The setting for the
"time-space" photographs in this exhibition is Manchuria.
History has condemned the region for its role as the puppet state of
"Manchukuo," but the people who lived there led a variety
of different lives, and in each of them is an accumulation of various
times. There's no reason to wipe all of this away on the basis of
some official "historical perspective."
The subject matter Kasagi deals with is heavy. The specific events that led to the formation of "Manchukuo" are not simple. Today the area, consisting of Northeast China and the eastern section of Inner Mongolia, has undergone an almost complete Sinicization, but it was once home to the Jurchen people (later known by the Chinese-style name "Manchu"), who destroyed the Ming Dynasty and established the Qing Dynasty. Then after the Qing Dynasty was toppled and the Republic of China came into being, the substantive ruler became the Beiyang Army, with Zhang Zuolin wielding real power. As it grew obvious that Russia and Japan planned to invade the country, the last Qing emperor, Puyi, became embroiled in the situation, and Japan's aggressive policy, involving the Kanto Army, the secret maneuvering of bandits, and the communist influence of Soviet Russia, added an even more complex dimension.
In Kasagi's work, one sees both images of the former Mukden Kanto Army Headquarters (now used by the Communist Party), where the conspiracy to establish Manchukuo was hatched, and the Mukden Yamato Hotel, which served as a symbol of Japan in the region, in both period and contemporary photographs. One also sees Shanhaiguan Pass, a section of the Great Wall where today tourists innocently enjoy themselves but once was a strategic and impenetrable point that divided the Han Chinese from the Lurchen, and a symbol of the deep divisions between the two groups.
In Kasagi's 2006 exhibition in Himeji, the artist's time collided with her mother's. But in this exhibition, the unification of the two produces Kasagi-like particles, accentuates the common areas between them, and is then thrown into the viewer's hands. As Kasagi says, for the works to generate energy, there is a need for the viewer to take hold of these particles as well as the mass. With this sort of receptivity and appreciation, a tremendous amount of energy can be produced.
It is my sincere hope that this exhibition will turn into just such an energy-filled place.
*Following Japan's defeat in World War II, the low-grade Kuomintang army took over from the Japanese in Taiwan (in order to engage in the civil war on the Chinese mainland). Triggered by an incident related to the illicit sale of tobacco that occurred in Taipei on February 28, 1947, Taiwanese who opposed the regime clashed with the Kumontang, provoking a harsh response from the administration on the mainland and resulting in a severe crackdown and massacre of students and intellectuals who had been educated by the Japanese. Tens of thousands are said to have been killed, but the actual number remains unknown. The incident was long been deemed a taboo subject.
Translated into English by Christopher Stephens
Curator, Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art
I first visited Taiwan in
the spring of 1991. While Kuomintang-imposed martial law had only
been rescinded four years earlier and an air of oppressiveness still
hung over the country, there was a certain amount of hope regarding
President Lee Teng-hui's new policies (freedom of speech wasn't
granted until 1992). At the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, where I'd gone
to discuss plans for an exhibition devoted to the Western-style
painter Ishikawa Kinichiro (the son of a shogun vassal), who was born
in 1871 and had worked in Taiwan, I was deeply impressed to find a
large collection of paintings by modern Western- and Japanese-style
Taiwanese painters. And while in Japan Ishikawa is only known to
those in the know, I learned that he was responsible for propagating
Western painting and sympathetically fostered a younger generation of
Taiwanese artists at a time when many Japanese adopted a
condescending attitude toward the local people in what was then a
Japanese colony. At the same time, he also managed to endear himself
to someone like Kuroda Seiki. Among Ishikawa's students was Chen
Cheng-po (one of Taiwan's most renowned Western-style painters),
whose outstanding works were distinguished by a sense of ethnic
consciousness and whose shooting death by the Kuomintang, who had
assumed control from the Japanese, at Chiayi Station was symbolic of
the 2/28 Incident.*
News and other reports of this kind regarding this East Asian country that once had such a close connection to Japan are now few, and one can't help but think that there is a great disparity between what is actually going on there and the coverage in the Japanese media. And with some exception, the Japanese press who recoils against the country's pre-war past also seems to be absent from patterns of discussion in Taiwan and other East Asian countries.
The subject of Kasagi Etsuko's works is another East Asian country that once had close links to Japan. Her inspiration came after her mother's death, when Kasagi was stunned to discover a huge store of photographs showing her mother in unfamiliar places and began traveling to the area where she had once lived. In her 2006 exhibition "Two Times, Two Lights" (at the Himeji City Museum of Art), Kasagi mixed landscape photographs from the past with those of the present, and while using a computer to insert herself into family photographs of her grandmother or aunt, she supplemented them with thoughts about her mother's life in the region and the family relationships that the artist had traced. Her statements are conveyed without a strident ideology or unmediated nostalgia. Instead, they represent old memories of the area as seen through her mother and other relatives' eyes, or her family's embryonic links with the region.