Hiding beneath masks of identity, searching for absence, circulating in the layers of time, culture, custom: Kimiko Yoshida explores the nature of being oneself, whilst letting go of all that is attached to this notion. By covering her gaze with drapes, masks or emblems, she becomes one with her background and the elements adorning her being, thus learning to question what it means to be an individual, to dress oneself with an identity.
Her self-portraits serve to present a collection of photographs where the environment and subject are always the same, yet constantly portray something alien to itself. There is in fact a gap between the representation and signification of these images, where identity is captured as a static object that is able to transform, deflect, convert or recast itself in various ways, to the point of becoming no longer recognisable. Born in Tokyo, Kimiko was formed in Japan until 1995, when she decided to keep pursuing her academic career as artist and photographer in Paris. Through her examination of identity and her depictions of its illusion, Kimiko is able to raise essential questions around the female identity and, in the words of Rimbaud, “find strange, unfathomable, repugnant, delicious things”. Indeed by letting go of the dominance of our ego, we will take these things in, we will understand.
Kimiko, thank you for taking the time to discuss your works and share your thoughts with Shot magazine. How did your journey as an artist begin, and what inspired the red thread of your self-portraits throughout the years?
I always knew I was born as an artist. At Chuo University and at Tokyo College of Photography in Japan, then at École nationale supérieure de la photographie in Arles, and at Studio national des arts contemporains-Le Fresnoy in France, I learnt everything about photography techniques, before studying art history. Self-portrait is not a subject for me. I just found out that self-portrait is the most practical, most convenient, simplest and at hand material. The subject of my art is a reflection on the conditions of possibility of representation.
My quasi-monochrome self-portraits, large, square, subtly lit monochromic photographs, constitute my signature works since 2001. The conceptual protocol behind my self-portraits is invariable: always the same minimalist etiquette, same setting, same subject, same lighting, same framing. Thus, the same face is repeatedly portrayed but is never identical to itself. The more the figure is repeated, the more different it becomes. No digital editing, no photoshop manipulations: make-up only and direct shooting.
In The Conceptual Protocol of My Self-Portraits you write that “art is a subtle process of transposition, an assiduous struggle with the state of things”. What has art helped you metabolise, understand or overcome?
Art modifies the subjective symptom, transposes one thing into another thing, transforms the existing state of what is: to create art is not to accept the things that exist as they are, it is to give form to one’s destiny, it is to struggle against death.
Your artwork also reflects a scission between presence and absence, where the self is concealed beneath other elements. What is the role of absence, in your works? Has this absence helped you discover more about your identity?
What have I discovered while creating art?
1. Identity is a cliché, a stereotype, a ready-made idea, an imaginary fantasy, an ease of language that current discourse conveys and repeats at will to avoid thinking about what constitutes what is lazily called “identity”.
2. Absence is what is present in any representation; whether in painting or photography, what is re-presented is not present: therefore, any image speaks only of an absence. In other words, there is a constitutive lacking in the image and it is precisely what is missing in the image that eroticizes the gaze.
In your series Time Travellers, you explore identity as a fluid thing in relation to time. Deleuze writes about identity as an inevitable illusion. What are the greatest challenges that identity faces in our current societies, in your opinion?
I am mainly concerned with the history of art: that is the main meaning of Time Travellers. Identity is a fantasy, identity is what is made up of a random accumulation of chance identifications. Deleuze is right to say that it is an imaginary illusion and Jacques Lacan is right with his metaphor of the onion: when we peel an onion and we isolate the superimposed peels which constitute it, in the end we check it: there is no nucleus.
What is the role of “otherness” and “diversity” in your works?
Otherness is what combats the contemporary ideology of identity, roots, communities.
What is womanhood, to you?
Can we really say that there is a feminine art? A women’s literature? Are Artemisia Gentileschi or Rosalba Carriera or Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun painters first? Or women? Are Colette, Virginia Woolf, Louise Labbé, Madame de La Fayette, Jane Austen or Simone de Beauvoir first and foremost writers? Or women? Am I an artist first? Or am I essentially, ontologically, transcendentally a woman? A Japanese? A European? Looking for her identity? In search of her supposed roots? Of an imaginary community? A woman who fails to change the state of things as it exists, as it is received, as it is accepted? Art is what transforms, isn’t it?
Art is what opens a free space for the play of Time and simplifies the depthless intimacy of absence. Art is the absence of a response to what is lacking and the artist here is the one who, through travesty, dissimulation and inauthenticity, keeps open in her work the question of separation, disappearance, and distress. Without the lack and the distress, the absence and the oblivion, would something like art exist?
Image courtesy of the artist