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Q&A with Japanese/French artist Kimiko Yoshida
(Marchesa Balbi by Van Dyck) Self Portrait, 2007-2009.

Interviewed by: JC Lloyd-Southwell d’Anvers

PARIS.- Jeff Koons and Henry Moore with their sculptures, Coco Chanel and her designs, Seishonagon and her writing, all unique and all just as iconic as the work of Japanese-born Paris-based artist Kimiko Yoshida, whom we engage today in conversation.

You started in Japan with the desire to express your voice and your art in various media in order to convey different messages. Where do we find you now at this point in time?

In fact, I began my work as an artist in France. I exiled myself, I fled Japan to escape an arranged marriage, the servitude of women, social discipline, the burden of submission to the group. I came to France to become an artist. First I did photography, video, then sculpture and painting. Today, I am also doing blown glass sculptures with master glassmakers in Murano.

It is inevitable that your initial life experiences to the point of young adulthood took place in Japan, what sort of impact has this had in your present life in France both as an individual, but most importantly as an artist?

On the one hand, there is my Japanese culture, which is based on minimalism and subtraction. On the other, the profusion and seduction of Baroque, which I discovered in Italy. In between, there is a tension which is reflected in my work. I certainly would never have discovered the value of baroque sensitivity if I had not come to live in Europe. How can a Japanese woman living in a - formal, reserved - Buddhist culture imagine this art of seduction, profusion and dizziness? The exaltation of whims and the exceptional, ornamental extravagance, theatrical sumptuousness, ostentatious eloquence, the shimmering and splendour of hyperbole, decorative overabundance, heroic emphasis, the voluptuousness of turmoil, dispersal and discontinuity - the baroque imagination is literally unimaginable for a Tokyoite. How do you design and feel, when you are in Tokyo, the monumental outpouring, the illusions of infinity, the ellipse and instability, the frenzy, the oscillation, the fainting, the emotion, the anxiety which are likely to dazzle, confuse, disorient, destabilise ...? Especially since, in the brilliant meanings of the culture of the image promoted by a triumphant Catholicism, nothing seems more antithetical to the Shinto aesthetic of subtraction and silence, with the concise minimalism of Zen Buddhism, with the strict formalism of the Way of emptiness and detachment. It is clear that nothing in the invention of Baroque rallies the Japanese taste for fragile beauty and incompleteness, the search for pure form and subtraction, the ascetic will for self-denial and effacement, the aptitude for inner illumination and letting go. The appeal of the baroque dizziness, which surprises and seduces, is no less active in my art than the minimalist orientation of Zen and Shinto, a confident and constant minimalism characterised by tense formalism. This formalism that Western fantasy spontaneously attributes to Japanese culture is very real in all aspects of life.

But it is there, at the intersection of two cultures, that an aesthetic, a thought which analyses and brings minimalism and Baroque into a dialectical relationship, is invented: subtraction versus saturation, effacement versus profusion, soberness versus seduction - the immaterial plus the sensuality, the emptiness plus the inessential, deficiency plus sumptuousness. The almost-nothing plus the dizziness, this is the abyss on which my work depends. In my work, this fragility that renders figures as weakened and destroyed, this effacement which reveals the image to itself in its obscureness, lead to an art of clarity, to a luminous experience where deficiency is no longer deprivation but an affirmation. Deprivation, disappearance, effacement or absence are not therefore a weakness of the picture or something missing in the picture, but the affirmation of the forever uncompleted, and sometimes threatening, meaning of the image.

You have often said that you see art as a shifting metamorphosis. Is this still a common theme in your body of work? And would this be one of the reasons why you continue to marvel your audiences by moving from portraiture to performance installations?

What is called “self-portrait” is essentially, for me, the space of transposition, of disappearance, of mutation. Fighting against the “state of things”, going against “what is”, that is really for me the very meaning of art. The sole ‘raison d’être’ of art is to transform what only art can transform.

Would you consider incursion into other disciplines such as music as a natural progression of your work? Say, even, by way of collaboration with other artists?

In my film, There Where I Am Not, I asked a composer, Goran Vejdova, to create the music, in which he included bits of songs I did a capella. I am happy to work with an artist or a creator, although opportunities are rare because of the fact that I, spontaneously and habitually, work alone without an assistant, without make-up, without stylist, without a lighting technician, etc.

Whilst remaining true to your aesthetics, your work appears to have provided the source of inspiration for numerous projects in fashion, theatre and music. From video clips by Madonna and recently Lady Gaga, to the work of big fashion houses such as Dior, Viktor & Rolf and countless others with collections, runway shows and magazine editorials, does all this further validate your work? (For example, let us compare 04 The Baroque Bride. Self-portrait, 2001 with the recent Judas video clip by Lady Gaga)

Someone in the United States asked me to contribute to a book about Lady Gaga ... I was surprised, but I agreed to do it. On the other hand, I am surprised I haven’t received thus far any proposals from fashion designers. I have just completed a major series of self-portraits (entitled Paintings) based on Paco Rabanne’s Heritage, in which I set myself a rigorous conceptual protocol: no object is ever used in its function, all fashion accessories or dresses are systematically détournés [diverted] (I know this concept is difficult to translate) *See below

This protocol of systematic détournement duplicates the unchanged conceptual protocol that I have been applying since 2001: still the same subject (myself), the same setting, the same light, which shows that the selfportrait is not the subject. The idea is to show that the more it is the same the more it changes, the more it is repeated the more it differs from itself.

In this very repetition, the portrait is losing its distinctive function, the “figure” effaces what it depicts, it dissolves its authority, it tends to abstraction. It is in this abstraction that I find the subtraction and the emptiness that are the core of Japanese minimalism. Here is the very saturation which is the true “self-portrait”, that is to say the space for the transposition, the disappearance, the mutation. Fighting against the “state of things”, going against “what is”, that is probably for me - the meaning of art. Being where I don’t think I am, disappearing from where I think I am, that’s the important thing.

Là Où Je Ne Suis Pas was one of your latest projects and also the title of your newly published book, which some say has proven to be a challenging read, yet your actual portraits require just a quick glance to see the expression of the most sublime beauty, before the viewer becomes soon entranced. Is there a dichotomy between the product and the message? Do you think that beauty is complex and thus feel a need to peel away its many layers? (02 The Bride with the Mask of Herself. Self Portrait, 2002)..-

Dichotomy, schize, division, fading, faint are at the heart of my art. Look at my self-portraits entitled Mariées [Brides]: these Brides are single. It is an oxymoron, an “antiphrasis”. What the word describes and what it means are two separate, contradictory registers. Similarly, what the image shows is cleaved from what it means. Therefore, there is no “bride” or “single” or “self-portrait”: the same figure is repeated but not identical to itself, a face shows itself while masking itself, a portrait declares itself but differs from itself. Similarly, entitling a picture Painting also contradicts the word and the thing, contradicting what is being said and what is shown, bringing two opposites together. It’s a way of bringing altérité [otherness], dissimilarity into my own Paintings. This function of otherness, of difference, is that by which the uniqueness of a work of art is defined, when all is said and done.

Your art is considered compellingly beautiful because, amongst many subject-matters, it portrays beauty in different forms, and since you are both the art and the artist, do references to your own physical attributes empower or disturb you?

The image, which is itself nothing but the appearance of what has disappeared, performs a destructive action just like death, which replaces a living creature by a corpse which looks like it - that’s the main point. My art has always been tied to disappearance; I have always wanted to disappear into my images, into monochromaticity, which is a desire for abstraction. My Self-portraits are images of disappearance in which the figure gives the work its meaning by disappearing.

When the image aims to capture the meaning of the unrepresentable, the work is realised only when it belongs to what is missing. It is characteristic of scarcity to be always masked by what is missing, which constantly leads the work to face what must be called something impossible to represent.

With your work having been exhibited at numerous important institutions including the Venice Biennale and more closely to your Australian followers, the Queensland Center for Photography, are there any signs of a major exhibition in Australia in the nearfuture?

The only Australian gallery owner I have met is Gary Langsford, whom I met at the Venice Biennale. He came to the studio in Paris, but it came to nothing. Find me a good museum in Australia and I will visit you!

To quote Shakespeare: ‘Parting is such sweet sorrow’, what would Kimiko Yoshida’s final quote be?

I think of this line from John Lennon (in the opening of I Am the Walrus): I am he as you are he as you are me…

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