TOMOKO YONEDA “Japanese House”

Midori Matsui

Tomoko Yoneda, an artist known for her cool allegorical photographs of sites of historical trauma, recently turned her lens to a series of Japanese-style houses in Taipei. These homes had belonged to families associated with the imperialist Japanese government and were built between 1895 and 1945, during the colonial occupation. (They include, for instance, the residence of General Wang Shu-Ming, chief of staff under Chiang Kai-shek and a Japanese house at the Beitou Hot Springs, known then as the “Hakone of Taiwan.”) The coexistence of the past and the present in the residences, now abandoned or used by the heirs of immigrants from mainland China, is powerfully rendered in the works. In some photos, the faint daylight entering uninhabited space emphasizes the blankness of a place that has lost its historical moments; in others, the ghostly views of a garden captured through the frosted glass and curtains contrasts with the dark door frames, and indicates the presence of the past that gives spiritual grace to the site.

Citing traces of cultural hybridity––such as the blending of Japanese architectural space with Art Deco designs and fragments of a Chinese poem calligraphed on a door––Yoneda here documents the ambivalent results of cultural exchange. Her pictures suggest lost time through a focus on the evocative fragments of ruins and the ephemeral, capturing both the haunting aura of the sites and the dominant aesthetic theme shared by the classical Japanese and Chinese cultures. Originally photographed for the 2009 Kuandu Biennale in Taipei, but making their Japanese debut with this show, the photos demonstrate Yoneda’s ability to transmit the tangible experience of the specific site and its referential capacity.