Ishiuchi, one of Japan’s leading contemporary photographers, will be the focus for an exhibition entitled mother’s and will comprise 68 photos relating to her recently deceased mother. Ishiuchi was the artist chosen to represent Japan at the 51st Venice Biennale in 2005. The moving series of photographs she exhibited at Venice was acclaimed as one of the Biennale highlights. The images are disturbingly poignant, personal and intimate.
Ishiuchi’s early oeuvre focuses on buildings and street scenes, but in 1990 she shifted to photographs of the human form, starting with the group of works entitled 1•9•4•7, which featured close-up photographs of the hands and feet of women born the same year as Ishiuchi (1947). The artist’s own words in the accompanying catalogue illuminate her continuing preoccupations with time and decay: 'The hands, feet and face are always exposed to the air that surrounds the body and thus are subject to gradual destruction by the elements and time. The body, like a vessel which only receives what is given into it, accepts whatever time and the elements do to it. Things that make a body unique seem to gather at the extremes of the body.'
When her mother died unexpectedly Ishiuchi photographed the objects her mother left behind: old lipsticks; a hairbrush with strands of hair still entangled in it; her translucent lace undergarments. None of the photographed objects are new: all are used, a state in itself anathema to a consumer culture that privileges the pristine and unused. Some of the clothes seem to hold the shape of the body they once covered. Moreover, the intimate nature of the objects – undergarments, worn shoes, lipstick stubs – adds a voyeuristic element to the viewing since we feel this is not the public persona of Ishiuchi’s mother, but the private reality of her life. It is a reality with which we all can empathise. There is a deep humanity in this series and when it is exhibited, the addition of Requiem music in the background heightens the impact.
Included in the series mother’s are photographs of the body of Ishiuchi’s mother that Ishiuchi had begun taking in her mother’s last years. The photographs comprise caressing details of the wrinkled hands, feet, and breast of an eighty-plus-old woman. Graphically confronting close-ups of the scars of a serious burn she had sustained some years before evoke revulsion and sympathy. Ishiuchi catches in repellent detail the damage to her mother’s skin. To quote from curator Michiko Kasahara’s article in the Venice Biennale catalogue: 'Her mother had suffered from a serious burn accident many years before, and as they started to work together, she began to photograph her mother’s skin, its beautiful translucency, the patterns on its surface like watered silk and the surface of her scars, rendered as delicate as lace.’
Celebrating Asian Art and Culture