Photographer Alex Landsberg fabricated an installation of a Japanese street by patching together images of building facades taken during his visits to the country. Landsberg’s street is made up of cliche’d symbols and images which were assembled together and invite the viewer to wander through an alleged Japanese ideal. The exhibition’s positioning deliberately reveals the images’ flat nature. The surface upon which this Japanese street appears is nothing but a screen for the projection of the viewer’s expectations, and a deeper understanding of the culture evades the unsatisfied spectator.
The installation Japanese Fantasy is a fabricated Japanese street created by Alex Landsberg using his photographs of building facades and architectural elements taken in various places and times throughout Japan, which were then “stitched” together in a patchwork of images.
By its very nature, a photography exhibition poses questions about the credibility of the depicted subject, Photography is inexorably linked to practices of oppression and political control. From its early days, the camera was perceived in East Asia as an aggressive tool meant to perpetuate Europe’s patronizing stance, and the new technology was considered, as soon as it was introduced, as a weapon in the colonialist arsenal. A notable example is John Thomson (1837-1921), whose staged photographs from Siam, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore and China were among the first to establish conventions of East Asian representation for late 19th century Europeans.
Edward Said, the founder of postcolonial discourse, examines the perception of the Orient through Western eyes in his 1978 book Orientalism. Said posits that European writing about the Orient not only establishes it as a separate geographical domain, but also constructs it as a distinct mental and cultural “other”, and that writing about the other is an expression of power and dominance by a hegemonic culture which imposes its discourse on the “locals”. These then become a mirror image by which Europe can define itself.
Landsberg is well aware of the deceitful power that images from Japan have on the Western eye and he, thus, seeks to avoid the binary thinking about “self” and “other” and dismantle the dominance of West over East even as he documents the latter.
To do this, he created an exhibition that exposes the fact that it is a mere theatrical set. Landsberg un dermines the credibility of the photographic installation by distorting perspective and by creating a space nearly devoid of authentic human activity. The Japanese street is made up of cliche’d symbols and images: The red Torii gate welcoming visitors to Shinto shrines, the cherry blossom, a handsome hostess in a blue kimono, carefully pruned pine trees and bushes, wooden sliding doors and rice paper lanterns.
All these were assembled together and invite the viewer to wander through an alleged Japanese fantasy. However this dream immediately reveals its own deception, as visitors to the “street” discover the unrealistic perspective and proportions, the closed doors that serve as a metaphor to the elusiveness of Japanese culture. The exhibition’s positioning deliberately reveals the images’ flat nature. The surface upon which this Japanese street appears is nothing but a screen for the projection of the viewer’s expectations, and a deeper understanding of the culture evades the unsatisfied spectator.
Torii gate design and production: Zohar Shoef and Yoav Schwartz
Graphic design: Tom Kenar, Ofek Art of Ofek Aerial Photography