Since contemporary Japanese photography came to wider attention in the West since the 1990’s, it has been acclaimed for its diversity—in the words of photography critic and scholar Mariko Takeuchi’s, its ‘multitude of reactions’ in the reproduction of truth1. In the past decade, the new generation of Japanese photographers has elevated this diversity to greater magnitudes by pushing the limits of their visual representations, often prolonging the images beyond their original frames or dimensions and conceptual boundaries2.
On today’s forefront of such exploration are Cozue Takagi and Shu Ikeda, two young Japanese artists who illuminate the intervals between the visible and the invisible in their works. Both artists voyage into new possibilities in the photographic medium with their collaged creations: Cozue employs digital manipulation to give an incredible density to her emotional landscapes, while Shu uses the method of paper-cutting to create quietly punctuated universes, where one experiences a breakdown of the boundary between interiority and the external world.
One of the most recognized young photographers in Japan, Cozue Takagi stands out for the provocative imagery in her work, as well as her constantly evolving techniques and styles. In her signature diptych titled ‘Ground’, Cozue’s method is to scan a group of original negatives photographed on film and to convert the monochrome images into colored ones, before digitally mixing them as collages and adjusting the tones. The fabricated, multi-layered images carry deep, stirring hues and atmospheres that spring from Cozue’s creative process.
While Cozue started her artistic journey with the desires to confront the outside world and to protect her inner refuge, ‘split’ and ‘grain’ show that the two realms stem from the same place in the artist’s mind. In ‘split’, a series of 18 images that originate from ‘ground’, the assemblage of human figures, animals, plants, fire, objects and printed matters symbolizes scenes from Cozue’s life. The expressive gestures call to an intense subjectivism within the artist. ‘grain’, a further decomposition of ‘ground’ images, cuts to the heart of her creativity: the repeated cycle of life and death, of life being born for the dying and returning to the earth to be born again.
Rebirth takes on a different guise in the work of Shu Ikeda, who inverts the photographic images and reality to create unique, distant landscapes. Shu also photographs on film: he cuts out different shapes on the photographs with a paper cutter, and each artwork is a delicate creation that takes one to three months to complete. The layered images show both existence and voids: they represent Shu’s cropping of a moment in reality, then cropping it further and reinventing it in a new light and space. Mounted on acrylic, the punctuated photos contain a variety of visual effects that invite comparisons between illusion and substance.
The central subject in Shu’s work is scenery of nature, as he believed nature evokes feelings and impressions that are universal in people regardless of their backgrounds. In Shu’s world where the real and the imaginary intersect, the viewers recognize deep, visceral response to the external world in their own consciousness. Works such as ‘we must say goodbye until we see it once again’ draws on one’s perception of the passage of time, while ‘another shadow’ hints at the exploration of selves within the audience. These associations are questions from the artist, who maintains remarkable emotional restraints in his work.
For all the contrast in compositions and styles between the two artists’ works, Cozue and Shu share one creative ideal: to express their innermost feelings with clarity, and with no discrepancies between their artworks and their selves. In their reproduction of reality, Cozue and Shu explore compositional and conceptual limits in contemporary Japanese photography, a bourgeoning art form that often questions the nature of photography itself3. Fragmented Emotions brings Cozue Takagi and Shu Ikeda to the Hong Kong audience for the first time, in a showcase of the emotive, daring and innovative facets of contemporary Japanese photography.
Cozue Takagi (b. 1985) – Cozue Takagi first rose to prominence in Japan’s art scene when she won the Grand Prize at Canon’s New Cosmos of Photography in 2006 during her last year of studies in Tokyo Polytechnic University. Since then Takagi’s works have been exhibited in various solo and group exhibitions across Japan and in Korea. She is the winner of the 35th Kimura Ihei Memorial Photography Award 2010, one of the most prestigious photography awards in Japan. She lives and works in Nagano, Japan.
Shu Ikeda (b. 1979) – Shu Ikeda studied painting in Tokyo Zokei University and graduated in 2004. Since his debut solo exhibition fragmentary time in 2007, Ikeda has risen as one of Japan’s up-and-coming artists with his Honorable Mention at Canon’s New Cosmos of Photography in 2009 and winning the Mayor of Judge Prize at Tokyo Wonder Wall 2009. He works and lives in Tokyo, Japan.
1Photography in Japan’, an essay by Mariko Takeuchi for Paris Photo 2008 with Mariko Takeuchi’ in foam magazine #17, winter 2008
2Photography in Japan’, an essay by Mariko Takeuchi for Paris Photo 2008 3Ferdinand Brueggemann, ‘Focus on contemporary Japanese photography: Interview