When I was recently in Amsterdam, I caught the exhibition at Foam Gallery, from Japanese photographer, Daisuke Yokota.
In this exhibition, titled ‘Matter’, Yokota’s photographic work focuses not on the image, but on the physical print itself. Rooms are near-submerged in paper, piled up in corners and draped from the ceiling, dominating the space. To view the work, you must walk through it, first winding through a paper jungle then carving a pathway through its burned ashes.
And the images printed on this paper are far from normal photographs. The distorted, otherworldly effect is achieved through re-photographing and continually reprinting, using heat and light to warp the original image beyond recognition, mixing and manipulating chemicals to achieve strange effects. Yokota uses his previous work in this process, changing the nature of his own archive of work. Images are, all at once, comprised of broken glass, oil slicks, agate, phosphorescent and more. The indecipherable nature of this image prevents its viewer from focusing on the picture, and instead forces attention onto its physical presence. The view is altered, from the subject matter to the matter itself.
But more than that, in confronting the viewer with its physicality, the work also raises questions around its own creation, preservation and reproduction. In reprinting his original work, burning and overexposing it, Yokota seems to be destroying his own archive as he simultaneously recreates it. Photographs, here, are not permanent records or memories – they are part of a cyclical cycle of destruction and recreation. Any attempts to collect, archive and preserve such work would destroy the very nature of it.
Nor is such work implicitly unique. Yokota continually questions the purpose of attaching value – whether financial, artistic or cultural – to a medium that can be reproduced with the touch of a button. One room in the exhibition is occupied by a photocopier, continuously churning out prints of Yokota’s work. It encourages you to take a print-out for yourself – a Yokota original, so far as original can be defined.
Throughout ‘Matter’, Yokota casts uncertainty on the purpose of photography, as both an archiavl record and an artistic genre. A guided process through a series of rooms, each space asks a different question of the medium – from its presence, to its uniqueness, to its permanence. It is a strange journey – but it is wonderful.
‘Matter’ runs until 4th June, 2017 at Foam. Information and tickets are available here: www.foam.org