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"Black Box of Individual Possibilities": the press reacts to Miwa Yanagi's exhibition in the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin


Are we looking at the future of Japanese women? In the works of Miwa Yanagi, grandmothers are riding motorcycles through the desert or getting their kicks with young lovers. Yet it quickly becomes clear that the lifestyles portrayed in these photographic works are synthetically generated on the computer. Ever since her series Elevator Girls, which was made between 1993 and 1999, Yanagi, born 1967 in Kobe, has been investigating women's roles in Japan. The high-gloss photos can be seen through March 28 in the most comprehensive German show of Yanagi's works to date: at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin.

The artist has attracted quite a bit of attention in her home country, as well; the Japanese art magazine ART iT featured Yanagi in a portrait that particularly praises her "obsession with detail." Yet for Boris Hohmeyer of Art magazine, this luscious attention to surface is more than just a masquerade: "Yanagi's photographs are every bit as perfectly styled as the ubiquitous advertising photos designed to seduce young girls into the uniform constrictions of brand-name clothing. Instead, they propagate self-confidence, individualism, and an alert spirit." Frank Kallensee from the Märkische Allgemeine Zeitung sees things similarly; Yanagi's "message" couldn't be any more "true to feeling: it makes a strong case for coming of age, individualism, and intellectual flexibility."

On the other hand, in the Frankfurter Rundschau, Alexander Kluy is fascinated most of all by the architecture Yanagi creates on the computer, which often recalls a stage in a theater. For Kluy, the world Yanagi creates is "a statuary interstice in which all the fears and crises of modern civilization are suspended, as though frozen." At the same time, "demons and abysses" are lurking everywhere in these dollhouse-like scenes. According to Boris von Brauchitsch in the Antiquitäten Zeitung, this explains why the show's appeal lies in the contradiction "between utopia and reality, between visions of the future and a nightmarish present."

Although it's especially the images of strong older women that have met with considerable enthusiasm among the press, Carmen Böker, in her review of the exhibition for the Berliner Zeitung, states that Yanagi's work represents "a flight from Japanese values"; the perfectionism of her works, on the other hand, "quote classical Japanese handicraft in its dedication to the challenges of the material." For Christiane Meixner from the Berliner Morgenpost, Yanagi's photographically staged world of images, spread out over 21 works installed in an otherwise completely black room in the Berlin exhibition, presents a "black box of individual possibilities."

Miwa Yanagi, through March 28, Deutsche Guggenheim, Unter den Linden 13/15, Berlin. Daily 11 a.m. - 8 p.m., Thurs. 11a.m. - 10 p.m.