Miwa Yanagi represented Japan at the 53rd Venice Biennale with her installation entitled Windswept Women: The Old Girls’ Troupe. For this installation, Yanagi took the Takamasa Yoshizaka-designed Japan Pavilion built in 1956 and covered its exterior with a black, membrane-like tent. Invoking the original idea of a “pavilion” as a free standing or temporary structure, the fluidity and mobility of the tent form turned the Japan Pavilion into a temporary playhouse.
Inside, Yanagi installed giant 4m high photograph stands containing portraits of women of varied ages. Upon entering, viewers felt disoriented, losing their sense of scale and perspective as they walked among oversized works.The motif of this installation was a troupe comprised exclusively of women traveling with their mobile house — a tent — on the top of their caravan. This tent, inspired by the novels of Japanese modernist writer Kobo Abe, has already appeared in Yanagi’s previous Fairy Tales (2004-05) series of staged photographs, and has been a key to expressing ambivalent themes such as the tensions between “life and death,” “past and future,” “confinement and mobility” and “everyday life and festival.”
The photographs of gigantic women Yanagi has created for Venice symbolize resolution. They stand unmoved despite being surrounded by turbulent wind. No matter happens, they will keep their feet planted firmly on the ground.Presented in ornately designed decorative frames, these women seem surreal but also embody an element of nostalgia. Although the images themselves have a macabre quality, they encourage us to embrace vitality.
They take on added significance in Venice, where the threat of imminent death has been a concern for the city throughout its history, as well as in light of the critical economic recession currently affecting people throughout the world. Yanagi’s installation expresses respect for the Venice Biennale itself and indicates her arrival as an artist. And, by transcending feminism in its strictest sense, the work is certain to call to mind the fundamental power of art.