“Ma” and Photography: Four Emerging Female Artists from Japan
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In Japanese, the word “Ma” indicates in-between, both in temporal and spatial terms. In various idiomatic usages, it also means “pause”, “chance” and “timing”, in relation to gestures and daily customs. As an artistic idea, “Ma” has long been regarded as the basis of sensitivity that is embodied in traditional painting, architecture and music. In photographic expression, ‘Ma’ is understood as void, empty space between the subjects.
I selected four female artists, Akiko Ikeda, Yuko Tada, Emi Fukuyama and Hitomi Kakimoto, who utilize different approaches to time and space in-between. Akiko Ikeda makes installation works with snapshots and magazines, which make use of gaps in scale. Yuko Tada tries to capture the spaces in-between in the geographical features of Wakakusayama hill. Using black and white straight photography, Emi Fukuyama deliberately shows distance between the scene she is framing and herself. Hitomi Kakimoto stages scenes based on her own memories and imagination, and thus subtly reveals the gap between past and present.
Akiko Ikeda (b.1972, Gifu, Japan)
their site / your sight project (2000–)
Originally trained as a sculptor, Akiko Ikeda uses snapshots and magazines as materials to create installation works. She cuts out the outlines of people and things in the snapshots and magazine pages, keeping the points of contact intact. The figures then pop up at right angles to the surface, turning the images into sculptural objects. She installs the pop-ups in various places and sometimes takes pictures of them to create photographic works. Through these procedures, she creates a kind of nesting effect and encourages viewers to experience the gaps between different scales and dimensions.
Besides showing this work in galleries, Ikeda chooses unique sites for her installation projects, such as a washstand in a swimming pool and a stairwell in a college building. Thus she tries to enliven the spaces. When the pop-ups are placed side by side, they appear as if they are connected with each other and generate new landscapes.
Yuko Tada (b.1974 Osaka, Japan)
Strolling in Between: Deer and People on Wakakusayama Hill.
Wakakusayama Hill is located in Nara City, the old capital of Japan in the 8th century. The hill is in the vicinity of Kasuga Shrine and wild deer live around there. According to local folklore, deer in this area were considered sacred due to a visit from one of the four gods of the shrine. The Kasuga Shrine area has long been a place for worship and sightseeing, and is depicted in various scroll paintings and poems.
Yuko Tada photographed the hill on sunny days, focusing on deer and people strolling on the slopes. She treats the geographical features of the hill as multi-layered backdrops, similar to hanging scroll paintings. On the hill, she found complex layers of space in-between. As the deer are protected and fed by local people and tourists, they seem to be comfortable with people around them. Against the background of the grassy hill with the cityscape in the distance, deer and people are caught side by side, looking at and reacting to each other in idyllic and playful settings, sometimes in unrealistic proportions due to the effect of perspective.
Emi Fukuyama (b.1981)
Works from the series Before Sunset Comes and The Moon, Following Me
Working mainly in black and white, Emi Fukuyama has photographed various indoor and outdoor settings. As the series titles such as Before Sunset Comes and The Moon, Following Me suggest, her photographs are marked by her nuanced response to the subtle, conditions of natural light. She deliberately chooses her viewpoints to make the depth of her field of vision tangible. Things such as walls, fences, windows and plants are often framed so as to invite the viewer’s gaze into the distance. The reflections and shadows softly interlock within the frame and the effects of light make each place appear atmospheric.
Through solo exhibitions and book publications, Fukuyama shows her photographs in sequences. Looking at the photographs in sequence, viewers experience a sense of hovering and undulating movement through her viewpoints.
Hiromi Kakimoto (b.1976,)
For the series Little World, Hiromi Kakimoto chooses places where she spent time in her childhood, and sets up scenes based on her fragmentary memories. With props such as flowers, balloons, small chairs and toys, she tries to construct a fictive world. Throughout the series, she emphasizes the mood of daydreaming, through the subtle impressions of colors and the use of props that appear to be floating in the air. The floating props are suggestive of a suspended feeling in time and space.
Prior to this series, she made serial portraits of her own little sister in black and white, which showed the delicate appearance of a young girl growing up. Ever since, the world that a little girl might have seen and imagined is the source of her artistic inspiration. In this sense, Little World is rooted both in her own past memories and in her imagination of her little sister’s experience.
Mika Kobayashi is a photo critic and guest researcher at Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo. She is on the Editorial Board of the TAP Review.