this issue contains
>> An Interview with Andrea Zittel
>> Miwa Yanagi: The Beauty of the Prison
>> Franz Ackermann's Mental Maps
>> New Forms of Governance
>> Working on the Myth

>> archive

The Beauty of the Prison:
Miwa Yanagi's Digital Dream Architecture

From 1/31 through 3/28/2004, the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin will be showing works by the young Japanese photo-artist Miwa Yanagi. Her visions of urban space reveal a secret pleasure in a disturbed reality in which facts and fiction melt into one. Maria Morais on codes, uniforms, labyrinthine prisons, and the role of women in Yanagi's digital dream worlds.

Miwa Yanagi: My Grandmothers, Minami, 2000, Deutsche Bank Collection, ©Miwa Yanagi

"My secretaries are certainly efficient, but they can really be a pain in the neck. No matter where I go, they always track me down and bring me back to this room. What's wrong with the president of the company going out dressed up in this costume, anyway? Wearing these things isn't just a hobby - it's a way for me to stay fit." (from the series My Grandmothers, Minami, 2000)

The youthful defiance in the text accompanying Miwa Yanagi's portrait Minami springs from a future vision; for her series My Grandmothers , the photo-artist interviewed young Japanese women, asking them how they imagined themselves to be in fifty years' time. The fantasies that ensued span a wide spectrum: in the company of a young man, Yuka (2000) speeds down America's West Coast on a motorcycle; in their house, Regine & Yoko (2001) throw wild parties for their friends; the aged model Eriko (2001) ponders her past beauty on a grave stylized to resemble a fashion runway; and Minamo is still dreaming of success. What is remarkable about all these stories is that most of the women see their future as a further extension of their present life: dynamic grannies by anyone's standards, whose age plays no more than a superficial role.

Miwa Yanagi: My Grandmothers, Regine & Yoko, 2001,Deutsche Bank Collection,
©Miwa Yanagi

Although the series' title suggests a family context, husbands and children are largely absent from these visions, a feature due in part to Miwa Yanagi's (read another article here)own selection: "Not everyone can be included in the My Grandmothers series. My preference is the key… even if she lives with someone else or a family, I prefer a woman who can stand on her own feet. (…) Those are my ideal women."

Yanagi (read an interview here) is concerned with more than just the private desires of a generation of young Japanese women. The distant, cool aesthetic of My Grandmothers reflects contemporary Japanese society as a whole. The artist grew up during the so-called Bubble Economy, a time marked by strong economic growth; in the aftermath, Japan has found itself confronted with a steady drop in birth rates and a loss of traditional values and ways of life. Particularly in the media-permeated big cities such as Tokyo and Osaka, the discrepancy between yesterday and today is becoming increasingly obvious.

Miwa Yanagi at her Studio

When the artist took part in the Prospect '96 exhibition in Frankfurt's Schirn in 1996, she quickly became well-known. Since then, she has been using her critical and curious eye to create a comprehensive body of work that significantly illuminates modern Japanese reality. Three large-scale photographic series have resulted, and the aim of the research lying at their core quickly becomes clear; oscillating between memory, idea, and fantasy, Elevator Girls (1993-1999), My Grandmothers (since 1999), and her latest project Granddaughters (since 2002) present a panorama of spatial utopias in which fact and fiction merge.

Miwa Yanagi: Elevator Girl House 3F, 1998, Deutsche Bank Collection, © Miwa Yanagi

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