Photosynthesis: Keiichi Tahara with Min Tanaka at the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art
The Hara Museum of Contemporary Art’s latest exhibition, ‘Keiichi Tahara: Photosynthesis with Min Tanaka’, has been running since 9 September 2017. Mac, Founder of Maction Planet, has already led several Tokyo Art Tours which incorporate this incredible show. Here he shares his thoughts on this outstanding collaboration, and the unique venue which is hosting it.
2017 has been a phenomenal year for art in Tokyo. Yayoi Kusama’s retrospective and the opening of her new museum in Shinjuku have taken top billing, but that has not overshadowed incredible exhibitions showcasing Alberto Giacometti, Tetsu Fusen, Marc Chagall and Tadao Ando, loans such as Bruegel the Elder’s ‘Tower of Babel’, and amazing smaller shows such as Kyotaro’s ‘Clad in the Universe’. Roppongi Art Night 2017, held from September 30 to October 1, showcased some incredible installations and performances, led by Main Program Artist Mika Ninagawa. 2018 is going to have its work cut out to top it!
The wonderful Hara Museum of Contemporary Art in Shinagawa, founded in 1979, is playing its part too. They have already hosted amazing shows from Elizabeth Peyton and the aforementioned Mika Ninagawa as well the Mercedes-Benz Art Scope 2015-2017, titled ‘Wandering to Wonder’. Now they turn their attention to the work of the late, great Keiichi Tahara, in a show titled Photosynthesis, a collaboration with the dancer Min Tanaka.
The bulk of the exhibition features a series of beautifully-printed monochrome images of Tanaka dancing, taken from 1978 to 1980. Like many seminal collaborations, everything began after a chance meeting. The artists hit it off and decided to explore the relationship between physical light and the human body. Their locales were varied; Paris, Bordeaux Rome, Iceland, Tokyo, New York as well as Kujūkurihama and Akikawa Keikoku in rural Japan. The project was set aside for 36 years, until Tahara and Tanaka revisited their partnership in 2016.
Across time and geography, the collaborators blur the boundaries between the object and the subject of the photos, with Tanaka’s athletic frame contorted, embryonic, vulnerable, triumphant… responding to the light and his surroundings, both natural and man-made. The aim, as Tahara wrote in the introduction to exhibition, was to “observe how a dancer’s body adapts to outer stimuli, or to rephrase it: a human body reaching into the light with its raw skin and nerve endings”.
The 46 photos are displayed untitled and unannotated, allowing full focus on the imagery, which really speaks for itself. 41 images come from the original series and are exhibited together regardless of location or date taken. 5 images are from 2016 – taken in Yamanashi and housed in one room.
What makes this exhibition such a joy is the juxtaposition of the photos against the architecture of the Hara Museum. The building itself is a true Tokyo gem. It was designed in 1938 by Jin Watanabe, the architect behind the Tokyo National Museum, as a private residence. It is a mishmash of European architectural styles from the first third of the 20th Century. Luckily it survived the war, and stands as a heritage monument to the beginnings of modern Japanese architecture.
The aforementioned synergy between the pieces on display and the building itself is deliberate. Tahara frequently visited the museum to get a feel for the exhibition space, which influenced the structure of the show.
A special exhibition photo book has been produced, available in four different covers from the fantastic museum shop. The shop sells a number of unique curios and souvenirs, including one of the most eclectic selections of T-shirts outside of Maction Planet Apparel.
Keiichi Tahara is recognised as a genius of natural light photography. Sadly, he passed away on 6 June this year. Born in Kyoto in 1951, he lived in France from 1971 to 2006, and it was there that he began his acclaimed career. He received numerous awards, including the Grand Prix des Jeunes Photographes in Arles, France (1977), the Kimura Ihei Prize in Japan (1984), the Prix Nicéphore Niépce in France(1988) and the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres in France (1993). In recent years, he added sculpture, installation and environmental art, with light always a central feature of his works. His final publication was the three-volume ‘Fin-de-Siecle’, which explores his affinity with turn of the century architecture. ‘The relationship between architecture and life did not stop with the forms of flowers, fruits, and plants, but extended to include those of the human body as well.’, he writes in the introduction to the book. These connections between light, life and the body can all be seen in this exhibition, fittingly held in a building Tahara admired.
Keiichi Tahara: Photosynthesis with Min Tanaka is on at the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art until Sunday 24 December 2017.
This post is dedicated to Keiichi Tahara (1951-2017).