Mercoledì, 29 Novembre 2023

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Kaunas 2022, "Perspectives of Japan" with Mari Katayama

Kaunas 2022, "Perspectives of Japan" with Mari Katayama Photo by Migle Verikaite

As part of the 'Perspectives of Japan: Art Books' section of the Kaunas 2022 cultural programme, the photographic exhibition of Japanese artist Mari Katayama, realised with the support of Eu Japan fest, was presented a few days ago.

The exhibition will remain open until 31 November 2023 in the spaces of the Photography Gallery in Kaunas

“How much of this is you and how much is not you? Who do I and you belong to, and where are we?” (Mari Katayama)

At the core of Mari Katayama’s practice is living everyday within her own body, which she uses as a living sculpture, mannequin, and a lens through which to reflect society. In her elaborate self-portraits, she places herself within a mountain of painstakingly-realised objects such as a life-sized doll and decorated boxes made by herself. The combination of Katayama’s hand-sewn objects, sculptural pieces and photography challenges viewers to question the body and its complex relationship with the surrounding environment and society.

After the amputation of her lower legs due to tibial hemimelia at the age of nine, Katayama hid her physical impairment so that she could live like “everyone else.” It was only at the age of sixteen that she consciously started to create and see herself as an artist. Since then, Katayama has used her body, which keeps changing its shape, size and roles in society, as a creative agent to approach, reflect and connect to the society as well as her own curiosity towards the common obsession and desire for (artificially created) beauty.

At the same time, Katayama’s creative activity gradually expanded from photographing self-portraits in her own room to going outdoors, photographing other people’s bodies and inviting the help of others’ hands. To name just a few, in 2016, she frequently went to the island of Naoshima to create the “bystander” series, in which she photographed the hands of puppeteers at a female-only Bunraku puppet theatre company, to develop a collection of photographs and the hand-sewn objects. This was the first time for Katayama to feature other people’s bodies in her work. And in 2023, the second edition of Katayama’s High Heel Project (the project itself was started in 2011) saw completion of the completely custom-made high heels through long-term collaborative work with many individuals and corporations. These experiences, combined with the gradual expansion in her working style, made Katayama realise the difficulty and power of “living together,” but also that she cannot say she owns her body, whose vitality is only made possible by numerous people and support mechanisms. These include prosthetists who know her body better than she does, social support from the disability welfare system, and her family and friends.

Although Katayama’s work takes personal matters as its starting point, these personal matters are not Katayama’s themes. The essence of the questions and perspectives that emerge from her works and her activities are always directed towards society.

Katayama says: “I am not aware that the person in the self-portraits is myself. There is something in me which is the same as you. I am you.” This leads one to question who is pictured in the portraits, and who their body belongs to. It also leads one to reflect on why they might think in this way. Today, individuals can easily post and share images through social media, such as their appearance, whereabouts, behaviours and even their past doings. “How much of this is you and how much is not you? Who do I and you belong to, and where are we?” The answer to these questions seems to have become even more unclear.

Katayama’s images and objects engage viewers in fundamental questions about the body, and the complex issues around bodies such as biased gazes, social labels and what is considered correct or incorrect. Just as Katayama feels when she proceeds with making objects stitch by stitch with a needle and thread, experiencing her work could allow viewers to confirm their contours, shapes and roles in society, as if reflecting them into a mirror. Mari Katayama (b. 1987) lives in Gunma, Japan. In addition to her creative activity as an artist, she works as a fashion model, singer, and keynote speaker.

Katayama has been awarded numerous prizes including the prestigious Kimura Ihei Award in 2019. Over the last fifteen years her work has been included in around fifty international solo and group exhibitions.

EU - Japan Fest Japan Committee