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Your Body is Yours at the National Museum of Art, Osaka

Particularly noticeable on the train, in Japan everyone appears to maintain their outward appearance to a very high degree. Almost everybody, regardless of age, has at least one carefully considered aspect to their style, be it a new season jacket or sneakers, flawlessly made up face / hair, or slender arms placed either side of a spotless sleeveless blouse.

It seems like everyone’s (makes themselves) beautiful here, like it’s a given that all surfaces be cared for and are inherently (worthy of being made) (to look) beautiful. Or perhaps it’s more just an outsiders view of a strange uniformity or order. Genetic ties to Japan may be why I have this impression, which continues to be childishly wide eyed as it is searching and cynical, although Japan’s refined aesthetic sensibility is no doubt a hugely prominent part of the culture.

How this aesthetic concern or care has actually practically taken shape – how and why the many amenities that are overly abundant in Japan today came to be so meticulously considered and designed – while a highly rich and worthy topic, is for sure not above or beyond a worldwide fuck up or trend [drive for profit/sales]. This feeling for surfaces I’m attempting to grasp could well simply be fetishistic – an ancient singular culture which now blindly follows a seeming downward spiral / neo-liberal program. But somehow my soul searching in the shallows, with a perhaps exoticising, millenial eye, could be to see that each and every surface, though, appears to have an enfolded trajectory pointing benignly back to a consideration or relation rooted in the not-human-made world.

Your Body is Yours engaged my visual sense disarmingly to begin with, then prompted thoughts similarly centred on Surface.

Beaming colour from large scale inky prints
Lusty limbs, real window sills, weather, clothes
Accurately-intuitively placed pictures
Their smoothness
Overwhelming volume
European filter

were all to be expected
but took me by surprise.

It was a relief to be dwarfed by familiar white walls in the new-to-me Osaka National Museum of Art presented with ‘a lot to see’ and with the mandate to stare. Tillmans purposefully leaves no single impressions and has exhaustively organised images that easily and lightly prescribe any type of looking, be it a contemplative stare, or brief walk-by. Any criticisms that I thought I may have wanted to have had – ‘he’s too cool for school, another smirking WMA’ – were disappeared by glowing colours awash in the brain and eyes greedily absorbing the intimacy of the everyday subjects, forms and those colours all over the walls.

I briefly and cynically contemplated this show as something like Instagram in a museum having only recently started an account myself. A late adopter not blissfully unaware, just ungracefully ageing and too vain and ashamed to participate with selfies – photos of places seen, been, noted. But by no means above or beneath looking and contemplating the expedient format, which easily stymies any well-meaning thoughts of nutting it out – “why is this something to do?”-, in favour of the prevailing figure-it-out-as-you’re-participated.

The pictures that Tillmans makes are desirable for sure. Their light(ness) spectacular and materially manifest, a privilege to have seen. However something made me feel like my initial prejudgement and instinct were right – there was a gratuitousness in the way looking was commandeered. Something perhaps to do with a privileged indecision, or lack of position – a trait of so-called man-childishness which I recently strayed upon in some pithy online essay*.

Is it an overt universalising or an indiscriminate openness? Grand exhibition titles like If One Thing Matters Everything Matters make me roll my eyes a little, make me not so interested in his work. But then again, we’re always suckers for cool kids. Maybe because there’s so much to loathe and adore in one beautiful package. In a conversation with Isa Genzken, where they’re talking about ideas and who they love, Tillmans says:

‘I have a hard, judging gaze, but I also have a benign one. That comes from a feeling that these are all people who do their best. I was very impressed by a statement Andy Warhol made in an interview I read in the ’80s. He was asked, “Why do you always say everything is great?” Warhol said, “Because life is hard. Everything is hard. Baking a cake is hard.” And this feeling that everything is really difficult gives me a point of access, in the sense of a basic respect and appreciation. You can’t go around thinking everything’s crap.’ **

After a good five minutes of scrolling through Instagram (the phone about 30cm away from my eyes), strolling outside everything seems brighter, and I feel more sensitive to the off-screen wide world.

Melanie Keung

Wolfgang Tillmans – Your Body is Yours at the National Museum of Art, Osaka
(July 25 – September 23 2015)

** Artforum November 2005 “Who Do You Love? Isa Genzken and Wolfgang Tillmans in conversation”

This entry was posted in: Reviews

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