There is currently a special exhibition in Los Angeles, and it happens at Little Big Man Gallery, who presents more than four hundred pictures of Tombeau Tokyo, the most recent series by Nobuyoshi Araki. Here, the Japanese photographer’s imagination is clearly focused on the varying stages between life and death.
This monumental body of work is comprised of a vast still life series. A large percentage of the work in Tombeau Tokyo (2016) focuses on floral compositions with various objects arranged within—mainly sex toys and dolls. Viewed alongside the historical context of Vanitas paintings and historic Dutch flower still-life paintings, Araki’s photographs bear resemblance, but differ in that these blooms are no longer at their lush best, but in faded fetid form. Within this withering foliage lie toy monsters—serpents set to corrupt this garden of earthly delights. Amongst the settings of some of these images, Araki has placed images of his colonoscopy examinations, so as to propose that this wellspring of darkness may perhaps come from within.
Art historical parallels can also be drawn to surrealists such as Max Ernst and his retinue of fantastic beasts. Here, toy reptiles hover over wilting bouquets menacingly. While Araki’s playfulness is present, darkness encroaches. Dismembered dolls recall Goya’s Disasters of War, and miniature Japanese bondage figurines remind us of pornographic Hentai Manga—cartoons depicting alien creatures violating human fantasy. Araki, as attuned to this, seems to be suggesting that the sky is falling and the apocalypse is nigh.
Nobuyoshi Araki, Tombeau Tokyo
May 20 to July 9, 2017
Little Big Man Gallery
1427 E. Fourth Street
Los Angeles, CA 90033