WEAR ME - by Rebecca Jennison

When I found myself standing among the soft sculptures in Takahata Sanae's installation, WEAR ME at Honen-in Temple in Kyoto, I was overwhelmed by the sense of "presence" emanating from each piece. The meticulously crafted "dress-like objects," inlaid with glass beads and glitter, seemed to float above the tatami mats, their colors glowing in the soft light of the main hall of the temple. It felt as though I was in the presence of some new kind of magical being whose breath, light and energy reached out to me as I neared them. Since then, I have wondered what it would be like for these works to "come to life" in another setting, in another place. I am delighted to hear that now, thanks to the remarkable efforts of Ava Jim and Amandine Hervey, WEAR ME will be exhibited in Hong Kong for the first time.

Four decades of research on the lives and works of women artists have taught us that while the challenges facing anyone who chooses to become an artist are great, for women, the process of becoming an artist, and the themes that surface in their work, are affected in complex ways by their gender. When Takahata Sanae decided to leave her hometown in Japan for Paris to pursue a career as an artist, she was swimming hard against the current of expectations for a young Japanese woman of her generation. She forged a unique path for herself, primarily as a painter, working prolifically in Paris, New York and Seattle, to produce a stunning and powerful body of work. Soon after her return to Tokyo in the early 90's, she produced "Tokyo Story" and "Showa Funeral March" two richly imaginative series of works that comment sharply on the Japan she had left behind at the end of the Showa Era

In her next major series of figurative and abstract paintings, drawings and scrapbooks based on four years of personal interviews with people who had influence on her life , Takahata opened a door into the intimate lives of women whose experiences span four decades. The richly executed portraits in "Intimate Reflections," also exhibited at Honen-in in Kyoto, transform these individual life stories into imaginative works of art with mythological proportions. Through her most recent work, WEAR ME, the artist takes another bold and profound step: through these "dress-like" soft sculptures, the artist has created presences that radiate energy and imagination, that in fact, remake the female body. Like a number of her contemporaries, Takahata has found that women's garments can serve as a stand-in for the invisible, but implied body, raising questions about a "politics" of the gaze directed at--sometimes objectifying or idealizing, and often denigrating--the female body. The artist remakes these dresses/bodies, using simple materials in a highly innovative way, to celebrate their vibrant presence. Though pleasing to the eye, the works are far more than decorative. When we look closer at the titles, we see the words, "無意識の鎧、意識の兜"(armor of the unconscious, helmet of consciousness). Are these "unwearable dresses" also some kind of protective armor? Are they meant to prevent harm, as they empower? Do the ornate "helmets of consciousness," remind us of the power of our own minds? Is the artist trying to tell us that being aware of ourselves at a deeper, unconscious level can become both a source of protection and imaginative nurturance as we struggle to remain vital, whole beings in the midst of contemporary life? I hope many will take the time to enjoy―and ponder--these unique and magical works.

Rebecca Jennison

Professor, Division of Cultural and Art Studies
Department of Humanities
Kyoto Seika University

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