Nobuyoshi Araki – Untitled (1995)

This is almost certainly Araki referencing Hans Bellmer.

I am actually glad to see Bellmer getting some renewed attention. I’m seeing more of his work slide across my dashboard here. Also, @insideflesh did a cool photobook last year inspired by him.

I’ve also mentioned that I think Bellmer is really kind of an important figure given our current globalized socio-political shitstorm. I suggested that it might be a good exhibition notion to do a joint retrospective of his work alongside Ana Mendieta.

The plan is–knock on wood–to dedicate two weeks of posts to using this blog to stage such an exhibition. I can’t say when just yet. It’s slow going as much of the scholarship is heavily coded in Freud’s BS. But I’m about a 1/3 of the way through preliminary research on Bellmer. And then it’ll be on to Mendieta–on whom there is far less scholarly material.

Anyway–something to keep an eye out for down the line.

Nobuyoshi ArakiErotos (1993)

If there were a social media site that used Facebook-esque relationship statuses to track opinions regard an array of notable artists, my entry for Araki would be: It’s Complicated.

I appreciate his life-long commitment in documenting the erotic and/or transgressive aspects of human experience. But by the same token his prolific output–and let’s be honest, prolific isn’t even close to a strong enough word, something closer to ‘profuse’ is more apropos–is off-putting; the feeling it instills is one of throw everything at the wall and let’s see what stick instead of any coherent, contemplative, and disciplined editing.

The above photograph is causing me to rethink some things. For example: I’m not sure it changes anything about how I feel w/r/t what I interpret as lackadaisical editing. However, it’s probably intellectually dishonest to use that as a justification to disqualify everything the man has ever made. And in fairness, while I do find much of his work to be redundant and under-edited, Araki has produced six or eight images that are indelibly imprinted upon my visual imagination.

All that reminds me of one of the best pieces on understanding art that I’ve ever encountered in which Maria Popova unpacks Jeanette Winterson’s Art Objects essay.

Winterson, finds herself in Amsterdam, describes the experience thusly:

I had fallen in love and I had no language. I was
dog-dumb. The usual response of “This painting has nothing to say to me”
had become “I have nothing to say to this painting.” And I desperately
wanted to speak. Long looking at paintings is equivalent to being
dropped into a foreign city, where gradually, out of desire and despair,
a few key words, then a little syntax make a clearing in the silence.
Art, all art, not just painting, is a foreign city, and we deceive
ourselves when we think it familiar. No-one is surprised to find that a
foreign city follows its own customs and speaks its own language. Only a
boor would ignore both and blame his defaulting on the place. Every day
this happens to the artist and the art.

We have to recognize that the language of art, all art, is not our mother-tongue.

This attitude is presented as a prophylaxis for the I just don’t get it mode of art criticism.

It’s as stellar a metaphor as it is nuanced and astute. Yes, it’s great to know what you like and to be able to explain why you like it–I’d venture that it’s integral to any creative practice.

But part of seeing is resisting the tendency to avoid engagement with what you are seeing. And viewing something through the filter of past experience, of trenchant opinions, is a mistake.

One should never cease to questions assumptions, values and opinions–because to stop might mean pulling up short of the one question that toppled the entire house of cards.

This photo has made me realize that I’m likely very wrong about Araki. And as much as we strive to always be in the know and adept at negotiating understanding, taste and opinions–it really is incredible to be presented with the opportunity to correct a long, unconsciously repeated mistake.

So here’s to being wrong. Learning and growing.

Nobuyoshi Araki Untitled (19XX)

After college, I moved to Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I’m not talking McGuinness & Nassau, either. We’re talking practically under the Kosciusko Bridge.

It was a 15 minute walk to the Nassau G and either 13 or 18 (depending on traffic) to the Graham L.

By New York standards, my room was enormous. But I shared a wall with a Dave Grohl wannabe sax player who constantly practiced atonal three note arpeggios at odd hours.

I was only working part time and after commutation expenses, it was a struggle to make rent each month.

At the time, my significant other was in a similar place. We spent a lot of time walking–which really and truly is the best way to get to know this city. We’d hang out at hip bars sipping a beer between us. Anything that was free and appealed to our mutual creative predispositions was a draw. But if you’ve spent any time in this city, you know it’s not a place you want to be poor.

It took us two months to discover the New York Public Library. Not the one with the Lion’s guarding the stairs but the one that’s caddy corner and a block down. Over the next few months, we spent hours there pouring over their photography section.

We scanned work the likes of Steiglitz, Friedlander and Goldin.

Thing was–and I swear I’m circling back to the image above, hang in there–the selection lacked any sort of breadth and instead focused on an obsessive depth. The number of fucking Araki’s books exceeded a plethora to the exponent of plethora.

I remember three things about the work:

  1. An image like this except with an orange and black flower with petals more like a daisy and Araki himself squatting beside the suspended model.
  2. It was the only thing besides Goldin where sexuality figured in any denotative fashion in the photos,
  3. I preferred Goldin even though I found her work exploitative.

My opinion w/r/t Goldin has evolved rather dramatically; my thinking w/r/t Araki has, yes, shifted but it’s less pronounced and far more complicated to explain.

See: on a purely formal level his work is on-point. His compositions are impeccably executed and his work is hugely influential: would Wolfgang Tillmans be a name anyone knew if Araki hadn’t shot highly styles hair and eyes? Probably not. (Also, the shit he shoots that subtly skewers skewers fake sets in high profile fashion shoots–looking at you, Tim Walker–are about as good as polemical provocations get.)

I can’t even really argue that Araki should pursue more aggressive edits. If he’s published it, it’s almost certainly publication worthy. My primary continued objection to his work (beyond the aggressive heteronormativity of it) has to do–synchronously enough–with an idea I encountered more or less concurrent with my first encounter with the work: William Ian Miller’s The Anatomy of Disgust. In it he attempts to analyze why humans experience feelings of disgust.

One of his points is that profusion is–almost counter-intuitively–a potential locus for disgust. I don’t completely recall the rational underlying this assertion but it absolutely serves in application to my queasiness regarding Araki: there’s too much that’s too good.

The thing that’s especially galling is the fact that almost seems to be the point of the exercise. And I’m no less sure how I feel about that now than I did eight years ago.