Making Connections With Miyako Ishiuchi

Memory is the Colour of Ash (2014) © Melissa Budasz

“I cannot stop taking photographs of scars because they are so much like a photograph. They are visible events, recorded in the past. Both the scars and the photographs are the manifestation of sorrow for the many things which cannot be retrieved and for love of life as a remembered present.”

Ishiuchi’s provocative and unsentimental bodies of work explore the ideas around identity, memory and death, finding the beauty in traces of wounds. In her photography the subject matter is straightforward – images of scars, skin defects on naked bodies, garments and objects that belonged to her mother and revisiting the town she grew up in Japan. She says her works are not archival documents but a created reality of lost moments and articles from the past. I think that a story or memory is more powerful than that of loss, but the abilty to frame loss in more ways than sorrow and anger is poetical.

Thoughts of lost moments and fragments from the past and present are at the forefront of my mind as I am currently making a series of drawings, photographs and assemblages of dead matter – human hair, milkweed, physalis, orchids and pussy willow. It is the links made between each object and their resonant energy that intrigues me – the silky, fragile, golden strands of hair that form strong, hardy plaits to the fibrous cluster seeds of the dried milkweed on delicate branches, the fragile and vibrant lanterns of the physalis plant, the phallus in the orchid and the furry soft textured buds of the pussy willow branches.

I am fascinated and intrigued by the myths that surround each object as they each become a symbol for something else – the orchid is a testament to the male reproductive organ of the savaged Orchis who was killed by beasts in his attempt to harm and rape a woman. The myth of Circe, who had willow trees dedicated to the goddess Hecate surround a cemetry where male corpses were left exposed in the tops of the trees for the elements to claim and birds to eat and the mythical story behind the milkweed plant (Asclepias) derives from the Greek God of healing, Asclepius, who was such a skilled healer that legend said he could raise the dead.

It is in the narratives that develop by placing them together, that new stories and re-defined myths can be made. They are also fragments of objects that have an intriguing beauty to me. I find this process to be conceptual, physical and psychological. In Ishiuchi’s work scars and pieces of clothing and worn shoes are mementos of life experiences, intimate ornaments of sadness and sorrow that are normally only revealed in the most private of circumstances. We know nothing of the pain or narrative that lies behind each image. I enjoy this ambiguity and openess I link with her work. By objectifying her subject matter by not revealing the whole and magnifying the part, it is this attention to detail that allows connections to be made.

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