Skip to content

When Desire Scatters: Thoughts on "Still Life" by Mayumi Kagawa

“It is night now; it is not night now.” What is meant by this enigmatic monologue heard at the beginning of the video? Is it the day and night time endured by women? Or is it the moment of “shadow” which appears in the gaps of everyday life? In any case, within the “still life” of a woman, seemingly as tranquil as a “still life” painting, there is a high-tension arc, unknown to men, stretching between reality and the depths of the mind.

As if tracing this line, images of daytime consciousness and nighttime dreams cross each other on the screen. A place is created for reception of images and generation of narrative by a pair of large objects in the form of flowers. One flower has a protuberance in the middle-like the calla lilies which Georgia O’Keefe liked to paint-and the other a fold. What is most important is that our gaze is involuntarily scattered in front of the gently curving surfaces of these two screens. Following the images on left and right as they roll on simultaneously resonating with each other, becomes a simulated experience of the difficult psychological process of alternately attending to realities and subconscious processes that are split apart.

The flowers with the protruding element and the indentation, floating palely in the darkness, are the physical organs which become the focus of desire when a man and a woman face each other. The protuberance, undoubtedly an organ of pleasure, is shared by both men and women. The sexual metaphor of the two flowers opens up many layers of meaning. It is painful to watch the many pins piercing the protruding part of the flower as the images move across each other. As the petals of a red rose are bound together. The rose is a symbol of woman but also a symbol of life, where fragments of desires are brought together piece by piece. Eventually it withers and dies, or is torn apart and scattered. Like red blood. All of this is caused by the irrational reality in which women are confined. Confined women, enduring , always giving —- this has always been their role. No matter how fiercely they reject or deny it, they cannot escape, and the dream of the flower representing woman is trampled and killed. “Do I want it or not?” Peering into this abyss is frightening.

Mako Idemitsu has consistently dealt in her art with the hopes and struggles involved in living fully as a woman. Early in her career she became aware of the tremendous possibilities of video as an expressive medium. For example, she uses the technique of opening the “window of the mind,” photographing everyday scenes which reveal inner psychological states, and letting these images conflict and resonate on two different screens. The present work is carefully calculated to provide more intense aesthetic and musical effects than previous works, bombarding the retina and eardrum with vivid sensory impulses.

If one thinks about it, the expressive of female pleasure through visual images is not a simple affair. The formal language used for this purpose in the past has been extremely limited, and to bring it forward once again can only result in another contribution to the voyeuristic pattern of male desire. If a woman is to express female desire, she must first present her irritation – like torn flower petals ——- within the contest of society and everyday life. She must reveal the situation which causes desire to be sidetracked. Concealed in this project is a desire for relation, a determination not to submit too easily submit to the myth of auto eroticism which defects female eroticism toward the woman’s own body and denies any need for the male.

Dried flower petals are scattered on the floor under the screen. They are the remains of woman’s desire and physiology, cascading willy-nilly in to the emptiness in the depth of a “still life.”

Mayumi Kagawa, writer investigating the issue of “women and representation”