One Hundred Views of Bathing
As part of the Photo Oxford Festival – whose theme this year is ‘Women and Photography: Ways of Seeing and Being Seen’ – this online exhibition presents photographs from an ongoing project by Japanese photographer Mariko Sakaguchi, whose series ‘One Hundred Views of Bathing’ offers a distinctive and playful perspective on self-expression and identity. Curator Philip Grover introduces the material, while Sakaguchi describes the motivation behind her work, alongside selected images from the project:
Mariko Sakaguchi’s project ‘One Hundred Views of Bathing’ fits precisely into this year’s festival theme, ‘Women and Photography: Ways of Seeing and Being Seen’. Her series of self-portraits encompasses both aspects of this subtitle, being a performative artwork in which she is both viewer and ‘viewed’ (subject and object), and in which she invites her audience to participate in the project, both in the physical space of the photographs themselves and here online. The concept for the project examines the traditional motif of the wooden bath, juxtaposing an everyday item and activity in a variety of unusual and surprising settings. In doing so, the photographer not only illuminates aspects of Japanese society, but also reflects on elements of her own identity, as a performer who is making connections with the world around her, choosing what to share and keep private. Sakaguchi notes that she draws on several popular figures or themes in Japanese culture – including Shizuka-chan, Kaoru Yumi and Hishikawa Moronobu – as references for the project: ‘Shizuka-chan is a character in the Japanese anime series Doraemon. She takes a bath each day and is watched by the main character Nobita. Kaoru Yumi is a famous Japanese actress who appeared in the historical drama series Mito Kōmon, in which there is always a bathing scene. She plays the kunoichi (a female ninja) called Ogin, who carries out espionage activities while taking a bath. Hishikawa Moronobu is famous for ukiyo-e prints from the Edo period. My pose in the series refers back to his “looking back beauty” pose [in which the figure depicted looks over her shoulder]. All of them are traditional and familiar images for Japanese people.’ Of course, Mariko Sakaguchi’s series also references the celebrated work of Hokusai and Hiroshige, whose woodblock prints of traditional Japanese scenes have travelled widely, influencing the French Impressionists and others, and are known throughout the world. The ‘hundred views’ (百景) of the title does not mean simply one hundred, but rather, literally, ‘there are many’. The photographer continues to develop the series even as she continues her studies, prompting with her work surpise, a laugh, communion with the ‘viewer’, a moment of recognition – while always keeping clean.
Of her series One Hundred Views of Bathing, Mariko Sakaguchi writes: ‘I have been interested in physical expression since my childhood. As an undergraduate I studied photography, video and contemporary art as well as theatre and dance, but afterwards I switched from physical performance to using photography as a form of physical expression. At some point I asked myself, “How can a simple, daily action become art?” Everything I do always has this starting point – I think it is just a matter of curiosity, after all. Everyone takes baths, for example, and having a bath is nothing particularly special. It is an ordinary, everyday act. But if I have a bath in a place other than the bathroom, it becomes something unusual, out of the ordinary (non-ordinary). I think that something happens when we cross such borders, or displace things from their normal context like this.’
‘My work is titled One Hundred Views of Bathing. It is a series of self-portraits which I made with a 4 x 5 large format camera. Most of the photographs are taken quite simply, in situations that would be completely normal were I not there in my bathtub. The people in my pictures look just as they might in daily life, especially since I took the photographs using only natural light. I would like to emphasise that, wherever you are, the place you are holds possibilities to be a scene of the non-ordinary. Nowhere is really off-site. If I take a bath in this place here, then “here” and “you” will also be part of my work. You are not spectator but an integral part of the scene. I want to suggest that everyone can be included in art, and that everything can be art. This is what I want to convey, that you or I, anywhere in the world, can be part of an artwork. The camera is a machine that copies the scene in front of my eyes, but for me it is the stage for artistic expression.’
Acknowledgements and Credits
Online exhibition curated by Philip Grover.
Photographs reproduced courtesy of Mariko Sakaguchi.
Organised in collaboration with Photo Oxford Festival 2020.
Special thanks to Alice Gordenker and Mariko Sakaguchi; and to Danielle Battigelli and Hannah Pye.
Mariko Sakaguchi studied performing arts at Tama Art University, where her graduation exhibition was awarded the first prize (Kazuko Kuniyoshi Award), and she holds an MA in Intermedia Art from Tokyo University of the Arts. She has previously exhibited her work in group shows at Yokohama Museum of Art, Tokyo Photographic Art Museum and Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts. She lives in Tokyo and continues to develop her ongoing project ‘One Hundred Views of Bathing’. You are able to visit Mariko Sakaguchi’s personal website online here.