Kimiko Yoshida is a Paris based artist who fled from Japan to escape the mortifying servitude and humiliating fate of Japanese women. Through her art she protests against contemporary clichés of seduction, the stereotypes of gender and the determinism of heredity. In her ongoing series of self-portraits she explores the meaning of gender, taking inspiration and referring to artists such as Picasso, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Gauguin etc. However, far from being a mere citation or an imitation, her self-portraits are considered to be timeless and abstract studies, detached from any anecdotal reference. With the prominent use of monochromatic colours, Yoshida seems to blend in with her environment, an approach she describes as “disappearance”. For more about her work visit her website www.kimiko.fr.
Can you tell us something about your ongoing series “Self Portraits”?
My new series of photographs, conceived by way of recollections of art history, is entitled Painting, Self-portrait. This series of Painting, Self portrait is a mental evocation of the chefs d’oeuvre of old masters. It is a symbolic transposition. Far from being a mere citation or an imitation or merely depending on resemblance, and vraisemblance, the deliberate transformation into the symbolic is only a retroactive allusion to some detail which has lingered in my memory, often without me even being aware of it.
I see my self-portraits as timeless and abstract studies, that is to say, portraits detached from any anecdotal reference, from story telling, from narrative of any kind. By referring to paintings completed long ago by other artists, I want to introduce into my own work the idea of “otherness”, of dissemblance. In the same way, by calling my photographs paintings, I have at the outset introduced this same function of cleavage, split, and disjunction in my work. I am conscious that it is precisely these characteristics of “otherness” and dissimilarity which constitute what is unique in a work of art.
How would you describe yourselve in one sentence?
To be there where I think I am not, to disappear where I think I am, that is what matters.
How did your photographic career start? What made you want to become a photographer?
I fled my homeland to escape the mortifying servitude and humiliating fate of Japanese women. I amplifie through my art a feminist stance of protest against contemporary clichés of seduction, against voluntary servitude of women, against “identity” defined by appurtenances and “communities”, against the stereotypes of “gender” and the determinism of heredity.
Quotes and Wisdoms
Do you have a favourite quote that describes what you truly believe in?
All that’s not me, that’s what interests me. The question is not an insignificant “Who am I?” The so called “identity” has no sense to me, work does open on the more pertinent and essential question of identifications: “How many am I ?” Which obviously has quite a different impact. Remember John Lennon (the very first verse introducing to I Am the Walrus): “I am he as you are he as you are me… ”
How do you define creativity?
Art is a subtle process of transposition, an assiduous struggle with the state of things. The only raison d’être of art is to transform what art alone can transform.
What do you know now that you wish you knew at 21?
Since I escaped from Japan and decided to live in France, I’ve acquired a new sense of things by switching cultures, and with the freedom offered by the French language and by the structures of French thought. Then I discovered a new esthetic expressed in Baroque art. I myself would certainly never have discovered the value of the Baroque sensibility if I had not come to live in Europe.
How can a Japanese woman living in a Buddhist culture – a reserved,
formalist culture -imagine this art of seduction, of profusion and dizziness? How, when one is in Tokyo, can one understand the monumental surging, the illusions of infinity, ellipse and instability, the frenzy, the oscillation, the swooning, the emotion, the disquiet that dazzle, disconcert, disorient and destabilise?
All the more so since, in these brilliant meanings of the culture of the image promoted by a triumphant Baroquism, nothing could be more radically opposed to the Shinto aesthetic of withdrawal and silence, to the concise minimalism of Zen Buddhism, to the strict formalism of the Way of emptiness and detachment. It is clear that there is nothing in the invention of the Baroque that comes close to this Japanese taste for fragile beauty and incompleteness, this quest for pared-down form and subtraction, this ascetic will to self-renunciation and effacement, this aptitude for inner illumination and letting go.
Indeed, it is there, at the meeting place of two cultures, that an aesthetic is invented, in a thinking that analyses and introduces into a dialectical relation minimalism and Baroquism: subtraction against saturation, effacement against profusion, spareness against seduction – the immaterial plus sensuality, emptiness plus the inessential, lack plus splendour.
The almost-nothing plus vertigo, this is the gulf on which my work rests, and that which depends on it alone and belongs only to it, is being able to discover the absence that is its cause, to show the fault that it ekes out within, the gap where it is constituted, as if the image could suddenly be nothing, nothing but its own absence, the affirmation of the very absence that makes it exist. In my work, this fragility that makes the figure weakened, as if annulled, this obliteration that reveals the image to itself in its obscurity, leads to an art of clarity, to a luminous experience where absence is no longer privation, but affirmation. Privation, disappearance, effacement or absence are now no longer a failing of the image or a lack in the image, but the affirmation of the ever de-completed and sometimes threatening meaning of the image.
All images © Kimiko Yoshida