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Indepth Arts News:

"Michiko Kon: Still Lifes"
2000-07-09 until 2000-10-01
San Jose Museum of Art
San Jose, CA, USA United States of America

Michiko Kon: Still Lifes, the first major exhibition of the photographs of Japanese artist Michiko Kon to be shown in the Western hemisphere, will travel to the San Jose Museum of Art on July 9. The exhibition includes approximately 70 of Kon's black-and-white and color photographs. Kon's dreamlike vision transforms organic matter - beetles, fish heads, eyes, chicken feet, and scales - into photographic compositions of exquisite delicacy and technical precision. The exhibition is on view through October 1st, 2000.

Often compared to Edward Weston's still life photographs and Arcimboldo's fruit figure paintings, Kon's work creates a delicious tension between the animate and the inanimate. Diverse biological matter such as fish, plants, and insects are unexpectedly combined with clothing, shoes, furniture, and even body parts. A fish eye peers out from the center of a rose, salmon roe is delicately balanced on a toothbrush, and a boot is gorgeously covered in wispy shrimp, rosebuds, and fish scales. These disarming works evoke Surrealism's interest in dreams, fantasy, and the unconscious. However, Kon's photographs go a step further, actively stimulating all the viewer's senses; we can almost smell the fish, feel the scales, and hear the scampering insects.

Elegant meditations on the nature of time, Kon's photographs explore the transitory nature of existence. Despite admitting a profound fear of death, the artist deliberately renders most of her images in black-and-white, symbolic colors of death in Japan. The artist often incorporates symbols such as clocks and flowers which, like the memento mori in 17th century vanitas paintings, remind the viewer of the fleeting quality of life. In addition, many of the materials that she uses in her work are ephermeral in nature. The photographs have a lush, sensuous, and overripe appearance that alludes to the force of nature to decay and regenerate.

Fish play a prominent role in Kon's photographs. I feel the close presence of life and death in fish, the artist says. An important symbol in many cultures, the fish has sexual associations and is also well-known as the earliest symbol of Christ. Fish are also an important element of traditional Japanese culture and diet. Kon is attracted the the textural quality of fish. Her studio is located near Tokyo's famous Tsukiji fish market, where she frequently shops for the raw material for her photographs.

Born in Kamakura of the Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan in 1955, Kon graduated from the Sokei Art School in 1978, where she studied woodblock printing, collage, and assemblage. She later attended the Tokyo Photographic College. Kon's photographs have been exhibited internationally, and are included in the permanent collections of the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House.

Aperture, a not-for-profit organization devoted to photography and the visual arts, has organized this exhibition and produced the accompanying publication. The San Jose presentation is organized by Karen Kienzle, SJMA assistant curator.

Michiko Kon: Still Lifes is accompanied by a large-scale catalogue comprised of 64 duotone black-and-white images and 4 four-color images with a narrative by novelist Ryu Murakami and an essay by art historian Toshiharu Ito; 124 pages; published by Aperture (1997).

Goldfish, Salmon Roe, and Toothbrush, 1985,
Gelatin silver print, 24 x 20,
copyright Michiko Kon, courtesy Photo Gallery International,
Tokyo and Robert Mann Gallery, New York

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