STEPHEN MUECKE COMPOSING A JAPANESE WORLD

On an Emmanuel Angelicas Series

Of what is a photograph made? Angelicas composes this portrait of Japan with black and white tones; with objects (samurai swords, posters and fans); with architectural and streetscape spaces (those give him lines); and with feelings and concepts. To talk about his work, I need to get away from the dualistic formula, ‘the artist is interpreting the world’ and use another one: ‘the artist has a hand in the ways the world is composing itself’. The world is being busy, all the time, creating compositions out of disparate bits of reality. So we are not ‘capturing reality’ as they say, as easy as clicking the shutter. We are doing the harder work of piecing it together, bit by bit. People are always forgetting what contingencies played their part in a composition; there are endless magical tricks, sleights of hand, that make invisible the contingencies that are absolutely necessary to get the desired effect: a flight to Japan, funding perhaps, going around with the persona of ‘the interested outsider’ to get the permission to shoot a local might never be granted or be inclined to seek.

You can imagine the bleached tatooed punk on the cover unfolding into a world that appreciates cool style. But you can also take the punk, in another unfolding narrative, east across the Pacific into a Charles Bukowski world of low-rent desperadoes, prostitutes and junkies. This is the fictional world that Angelicas has tapped into and recreated. You can’t begin to understand his nudes without these kinds of cultural conditions. His is not an unmediated ‘appreciation of the female form’ as old as the pin-hole camera, as old as life drawing. No, it is mediated by, composed with, a whole set of sub-cultures that began to develop after the war with pulp crime fiction, film noir, comic book heroes, jazz and rock ‘n’ roll. These sub-cultures ricocheted across the Pacific, rim to rim, a theatre of war that turned into and began to perform a theatre of cultural diplomacy, invented afresh in each country’s version of 20th century modernism: America, Japan, Australia. So this series is not about Japan, it deftly mediates contemporary Japan’s relationship with that global modernism.

STEPHEN MUECKE 2013
PROFESSOR OF ETHNOGRAPHY UNIVERSITY OF NEW SOUTH WALES

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