Gallery Uusitalo 2006
TOUCH OF DISTANCES – TYPOLOGIES OF DESIRE
In her exhibition, “Touch of Distances” (30.3.-30.4.2006, Uusitalo Gallery, Helsinki), Anita Jensen looks into Japanese culture as an object of the inquisitive Western eye, but also as a subject in its own right. For her, Japan stands for the perennial territory traversed by Western artists in their journeys of self-discovery and enlightenment, but it also comes out as an ancient culture in a process of intense self-formation, forging new identities in contact with Western values and technologies.
The exhibition consists of several large series of graphic and photographic prints. The colonial ghosts of the Camera haunt these techniques, both of which carry the burden of being the visual means used by Europeans to control the people of the colonized territories. For example, Stone Garden, the series of bipartite photographs, shows vintage images of Japanese gardeners and carriers taken by a 19th-century French traveler and biologist. Below these exquisite historical documents the artist has placed some photographs of solid Finnish rocks. By juxtaposing the notion of Finnishness as natural and a-historical and the notion of the Orient as conspicuously regulated by arcane traditions and hierarchies, the series questions both stereotypes.
The artist has also studied old Japanese films and TV-shows in order to understand the historicity of the representations of ideal femininity. The actress Tamao Nakamura’s elegant fan photographs evoke coded cultural and social structures, Western and Japanese similarly, and produce gendered meanings in visual pleasure. On the other hand, the images of stunning Takarazuka actresses make space for powerful female subjectivity and androgynous fantasy, creating something akin to the “female gaze” debated in feminist film theory.
The exhibition, as a whole, offers an ambiguous and daring perspective to Western art and its obsessive interest in collecting exotic cultures. Jensen, in reflecting upon the historical underpinnings of her own art practice, too, does not offer any easy rationalizations. Instead, her way to redress the problem is very intimate. A beautiful example of this would be one of her earlier works, Kimono for Daddy (2000), which contained her own family story through her father’s photograph embedded inside a massive painting. Colored in gold, black and red, the work connoted the T-shape of a fanned out kimono, recalling the body of a Japanese woman as well as the body of the artist herself.