoine Watteau, U.S. pop art icon Andy Warhol, French impressionist Edouard Manet and Spain’s Francisco Goya.
Five of these photos form a series entitled “Mariées Célibataires” (‘Single Brides’), in which Yoshida is pictured in various national costumes – a red burqa, for instance, or dressed as an African warrior. Viewers may notice a possible oxymoron in the series title – a woman who is at once joined in marriage and alone – yet these photos are refractions of self: a bride may be, by definition, joined to a groom, yet she still retains her sense of self.
In another room of Galerie Taniit, onlookers will find 10 of Yoshida’s Murano glass mirrors, combined with unidentifiable colored bits. The artfulness of these mirrors lies in the fact that they don’t reflect the face of its spectator, but the light rather. They thus emphasize the deficiency of the mirror – which conventionally reflects whoever gazes into it. Yoshida’s mirrors can be characterized as reflecting absence.
The exhibition’s sole installation represents 22 small photographs of the artist on colored glass. Painted on these items are letters which form “Perfect in Absentia. AEIOU.”
Next to this series, “Vowels,” a poem written by Arthur Rimbaud, is affixed to the wall. The poem deals with the musicality to be found in the pronunciation of vowels. “A black, E white, I red, U green, O blue: vowels.” In the poem, black is associated with cruelty, night and shadow. White is defined as pure, while red characterizes anger and blood. Green relates to peace while blue symbolizes the divine.
In Yoshida’s installation, each chromatic photograph represents the vowels as addressed in Rimbaud’s poem.
“Tout ce qui n’est pas Moi” is a double-barreled exhibition. On one hand it is an ode to the masterworks which serve as the artist’s inspiration and points of departure. On the other, it is a thoughtful exercise in making vibrant new art from reading oneself into past art.
Kimiko Yoshida’s “Tout ce qui n’est pas Moi” is up at Mar Mikhail’s Galerie Tanit until March 30. For more information, please call 70-910-523.