Noritoshi Hirakawa

Ma Galerie

Noritoshi Hirakawa, a young Japanese artist, works on cultural phenomena linked to sexuality and images of the body: on the forms of repression and control of desire. Clearly influenced by the later work of Michel Foucault, Hirakawa experiments with the limits of the “repressive hypothesis” in order to demonstrate how sexuality participates in a general discursive economy that addresses the most tenuous, individual, and day-to-day habits and behaviors, and scarcely perceptible forms of desire. The artist-as-sociologist leads this inquiry, not into inhibitions and forms of control, but into the intimate, more or less coherent way in which we transmit our experience, while at the same time confronting the media’s collective mechanisms of the idealization of desire. This is an invitation to discourse that operates outside the field of the mediatized “will to knowledge,” and within that of the polymorphous production of subjective and partial micronarratives.

In this exhibition, it is the pieces involving interviews and tapes that are the strongest. In Perfect Life, 1992, a mirror shows us our own image, while at the push of a red button we can listen to a series of interviews with prostitutes, homeless people, junkies, and artists, all describing what the words “perfect life” mean to them. It becomes a direct confrontation between the image of oneself and the image of others, as they reflect each other in a defracted and fragmentary way with the body as the central object of exchange. Another example is the piece entitled Something Wrong With My Life, 1992, which consists of a projection of photos (showing parts of the artist’s body and biographical particulars) as well as recordings of psychics consulted by Hirakawa in Paris. The presentation of a secret expression—devalued but still polymorphous—of the “will to knowledge,” on the fringe of mediatic imperatives, and of forms controlled by “self-awareness.”

But not all the pieces in the show have this power of conviction. Some of them do not strongly emphasize interaction between the body of the “spectator” (voyeur) and the work itself. One electronic machine measures in real time the distance/desire that separates you from it (I Want To Be In Love With You, 19992); another work is a mirror that lights up when one approaches, and reveals the words “something wrong.”

Another, much more questionable, direction of Hirakawa’s work deals with images of women. The series of photographs entitled “Dreams of Tokyo,” 1991, shows young Japanese women squatting in the city streets, allowing a glimpse, between the folds of their skirts, of their pubic hair. An act of “betrayal,” according to Hirakawa, of the anality of Japanese culture which is obsessed with bodily (not only feminine) hygiene. In another series, the artist had Parisian female students wear sanitary pads which he exhibited after they had been used, as evidence of bodily discharge and the impurity of Western desire (The Other Side of Desire, 1992). This supposed lifting of a taboo becomes entangled in a voyeuristic and phallocratic attitude, whether attributable to Hirakawa or to the Japanese collective unconscious. Are we to believe that in a culture that is eminently phallocratic, the resistance to cultural schemas cannot be waged outside of the field of masculine desire? In the name of what esthetic principles can femininity be the terrain of this type of experiment, can it be made to submit to an erotic counterproposition with no characteristics that could lead one to believe it is effectively adapted to the object of female desire?

Having said that, the work of Hirakawa, which deals with the collective unconscious and its complex mechanisms in our society, holds our attention. This is especially apparent when the investigation changes the course of the flow of mediatized information and mixes it with the troubled waters of individual experience, as in the installation held simultaneously in Clisson: Drops in the Atlantic (Fracs Pays de la Loire), 1993.

Olivier Zahm

Translated from the French by Diana C. Stoll.