Jonathan Anderson and Edwin Low’s Manga Dreams project, exhibited as part of the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, may surprise many people. This is for at least two reasons. On the one hand, it is true that the universe of manga has something confusing in this space which, generally, is more used to presenting photographic works. On the other hand, even if the experienced manga enthusiast were to venture into this high place of contemporary creation, his expectations might not be met.
Indeed, the exhibition seems to offer only a narrow perception of what is usually associated with Japanese culture. Here, the manga is meant to be uncertain, as if it served a purpose other than his own. It is not an exhibition on manga, with the aim of acquiring artistic legitimacy, but an art exhibition whose lexical tool is based on the universe of manga. This approach does not fail to give the whole thing a rather enigmatic, even ambiguous character.
In fact, we can see that, in general, the interplay of ambiguities remains an essential component of Japanese visual culture, mixing the genders that are a priori opposed such as violence and romanticism, tradition and modernity, adulthood and eternal childhood, masculine and feminine. Anderson & Low play on these confusions from the digital tool, which makes it possible to question the boundaries between the real and the imaginary, but above all to use the “style” of manga to inscribe itself between art and non-art. Indeed, the viewer is entitled to question the real artistic relevance of what is presented, these Japanese ephebes with katanas on a setting sun background, or these portraits of teenagers in a “cosplay” look and whose references are both video games and cartoons, may suggest that we are more faced with an illustration work.
However, a more attentive eye leaves doubt, something is happening in these bodies and faces. At first glance, we can highlight the interplay of looks that sometimes seem to challenge the spectator. The attitude is heroic, sometimes warlike, at least proud. If identities are assumed to the point of staring at the public, it can be seen that these features describe a feature common to most heroes from popular imagery, whether they come from American comics, the Hollywood machine or the Olympic Games. Does the “aesthetics of the piercing gaze” reflect contemporary popular culture? Let us remember that Anderson & Low have pursued an intense photographic research through the representation of athletes and champions, often posing in the simplest camera. Identity and the body unite in their iconographic imagination to show beings who, to the extreme, explore what a body can do, and what it means to be oneself. There may be something heroic about asserting yourself as yourself, to the point of forgetting all fears and complexes. From there, the Manga Dreams exhibition acquires a completely different resonance, because like these sports heroes who explore and assume themselves, it intends to go beyond the simple game of appearances.
Model : Forest Defender
Designer : ANDERSON & LOW
Period : 2011
Dimension : 155 x 152 cm