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Miwa Yanagi - Deutsche Bank Collection

Wherein lies the joy of being a grandmother? In racing across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco with a young man on a motorcycle. In competing with Walt Disney as the president of an amusement park. In posing on graves. In proceeding through a snowy landscape with a throng of children. In fooling around with a girlfriend after a house party. In recounting to one’s grandchildren that prostitution was once forbidden. They look old and behave like young people: Miwa Yanagi’s My Grandmothers. The photo series bearing that name and the series Elevator Girls stand at the center of the first solo exhibition by the Japanese artist in a German museum. From January 31 until March 28, 2004, the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin is displaying the oeuvre of Miwa Yanagi, born in 1967 in Kobe. The exhibition continues the series of presentations of works from the Deutsche Bank’s own collection with twenty-one photographs, some of them in large format, in a display design which was specially developed by the artist herself. The selection of works extends from early examples during 1994 all the way to three new photographs which were completed at the beginning of this year.

Eternal City 1, 1998
Photography , 180 x 360 cm
© Sammlung Deutsche Bank

Miwa Yanagi’s oeuvre is based upon reality and the observation of Japanese society. Her works are centered around women, outward appearances and labels. They are concerned with uniforms or disguising costumes, with groups and affiliations – and with liberation from them. Yanagi concentrates upon the lifestyles and thought patterns of women, and she makes use of research projects and stagings in order to investigate their dreams, ideals and memories. As her artistic medium she utilizes computer-supported or synthetic photography. It is a matter of image-syntheses which are generated from photographic registerings of real persons with a digital camera, as well as from computer-generated and -edited pictorial components, and which are transformed into deceptively real compositions.

The series My Grandmothers shows pictures of people who have been made to look older by means of computer editing as well as by make-up, and who give a scenic portrayal of their life’s dream. It is fascinating to read the various statements alongside these photographs. They are passionate pleas, visions of a future world in fifty or sixty years, for Yanagi inquired of young people about their own, utterly personal images of a fulfilled life in old age. Friends, acquaintances or actresses located through the Internet, along with the artist herself, appear in these portraits.

Yoko & Regine, 2001
Photography , 128,5 x 160cm
© Sammlung Deutsche Bank

The previous series, Elevator Girls, shows identically clothed female models, mostly posing in groups in a half-fictional, urban architecture whose anonymity and exchangeability corresponds to the situation of the protagonists. According to Miwa Yanagi, the photos of this series “are about myself as well as other Japanese women. When I started the series, I was working as a teacher after graduating from university. Back then, I strongly felt that I was just playing a role in a standardized society, having a particular occupation in a particular setting. I did not work as an elevator girl literally, but the idea resonated in me in a symbolic way.”

Ayumi, 2001
C-Print , 58,3 x 100 cm
© Sammlung Deutsche Bank

Just as, in Elevator Girls, Miwa Yanagi crystallizes anonymity and alienation into nightmarish scenes, so in the My Grandmothers series does she usher into reality, at least optically, images of wish-fulfillment. She thereby allows us to gaze into the future in such a way that the present deepens in significance.