Charlotte Dumas, Yorishiro, 2020, 2K video, color, sound, 19 minutes 35 seconds.

Charlotte Dumas, Yorishiro, 2020, 2K video, color, sound, 19 minutes 35 seconds.

Charlotte Dumas

On Yonaguni, the westernmost inhabited island of Japan, live approximately 120 horses, animals particular to this place yet whose arrival remains somewhat of a mystery to this day. Their isolation however, has kept their existence unique and their bloodline pure. Charlotte Dumas first visited this island in 2015 with the intention—as with all her recent work—to photographically capture the profound and potentially supernatural relationship between humans and animals. What initially came of this visit was an elaborate series of delicately staged photographs as well as the video work Shio (Tide), 2018. For her most recent exhibition, Dumas continued building upon this material with a new video, Yorishiro, 2020—titled after the Japanese word for something or someone who can contain the spirit or soul of a kami (nature god)—and a related group of photographs, all Untitled, 2020. Two Polaroids from Dumas’s earlier ventures to Yonaguni, dated 2015 and 2017, rounded out the show.

In the works on view, the Yonaguni horses again played a starring role. Their relationship to their environment and its extreme climate invests them with a mythic quality. The island itself seems inhospitable, with few human traces—and those that do appear seem remains of the past. Decrepit asphalt roads, paths, and guardrails exist alongside the grassy and ridged landscape. Amid the stillness of these rugged environs, one senses the consistent presence of the wind. It runs like an erratic current through everything. The horses themselves, with their imperturbable calm, uniformly brown straw-like manes, and compact physiques, seem caught up in the nebulous magical quality at play here.

As far as humans go, in Shio the primary relationship is between these otherworldly equine beings and a young Japanese girl. We see her dressed casually, mingling with the horses as she cares for them, as well as riding one of them bareback across the hilly landscape and standing with it in breaking waves, as if constantly listening for something. In the photographs on view here, the yorishiro is again a young girl, but this time it is Dumas’s own five-year-old daughter, wearing a purple-and-blue onesie resembling a horse costume, made with natural dyes from the island of Okinawa and designed especially for this project by Yuko Kitta. Like the girl in Shio, she also stands in the landscape and among the horses, although she does not ride them. Instead, she calmly contemplates their existence. In the new video, the yorishiro also ventures off the island and into Japanese cityscapes. Here, too, her clothing strikes a sharp contrast to her surroundings. However, her serene reverie makes it seem that she, like the horses, might be touched by magic. Creating meditative compositions and drawing on a subtle yet exact understanding of natural light, Dumas gives her images a vivid sense of absorbed stillness, not only on the windy rolling hills of the island, but also in the more frenetic urban scenes.