Monday, June 19, 2017

Push and chance in the work of Song and Yokota

Ajuan Song, Everything You Know About Love #5, Fuji Crystal C-print on acrylic and dibond, 11x14", 2016

There is a restlessness, a wayward energy, among young photographers today that we can no longer ignore here at the blog.  It is an energy which will take us forward to the next stage of photographic deployment, you can be sure of that; even if we don't always understand it, it is to be applauded.  It drowns all our efforts to be meticulous about pictures in the old ways.  It has been said that to invent the new you have to break all the rules.  But more and more, to our alarm and frozen fascination, it seems the young don't want to even learn the rules, they want to write their own.

Daisuke Yokota, untitled, 39 1/4 x 31", archival pigment print, 2015

Take Ajuan "AJ" Song, a young Brooklyn-based artist.  She owns a Rolleiflex but she hardly uses it anymore: when she points it at a subject she complains that too much of her world, her dreamworld, is left out.  She likes the rolling chaos instead that is the chemigram, its unpredictability, its pushback, its surprise, and the thrill she gets when at a critical moment she finds ways to intervene and subdue it - or not subdue it, because that can be fine too, she'll live with that, it's like riding a wave, it's nervy. 

AJ belongs to a tradition that dates back to the origins of the modern ethos.  John Cage had said somewhere that clarity is an obstacle to understanding; we can invent our way out of it.  In a sense that's what we do with chemigrams and it's what AJ is joyfully grappling with, splashing chemistry with abandon, consorting with ghosts.  When you see some of her pictures in the current group show at the Arte Ponte Gallery on West 20th Street (arteponte.com) you realize something else too: she has elected to display her work in the very chic and contemporary mould of heavy acrylics and dibond, not in the shopworn, fusty scheme of 'unique original work' so clamored by a diminishing handful of galleries nostalgic for an outflanked model.  There is a split in the ranks and AJ has unabashedly chosen her side.


Ajuan Song, Everything You Know About Love #2, Fuji Crystal C-print on acrylic and dibond, 11x14", 2016

Daisuke Yokota is of the same generation as AJ but has been subverting and reinventing the norms for nearly a decade and he hasn't slowed down yet.  Performance art, installations, photography, and photobooks have all been radically reimagined by him; often for example he will create a photobook on the spot before an audience and sell out the limited edition before leaving the building.  In 2015 he created a large series of color abstract photographs called, appropriately, Color Photographs, using layers of large-format color film stock which he 'developed' cameralessly and abusively with heat, light, and perhaps acids (help me out here, readers!), then scanned, blew up, possibly re-photographed (a favorite strategy of his) and printed as archival pigment prints.  The best of them have a raw unworldly beauty unlike anything I have seen.  In interviews however Yokota skirts the word 'beauty'.  He speaks of exploring the materiality of film, much the way some of us do in the chemigram community when speaking of the stubborn thereness of the photographic emulsion.  An interviewer asked him whether his work channels emotions.  'I never trust the emotional feeling in making works,' he said.  'It's too vulnerable.  I don't make work to express my feelings; it's more like burning them.'

Daisuke Yokota, untitled, 78 x 64", archival pigment print, 2015

Daisuke Yokota, untitled, 78 x 64", archival pigment print, 2015


Daisuke Yokota, untitled, 39 1/4 x 31", archival pigment print, 2015

Yokota's work has been seen at Paris Photo, Photo London, Rencontres d'Arles and elsewhere, even at ICP in New York.  Most recently the Foam Photography Museum in Amsterdam (foam.org) sent a group show to the Red Hook Labs in Brooklyn (redhooklabs.com) featuring Yokota, among others of similar avant-garde bent.  He lives and works in Tokyo.  His gallery is the G/P Gallery of Tokyo.




4 comments:

  1. Check out the huge collection of Japanese experimentalists at the San Francisco MoMA such as Eikoh Hosoe and Daido Moriyama. Moriyama's photobooks probably influenced Yokota.

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    1. Moriyama's photobooks are as radical as you could want, and still seem new. They deserve a blogpost of their own. Thanks for bringing them to our attention.

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