Don’t look for it in Japan.
If Open Eye’s Biennial strand shows anything (and it shows more than most) it’s that those lunchtime assignations, those snatched trysts and fumbles can have repercussions way, way down the line.
Lunchtime love is captured in all its grainy, grabby glory in a series of CCTV images frozen – coitus interruptus style – in a bank of TVs: the doughy flesh and probing hands desperately seeking sanctuary. Human connection.
But Kohei Yoshiyuki’s Love Hotel (1978), which ignited furious debate about photography’s relationship with voyeurism and surveillance, is a loveless affair, and a thoroughly depressing one too. But that doesn’t stop you staring.
The stills are grabbed from sex tapes made by the clients of a book-by-the-hour hotel in Tokyo. They still cling, magnetically, to the surface of the screen – like some radiocarbon echo of a long passed explosion. But the assignations are more Wham, bam, thank you mam, than Last Christmas, I gave you my heart.
Yoshiyuki’s The Park is much more fun. Furtive even. Black and white images are exhibited in a black, unlit cube – you navigate it with an underpowered pocket torch. As your eyes adjust to the low light levels spectral images appear – of couples humping in hedgerows, a stilettoed heel emerging from a bush, legs akimbo under a tree, spectators crouched and mesmerised by the midnight show.
“To photograph the voyeurs”, Yoshiyuki later wrote, “I needed to be considered one of them” – and so began his nocturnal trawl through the suburban parks of Tokyo: and his unflinching photo essay of some inky-black eco-system. Exhibitionist couples, and the peeping toms they support. Does anyone get hurt in this arrangement? That’s a question you’re left to wrestle with as you leave, blinking, into the daylight.
Open Eye’s upstairs gallery focusses on the first UK show my Mark Morrisroe: a retrospective of the dead photographer’s X Ray photograms (in conjunction with Homotopia).
At first sight, Morrisroe’s images look beautiful: all saturated stained-glass colours and jagged intersections. Get closer and you’ll see that Morrisroe, who died at 30 from an AIDS-related illness in 1989, has been cutting up lurid images from from pornographic magazines and crashing them together with personal ephemera.
As his disease advanced, Morrisroe sometimes worked in a makeshift darkroom in his hospital bathroom – working with an urgency, one imagines, only those truly against the clock can tap into.
Morrisroe’s beefcake images and blood red palettes speak of the allure and terror of sexual liberation – and, as with Yoshiyuki, there’s another story here too: of the consequences of human contact. His X-ray vision probing towards some inner truth.
Wrapping the oustide of Open Eye’s Mann Island home, Sinta Tantra has turned the gallery into a moored-up Dazzle Ship, complete with vibrant, eye-popping geometric bands of gold, fuchsia and teal (and adding some glee to the monoliths of Mann island). It’s a stunning intervention, shouting ‘I’m a present, open me!’
Fortunately, for visitors to Open Eye this Biennial, the present inside is worthy of such extravagent wrapping. You won’t be disappointed.
To 25 November
pic one: Mark Morrisroe
pic two: Kohei Yoshiyuki