Text by Claire Hazelton
You can’t help but feel like you are disturbing an undeniable sense of stillness as you enter the Japan House Gallery at the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation; the floor squeaks under your feet and the chandelier sways slightly. Quietly lurking here, tucked away behind a throbbing Marylebone Street, is the first London solo show of Japanese artist, Akiko Takizawa. Her work, hung just shy of the creeping shadows cast by the park’s trees outside, are mainly black and white photographs taken in the county of Aomori in North Japan and at the shrines of Osorezan (Fear Mountain). They depict places where the memories of dead children are remembered and preserved, where their souls are protected and cherished and where parents gather to grieve. Amongst images of the shrines are strange volcanic landscapes, people obscured behind grass, clouds, reflections; every image seems to be cloaked in a melancholic mystery.
In the first room there is a low-standing table in the centre with neatly stacked booklets and a stunningly pristine portfolio of Takizawa’s prints. On the surrounding walls, curated like the pages of a book – readable, simple and considered – are the artist’s peaceful yet haunting images of soft hues of varying greys and transparent whites. The shrines and landscapes seem empty on first appearance, but viewers who spend time with each image, allowing their eyes to adjust to Takizawa’s intricate subtleties of tone will realise that many of the photographs are haunted by translucent faces. In a particularly striking piece, Father #2, a man’s fading body disappears against the chaotic grain of a floor of woodchips. First drawn to the complex textures of the wood, you barely notice the man’s hand drifting quietly in the centre. His face, engulfed by flickers of white, could be sleeping. Is this man a ghost? Is he a memory? Is he dead?
In each landscape a similar obscurity is apparent; in People #4, a family portrait is swallowed by the shadow of temples, the eldest member stooping, skeletal and frowning, and in Waterfall #1, a figure, seemingly still as a rock is cloaked in the waterfall’s shower. There is something very distant about every face in this room, in their vacant expressions, gestures and in Takizawa’s magical and sensitive use of monochrome. My shoes continue to squeak on the floor as I drift in and out of each image and, for a moment, a woman dressed in white and grey (blending strangely into the colours of the exhibit) comes to stand in front of the same photograph as me. We stand almost brushing shoulders and she turns to me and says “Aren’t they sad?” Nodding in agreement I smile, but thinking further, I decide a better word might be “nostalgic” or “peaceful”. Of course there is a sadness in the fading subjects of Takizawa’s images and in the recurrent feeling of a heavy grief, but overall, her work seems gentle, still and warm. They are images of acceptance, not anger.
In the second room, the visitor is confronted yet again with landscapes haunted with faces. In Wedding Up in Heaven, shrines and photographs of deceased children appear and disappear amongst thick streams of clouds, and in Where We Belong, Senbazuru, a shadowed face stares upwards, submerged by tumbling specs. Peering through these obscuring layers in Takizawa’s pieces, you feel as if you am looking into some form of parallel universe, a universe only visible through Takizawa’s lens. As if printed on felt or velvet, the photographs seem to absorb all sound and light; some, such as Earless Houichi, Heiki Ghost, even appear to glow. In one image, Where We Belong, Magnolia #1, the subject, a woman in round spectacles and a red top, is hung on the wall at exactly my height. As I approach, our heads slot into one another and immediately I am engulfed by her landscape, leaves around my head, overwhelmed in a deep yellow. This place, commanded by Takizawa’s work, seems to have a timelessness to it – the past mingling freely with the present. As I leave the gallery, I imagine the chandelier becoming still again and the space reverting to its previous silence. I step outside to head to the station and time begins back on its endless churning.
Akiko Takizawa:Over The Parched Fields, 18/01/2012 – 01/03/2012, Japan House Gallery, Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation, 13/14 Cornwall Terrace (Outer Circle), London, NW1 4QP. www.dajf.org.uk
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