In the Resurrection series [see here “Resurrections A. Rodin’s Victor Hugo (1885)” – image no. 12 and detail in image no. 13], Mohri made use of pencil drawing to reclaim the stone and bronze sculptures of eminent figures of the Renaissance, in a distinctive hyper-realistic technique. On closer observation, what is initially seen as the representation of the face of paper as the photograph of a sculpture, unfolds the drawing and the distance between the eye and the image. We are thus able to discern the ashy substance of pencil drawing and the vivid marks, traces, and indices of a seemingly organic body surface. The sculpture dissolves into drawing while the ashy lines of the pencil ‘ash’ the representation. All the wrinkles, birthmarks, skin swellings and imperfections expose the faults that together with the organic smoothness and roundness of the casted heads create a visual oxymoron that generates perceptive shifts of the image. The artist’s pencil drawing technique makes manifest the boundaries of physical presence and representation as it unfolds the three-dimensional objects on the surface of the paper. The frontal portraits seem to be installed and placed for seeing ‘as usual’: placed in niches or against the wall, fully revealing their stone ‘imperfections’ and the fetishistic craftsmanship. Mohri inscribes the three-dimensional surface of the stone “inside” the flat paper and insists meticulously on the carnality of the image (with noticeable attention to skin and flesh details) to infuse life into the depicted figure itself and challenge the viewer’s imagination. The artist draws a double gesture here. By creating the illusion of depth, Mohri challenges both the surface of the paper and the three-dimensional surface of the sculpture. Through their visual qualities, his three-dimensional images raise questions on the relationship between the ‘original’ and the ‘re-presented’ – the surface and the inherent dimension of the figure. This, in turn, addresses the signifying status of artifacts and the ways in which they inscribe the limits of representation within re-presentation. The depthless surface of the paper does not ‘reflect’: it invites the viewer to a reflection on material conditions and evasions.
In the Untitled series [see here images no. 1 and 2], the separation of senses creates a counter-phenomenological fracture in both the image and the simulacrum, a ‘clipping’ into the real. These pencil-made ‘paintings’ reflect on the visual essence of the image though an excess of figurative density, as well as the relation of the visual and the other senses. At the same time, they challenge notions such as ‘imitation,’ ‘mimesis’ or ‘copy.’ The ‘paintings’ do not depict a reality but rather that which lies beyond the real. They transgress the natural into the purely representational, where what we may at first perceive as being realistic is presenting itself with too much intensity, in too much degree – the locus of an Extra and, with that, an aesthetics of the Extra. The separation of senses is a counter-reflective mirror of perception, with all its construed ideologies of constructed differences and similarities in art, history and culture. Sights of insights, the sight as insight – these ‘paintings’ interrogate on the nature of depiction and the forms of pictorial realism. Since the visual experience of a picture cannot be integrated into a single, unitary experience, each having a distinctive phenomenology of its own, Mohri’s hauntingly affective portraits reference the nature of mimesis and the agency of the mimetic image. Does this agency lie in the representational capacity to interpret and render existence in ways that trigger involuntary memories? Does the presentational power create entirely novel experiences that substitute the ‘real’?
In his famous What Do Pictures Want?, W.J.T. Mitchell shows that due to our tendency to invest works of art with a life of their own, we also grant them a form of “secondary agency” when we animate them. Mitchell’s interest in what images do, rather than what images mean, is not aimed at connoisseurship, iconography, stylistic analysis, social history or other forms of art-historical interpretation. Instead, he looks at the ways in which we gain insight from approaching images as if they would possess powers of their own, especially since we tend to project the forms of organization that structure our everyday interactions into our visual art. Walter Benjamin makes a distinction in On the Mimetic Faculty between ‘sensuous similarity’ (epitomised by onomatopoeia) and ‘nonsensuous similarity’ (typified by dance, cultic ritual and language). ‘Nonsensuous similarity’ is not produced through the replication of things imitated; it is a response or reaction that is different in kind and can be understood as the imitation as mimesis, with no object to imitate. Objects that can be imitated cannot exist prior to the occurrence of imitation as mimesis. By producing similarity aims at refusing mere representation of reproduction or replication, that is the copying of existing objects.
It is only in The Cracked Portraits [here images no. 3-11] that one can fully grasp Mohri’s artistic gesture, as the artist goes back to the main premises of the art viewing: the ability to trace the dividing line between something represented in the image and something existent in reality. Like in the Untitled series, the image is here a picture of the perceiving mental; the portraits serve as a subjective means to interrogate the medium of the image. The skin faults in the Resurrection series turn into construction lines that ‘bruise’ the image and erase the clarity of the image to reveal the image as a surface. The material betrays the spectator and participates in the act of illusion; it does not only take part in mimesis, but supports the hyperreal image in its competition with the existent, outrunning visual reality and its common representations. The artist blurs the line between real and simulated, “present” and “depicted.” The artist cracks representation as the images are produced along fractures in our stable assurance of what is real and what is fake. While the face is created by pencil and covered by a layer of glass with cracks in it, the materiality of the cracks become an accomplice of the hyperreal simulation. By entering the representation, the material cracks produce distinctive and blurry surfaces: the Crack in the glass becomes the Line in the picture. Mohri’s Cracked Portraits thus entangle a controversial visual experience. As the pencil representation is moving towards reality and physical presence, the reality itself and its substance become part of the simulation and the imaginary realm, in an oscillation between real and illusive that questions our ways of seeing and perceiving.
Mohri’s gesture is reminiscent of Thomas Demand’s 2002 work Glass, where photography is not used to record the actual appearance of a pane of glass but is instead the trick photograph of a constructed paper and cardboard model that resembles a piece of broken glass. There is no referential function in Demand’s photograph. What is being broken and shredded is the link between photography as the most indexical of artistic media and the world it is supposed to depict. Demand thus questions the immediacy and reliability of perception while challenging construed ideas of perspective. Glass confronts the traditional theory of mimetic representation that identifies it with the imitation of nature, picturing the distinct evidence of its inadequacy.
The Cracked Portraits do more than question the machinations of our perceptual experience. The artistic gesture draws a line of continuity between drawing, picture, desire, and projection; this serves not only as a metaphor, a sketch after nature, but it also reveals drawing’s ability to render an image tangible. Taisuke Mohri does not only address our intriguing relations with artfully fabricated representations but revisits drawing itself as artistic manifestation to reveal its powers of expression and projection. In times when technology and the most disjunctive manifestations of art continue to be imbued with the abstract, the conceptual, and the ideality of their formation, drawing is the immediately expressive medium that accompanies the line of our thoughts. It is a means to incorporate the body and the mind, the hand and the eye, and to reaffirm the politics and plasticity of senses, thinking and imagination. That is, to re-draw and thus reappropriate our very subjectivity. By chosing to draw these portraits in black and white, the artist returns to the basic, regenerative and expressive coding of representation throught he bodily technique of the pictorial figuration. Drawing and body, drawing the body – the drawing body. Therethrough – a reclamation.
Text by Sabin Bors, June 24, 2015