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Keiichi Tahara: Photosynthesis 1978–1980

Archive: Keiichi Tahara: Photosynthesis 1978–1980


Dukelských hrdinů 530/47, 170 00 Praha 7-Holešovice, Česká republika
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Date: 17.03.2017 - 27.08.2017
Place: Trade Fair Palace

Keiichi Tahara: Photosynthesis 1978–1980 featuring Min Tanaka

The National Gallery in Prague is proud to present for the first time in Europe an exquisite series of large format black-and-white photographs from the series Photosythesis 1978–1980 by the acclaimed Japanese photographer, Keiichi Tahara. 

Exploring the relationship between physical light and the human body, this series is based upon multiple photo sessions which Keiichi Tahara conducted between 1978-1980 with the legendary Japanese actor and dancer Min Tanaka. It was initiated at the exhibition "MA-Space/Time in Japan" which took place in the frame of the Paris Autumn Festival in October, 1978.

“How does light affect perception? What about emotions? I was obsessed with these questions at that time”, recalls the photographer, “The idea of ‘Body Weather’ brought Min and I together. This depicts the pivotal moment where meditations on physical light met the art form of the human body. The project turned out to be a fascinating three years blurring the lines between the object and subject matter of art”. 

While portraying Min Tanaka in “Photosynthesis” Keiichi Tahara experimented with various types of light, ambiences and seasons. The sites included urban and natural environments: from Paris, Rome, and New York, across Iceland and Bordeaux, down to Tokyo, Kujuu-Kurihama and Akikawa-Keikoku. The photographer’s aim was to observe how a dancer's body adapts to outer stimuli, or to rephrase it: a human body reaching into the light with its raw skin and nerve endings.

Keiichi Tahara recalls working on two locations, in France and Iceland: “In Bordeaux, France lie the remains of a U-boat pen built by the Germans in the Second World War. It resembles an enormous vessel covered with chunks of concrete to assure protection against air attacks. Slivers of light and recollection interweave in this vast unmanned space, where a solitary human body entwines with the light. In June, the season of the midnight sun, we had been endlessly driving through the geothermal areas of Iceland in search of a good place for a photo shoot. Days bled into nights. The sun never went down. The glistening black ground and intense tranquility enclosed on us. The camera clicking and rewinding film were the only sounds accompanying our steps”. 

“Although this work has been nearly abandoned for the past 35 years, today it holds special meaning to the both of us in revisiting our creative starting points”, Tahara concludes. 

Min Tanaka was born in Tokyo in 1945. Trained in classical ballet and American modern dance around 1960s, in 1974 he started his own career and developed a new style called “hyper-dance.” In 1978, he made his international debut at the Louvre Museum.  His performance – extremely gentle and infinitesimal movement to withdraw the potentiality of a body – had a strong impact on the art world, far beyond the dance scene, as a brand-new form of an artistic expression.  In 1982, Tanaka met butoh dance pioneer Tatsumi Hijikata and begun collaborating with him. In 1984, he performed “School of Love-Dance,” directed and choreographed by Tatsumi Hijikata. From 1985, Tanaka has been living in a village in the mountains, concentrating his daily life on farming in order to search for deeper physicality.  Beyond the formalist genre framework, his activities became more collaborative, incorporating various forms of art such as improvisation music, contemporary music, and opera, not to mention visual art. Since his first appearance in the film “Twilight Samurai” directed by Yoji Yamada in 2002, he has been acting in a number of films, from the Hollywood movie “47 RONIN” to self-produced, experimental films.  While working in the film industry nationally and internationally, he has continued his own avant-garde dance activities consistently ever since 1970s.  Tanaka’s incessant and exclusive search for dance as well as the origin of dance, which co-exists with a body – a state of flux – has resulted in developing an approach to dance based on site-specificity and improvisation. It has led to "Locus Focus” project series that is taking place in a variety of every-day life contexts throughout Japan and abroad. Additionally, Tanaka has authored such books as “My Bare Body”, “Conscious Body, Contagious Mind”, and a photo-book: “Photosynthesis MIN by Keiichi TAHARA”. 

Keiichi Tahara works in a variety of media, ranging from photography, sculpture, and various installations to massive light-scape pieces that are produced as a part of urban planning projects. His commitment to the search for the form of light and his delicate but strong sensibility towards light and shadow constitute the foundation of all of his works. Tahara was born in Kyoto in 1951. He learned photographic techniques at an early age from his grandfather who was a professional photographer. He began making photographs after moving to France in 1972, where he remained for 30 years. He encountered a sharp, harsh and piercing light that he had never experienced in Japan while traveling Europe with Red Buddha Theater where he was a lighting and visual technician. His first series of work “Ville (City)” (1973–1976) captured the unique light in Paris in black-and-white photography. With the next series “Fenêtre” (1973-1980) he won the Grand Prix at the Rencontres d’Arles in France (1977). Tahara went on to produce a variety of photographic works including the “Portrait” series (1978–1987) and “Eclat” series (1979–1983), and traveled throughout Europe to photograph late 19th century architectural spaces. Proceeding from the thought that he does not want to limit himself to photography, but instead wants “to see the existence of light itself; to catch light with my own hand,” since the late 1980s Tahara has realized a number of projects in many parts of the globe —including sculptures and installations—that are based entirely on light, such as, for example, “Garden of Light” (Eniva, Hokkaido, 1989) where light sculptures are installed in a public space that is covered by a meter of snow six months of the year. The light changes in response to music and presents a space of poetic dimensions. Tahara's works are on permanent display in museums and other various sites.

As French philosopher and psychiatrist, Felix Guattari explains in “Les machinations de lumiere de Keiichi Tahara”: “No matter what means of expression Keiichi Tahara appropriates in his works, they are always premised on their reconstruction as light and shadow… The works are constantly inflected as they perennially shift and transform. Inside and outside, white and black, nature and culture­. The introverted and extroverted aspects of Tahara’s personality do not contradict each other. His introversion is apparent from the long years he spent shooting windows for his “Fenêtre” series and fixing his gaze on interior living spaces for his “Eclat” series. That he traveled around Europe making Seikimatsu kenchiku [fin-de-siecle architecture], his massive six-volume set of books of images of architecture, or rather spaces, is evidence of his simultaneous extroversion. These various aspects of his work are not in opposition. They are constructed along a continuum… The infinite number of fractals and fissures, which Tahara’s photographic activities produce, are important because they empty all interpretations of meaning while requiring their endless regurgitation, and further create a new existential ecology equipped with a universe of new lines of meaning and referents.”

The exhibition Photosythesis 1978–1980 by Keiichi Tahara is accompanied by a durational dance performance by Min Tanaka within the space of 5th floor Respirium. Lasting for one week (March 17-25), conducted on a specially constructed stage with a unique arrangement of traveling theatre lights, Tanaka’s minimal, gestural performance is a live act of an exquisite endurance and physical force. As such, it creates a fascinating dialogue with the representation of dancer’s body as documented by Keiichi Tahara’s camera eye 37 years ago… 

Curator: Adam Budak


"If Dance exists without the subject “I,” it would truly be a wonderful model to show our diversity. I then wonder, what is contained in the center of the diversity. Where is the native place of Dance…? And, can we, or Dance ever reach there someday? The quest for me is not too far from a thesis; where on earth humankind is heading toward?" 

Min Tanaka

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