Critics’ Picks

Miwa Yanagi, Lullaby, 2010, still from a color video, 12 minutes.

Miwa Yanagi, Lullaby, 2010, still from a color video, 12 minutes.


Miwa Yanagi

Rat Hole Gallery
5-5-3 Minamiaoyama, Minato-ku B1
January 29–March 21, 2010

A group of thirteen-foot-tall portraits of grotesque, half-naked giantesses, Miwa Yanagi’s works in the Japanese pavilion at the 2009 Venice Biennale may have been widely denounced by critics, but they also confirmed that the artist is unafraid to pursue her own distinctly weird vision. Her current solo exhibition serves as something of an epilogue to Venice.

In the main gallery, the twelve-minute video projection Lullaby, 2010, centers on two women, one dressed in a frumpy skirt, her face covered by a prosthetic mask creased with wrinkles, the other in lacy white pajamas and the mask of a young girl. The video begins inside an idealized dollhouse interior just big enough to fit the two adult actors, the “grandmother” humming softly while comforting the girl curled in her lap. Suddenly, the girl wrestles the grandmother to the ground, subdues her, and then assumes the role of comforter. The pair alternate in this way several times, the intensity of the struggle gradually increasing until they kick through the walls of the interior to reveal that they are on a stage constructed on an urban rooftop. Rearing up into mantislike wrestling poses, the two clash again; the grandmother body-slams the girl with a resounding thud, takes her into her lap, and then resumes her humming.

A canny mix of absurdity and abjection, the work invokes comedy as a means to formalize irrational states, the emotional and physical extremes of human relations. Also on display are four black-and-white photographs from Yanagi’s “Fairy Tale” series, 2004–2006, which references Japanese and European fables. Here, prepubescent girls play both adult and child roles, but their pixieish frames undermine the adult-size settings and dark scenarios. Considered alongside Lullaby and the Japanese pavilion, these works underscore the artist’s growing investment in a theater of scale, in which architecture expands and contracts in response to the narrative’s psychic dimensions.