Araki: Self - Life - Death
, still showing at the Barbican.
Even those who are unfamiliar with Araki's work have probably seen some of his more explicit images: his wife, or one of his other models, naked and tied up with silk ropes. It's certainly what I was expecting when I went to the exhibition, and was a little wary at 4,000+ explicit images before lunchtime.
Happily, my preconceptions couldn't have been further from the truth. Yes, Araki's work focuses on the erotic and on death - erotos
- but what struck me about many of the most explicit pieces was the inclusion of the model's faces. I had been expecting 1) the concealment of the face or at the very least 2) a blank expression. Instead, the models looked right into the camera. It was actually somewhat unnerving to be watched whilst examining them.
While the erotic permeated the entire exhibition, not all of the photographs were explicit - or, indeed, of people. In fact, one of my favourite sections was 'Flowers', which featured close-ups of the inside of flowers, budding or in bloom. Some of the photos had overlays of colour; some had been painted before
being photographed. All of the 'Flowers' photos were, without exception, vibrant and intensely erotic.
My other favourite section was entitled 'From a Blue Period', and spanned many types of shots, from cityscapes to kinbaku (rope bondage) to 'distressed' over-exposed shots to simple portraits. The choice of colour and the overlays of filters etc, especially in the 'Blue period' kinbaku shots, was absolutely beautiful. (So much so that I was highly tempted to purchase a coffee-table book of the selection, despite the hefty price-tag. Alas, frugality prevailed, and I consoled myself with some postcards instead.)
Not all of the exhibition was wonderful, of course. The 4,000+ photographs would have been even more overwhelming if fully half of them were not polaroids, and covered one room from floor to ceiling. As wingsmith
and I slowly walked around this room, I started to get rather dizzy. Many of the polaroids were very similar, and very explicit. They struck me as works in progress, or at least research - certainly not completed works. There are only so many photographs of a poached egg that a person can examine before becoming slightly confused as to why
they were doing this. wingsmith
and I were also slightly discomforted at the photographs of dolls with kinbaku ropes stringing them up. The channish implications of this - even if they were just in my head and not intended by the artist - were rather disturbing for me.
Conclusions: worth a look. A documentary ("Arakimentary") is screened every two hours (and lasts an hour and a half), which looks at the artist at work; pretty much all of Araki's major works are included, and, as I said, the 'Flowers' and 'Blue Period' sections make it worth the price of a ticket.