Saturday, February 16, 2008

Grandma take me home


A photo exhibit consisting of fairy tales, grandmothers and elevator girls holds more than your interest. This exhibition practically grabs you by the collar and demands reciprocal appreciation. That would be due to the extreme beauty and visionary insight afforded by the images on display.
Miwa Yanagi: Deutsche Bank Collection contains major pieces from this Japanese photographer who can easily be divided into the distinct Fairy Tale, Grandmother and Elevator Girl series. This collection is currently on display at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston until May 4. Most of the photos are wall sized. In other words you could drive a Datsun into one.
Of the three arrays of Yanagi’s photos the elevator girls perhaps don’t exist in out culture. Maybe they do if you replaced elevator girl with cheerleader or Hooter’s server. In Japan elevator girls wear white gloves and dresses color coordinated with their respective corporate parent. A companion video Kagome Kagome utilizes the narrow spaces of corridors of commerce to comment on these well-groomed lasses. Yanagi has frozen images of these young ladies in a fetishistic blur of blues and reds. By contrast the grandmother series uses young models that were told to write what they would be in 50 years. Taking their responses Yanagi then staged tableaux and digitally altered the faces to reflect the wages of age. One of the centerpieces of the show depicts one grandmother in the sidecar of a motorcycle traveling along the Golden Gate Bridge highway, her dyed red hair waving in the wind and her diamond tooth catching a ray of the sun.
In sharp contrast to the blazing color and life affirming nature of the other two chapters of Yanagi’s photos, the fairy tale series presents carefully staged poses in rich black and white that practically beg the viewer to conjure unpleasant images. All of the stories resonate familiarity with their titles – Rapunzel, Snow White, The Little Match Girl – yet their staging, involving mostly young girls and masks, makes you shudder to consider the consequences. The gallery is dark and in the middle stands a tent suspended from the air so that if you stand in it people outside can see your feet. About six or seven people can fit inside, and when you breech the flaps of canvas you realize you are watching a video. The video shows the point-of-view looking outside from inside a tent and onto a horizon of sand dunes.
Welcome to the world of Miwa Yanagi, a place where fantastical landscapes merge with subconscious desire.
-- Michael Bergeron

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