Daisuke Yokota: Emergence

Daisuke Yokota’s first London solo exhibition is titled ‘Emergence’. Yet it is difficult to say what exactly might be emerging in this small show that varies hugely in quality and tone.

Daisuke Yokota ‘Emergence’ Installation view at Roman Road, 2017

By far the most astute pieces on view at Roman Road are two larger-than-life camera-less photographs. They show an inky black field that spreads almost entirely across the paper’s surface. These are not voids, however, but richly textured grounds with subtle differences of colour, tiny splashes and creases, like the patina of well-worn leather. Their scale and proportion invite close attention, framing the viewer’s body within its reflective glass. Achieved by coating photographic papers copiously with emulsions and exposing these directly to sunlight, the works, both Untitled (2016), offer an intense focus on an experimental process with beautiful results.

A series of five rather banal videos, also Untitled (2016), meanwhile, show the production process for Yokota’s photographic installation Matter/Vomit(2016) in action. In these, pieces of paper gradually are added to a rubbish pile, shown across monitors in various states of glitchy image decay.

Positioned directly opposite the two large photographs are fifty small ones from a series titled Taratine (2015). In a radical tonal shift, these pieces are highly disconcerting. Like the two Untitled photographs, the surface is highly textured. Marked with burns and detritus, these are the results of repeated shooting, printing and reshooting. Here, though, it is the subject that sits far too ill at ease. Each of the images shows a woman lying down. Mostly these are cropped to show only her head (or fragment of it), or a glimpse of neck, shoulder or arm. Visual clues point toward the setting being a domestic one and no clothing is evident. In some of the photographs the woman appears peacefully asleep; others show her head apparently thrown back in ecstasy or laid entirely still in death. Several are so over-exposed that the merest hint of nostril or eyelash is seen. Roman Road’s publicity material describes the series as ‘an ode to [Yokota’s] mother and long-term girlfriend’. That the distinction between mother and lover cannot be discerned in these degraded photographs is troubling, as is the ambiguity of the sitters’ poses. Yokota’s Taratine here exhibits a cold, voyeuristic detachment through a pseudo-intimate lens. The effect, heightened by the lack of name ascribed to the sitters and the black and white nature of the work, has me in mind of historical crime scene documents – anonymous Jane Does whose fates remain unexplained.

And the difficulty is that the artist’s intent is impossible to read. What are we to make of works that depict violence toward women in their manipulated surface (if not also in their content), cheerfully framed within the context of an ‘homage’ to those who should be most important in the artist’s life? Yokota has been lauded as one of the rising stars of young Japanese experimental photographers and won the prestigious Foam Paul Huf Award in 2016 but Taratine misses the mark in so many ways that I am at a loss as to see, on the content of this exhibition (the Untitled photographs notwithstanding), why.

Daisuke Yokota
28.09.17 – 11.11.17
Roman Road 

Commissioned for Photomonitor, 11 November 2017