Thu, Oct 01, 2015 - Page 12 News List

In the fantastic shadow of Hollywood

The first solo exhibition of Bruce Yonemoto in Taiwan sheds light on the artist’s experience as a Japanese growing up in post-War World II America

By Ho Yi  /  Staff Reporter

Bruce Yonemoto, Before I Closed My Eyes (2010).

Photo courtesy of Hong Gah Museum

On a number of home movie screens assembled to form one large screen, footage from World War II movies from the era depict Japanese as brutes and killers. Across from it, an old TV set plays a compilation of commercials from the 1950s.

The video installation, titled Environmental, serves as a telling introduction to An Asian Survey — Bruce Yonemoto (亞洲調查 — 布魯斯米本個展), the first solo exhibition of Japanese-American artist Bruce Yonemoto in Taiwan, currently on view at Hong Gah Museum (鳳甲美術館).

A multimedia artist and art professor, Yonemoto is noted for exploring issues of representation, identity and memory. His focus is on mass media, its pervasive manipulation of reality and fantasy and how it constantly constructs, formulates and mutually informs our desires and notions of identity, both personal and collective.

For Yonemoto, such topics are not abstract. He was born in the immediate post-World War II period and grew up in California. His parents were among the more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans incarcerated in internment camps during the war, and, following the war, re-assimilated into American society.

Environmental (2013) reflects on the artist’s childhood in the 1950s, a time when “every family had a screen at home to watch home movies or slide shows.”

“That is the immediate environment in which I was raised as a child, which, of course, was a very perverse environment because the Japanese were villains. They were the enemies,” Yonemoto says. “But what can I do? I was just a child watching TV.”

Yonemoto began his artistic career in the 1970s working with his brother Norman Yonemoto, who recently passed away. Their collaborations, which took place over the course of two decades, saw the Yonemoto brothers create an impressive array of films and video works that often appropriated the visual vernacular of Hollywood melodrama, television advertising and other popular forms to expose, deconstruct and subvert mass-media archetypes and cliches.

Exhibition notes

What: An Asian Survey — Bruce Yonemoto (亞洲調查 — 布魯斯米本個展)

Where: Hong Gah Museum (鳳甲美術館), 11F, 166 Daye Rd, Taipei City (台北市大業路166號11樓), tel: (02) 2894-2272.

When: Until Nov. 8. Open Tuesdays through Sundays from 10:30am to 5:30pm

On the net: www.hong-gah.org.tw


Kappa (1986), for example, is a provocative video that takes an ironic and sometimes hilarious look at Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual development theory by juxtaposing the Oedipal myth with the legend of kappa, a mischievous Japanese water imp.

The work stars Mike Kelley, an American contemporary artist who committed suicide in 2012, as the kappa. American actress and painter Mary Woronov plays a mother/vamp figure — one that wouldn’t look out of place in a Hollywood exploitation movie.

“But it you apply Freud’s psychoanalysis to the kappa myth, it becomes very comic very quickly. Kappa’s favorite food is cucumber, and he molests young girls in the toilet. All these things are very Freudian cliches,” the Los Angeles-based artist says.

In the small retrospective in Taipei, Yonemoto’s examinations on the interplay between American pop culture and pan-Asian identities create an intriguing motif.

NSEW (2007) is a series of photographs that examine a part of American civil war history that is largely excluded from official texts and public consciousness. The large photographs depict Asian men posing as soldiers fighting during the war in an act that restores them to the historical record. The costumes were rented from the oldest Hollywood costume supplier, Western Costume, whose collection of civil war uniforms were used in American director DW Griffith’s 1915 infamously racist film, Birth of a Nation.

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