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on 8 December 1998
I first experienced Michiko Kon's black and white photographs at an exhibition, "Mirror Images: Women, Surrealism, and Self-Representation", at the MIT List Gallery. This book reproduces the photographs wonderfully.
At a glance, the images are merely photographs of objects which emerge from a rich black background-- a dress, two legs, a chain-mail mask, a group of ducks. A second later, the details trap the viewer. The lace dress is covered with pea pods and peas. The legs are covered in a variety of materials inlcuding dozens of thumbtacks, disembodied fish, cuttlefish, strawberries, wire metal strainers from kitchen sinks, a small clock, and photographs cut into circular shapes. The links of the chain mail become small crabs. Instantly recognizable, each part and fragment of these objects are familar because they are objects easily found in our daily lives.
Kon, however, has transformed these everyday objects to creations that peer out from her inner vision and forces the viewer to question the ordinary. Why do these cold slippery fish cover the legs? Are those really cuttlefish arms? As we piece together the evidence we look for tell-tale signs of manipulation and creation. We know that ducks do not have fish heads as feathers; we are sure that legs do not tend to be covered in tacks. And yet, there are no obious signs of the artist's hands. Instead, the black and white images and the documentary nature of photography question our sense of what is familar or real.
One striking characteristic of Kon's creations is the obsessive skill with which they are made. The materials which she chooses to use are mostly dead, fragile, and decomposing. Despite the difficulty of working with such objects, each part of a piece is perfectly sliced, cut, and attached. The contrasting materials are so skillfully attached that they defy the idea that they do not naturally belong together or that the sculptures are hand-made. Fragile pea pods, each carefully split open so that the peas remain attached, become a pattern upon the lace dress, uniformly covering the garment in Pea and Dress. There are no signs of small imperfections. Small details, such as a string of peas around the collar, again point to the attention with which these imaginary visions are given life. Though the ideas may surface suddenly in a brillant flash into consciousness, the way in which they come to exist is through a methodical process which borders on obsession.
I enjoyed this book and Kon's photographs due to Kon's great skill in creating and photographing portraits of these ephemeral creations, and for Kon's unique vision.
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on 28 February 1998
It is not easy to describe Kon's brilliant photographic expositions. She uses familiar (organic) objects and reassembles them in new forms, often mimicking other common objects like a clock composed of Bluefish and freesia or sneakers with cuttlefish laces. They are forays into the outer edges of dreamscapes harkening back to a pre-anthropormorphic state. But there is a subtlety and elegance to these otherwise simply beautiful B&W photos. Some of them hint at something grotesque and even malevolent as in the "Chicken, Prawns, and Rubber Glove" or "Salmon & Razor Blades" while others bemuse a playful interaction between the organic and inorganic like "Mackeral and Pillows". These images will haunt you in wonderful ways. It's as if Kon had gone dreaming with a metaphysical camera and developed for us a private gallery of unconscious stills. There's also a great preface by Ryu Murakami, the writer of Almost Transparent Blue. I cannot relate how unfortunate it would be not to possess this book in your most treasured library.
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