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Sally Clark
Binh Danh
Ian Everard
James Fee
Shelby Graham
Hanna Hannah
Robin Kandel
Aaron Kerner
Elyse Koren-Camarra
Keith Muscutt
Katsushige Nakahashi
Rebecca Ramos
Hideki Shiozawa
Robynn Smith
Kenji Yanobe
 
Shelby Graham

Shelby Graham lived in Fukuoka for two years (1990-1992). Her first child, a son, was born here in Japan. The Collapsing Histories exhibition in Tokyo is something of a homecoming for Graham, and the same might be said of her work.

During her stay she found a photograph of a young woman in the trash. Intrigued by the photograph and why this image – which means something to someone – would be cast way she has re-framed it. There must be countless images just like this one. Nonetheless, while this image conforms to the genre of portraiture, this genre inherently is meant to present the likeness of an individual, and to even present something of the essence of the individual photographed; in other words, the portrait is meant to in some fashion depict personality, sentiments and even the memories embodied in the individual. This is an individual with family, someone who is a member of a community, and yet despite the fact that photographs are supposed to be repositories of memory in this case there is hardly any trace of personal memories. We might be able to draw something from the young woman’s expression; we might be able to speculate about this woman’s social and class status from her dress and demeanor, but what of her memories, what of the history of this woman and this photograph? Who is she? And why was this image discarded?

Graham has begun to formulate a similar line of questioning by juxtaposing other images, and by incorporating some of her own personal experiences. Suspended, the image of the unknown woman hovers over an image of the ocean. Together the image is lost in the sublimity of the vast ocean, an individual lost in the vastness of the sea. Above the image of the unknown woman is a web of rice-paper, which covers the ominous form of a missile. Graham grew up in the Cold War era and as a consequence formulated certain ideas about atomic weaponry; she imagined atomic weapons as ‘shiny vessels.’ And when visiting the Atomic Bomb Museum in New Mexico she “found bombs that fit” her imagination. Later, during her stay in Japan, she visited the Atomic Bomb Museum in Nagasaki, where she “encountered the devastating effect ‘the bomb’ had on the human condition.” The discrepancy between the Atomic Bomb Museum in New Mexico and Nagasaki, the radically different historical narratives presented demonstrate the problematics of historical discourse (e.g., American efforts to ‘cleanse the imagery’ of atomic weaponry by turning the atomic bomb into a shinny vessel). History is always a construct and without a critical awareness of this fact it is impossible to decipher the narratives we tell ourselves. The unknown woman – who has essentially disappeared, lost in the vastness of the sea, and detached from any personal memories – is like the victims of the atomic blast; erased from the face of the planet. The unknown (or disappeared) woman is thus contrasted with the shinny vessel. Living with the Bomb then is an image of homecoming: this unknown (or disappeared) woman is being repatriated, and at the same time the piece attempts to dispel the ‘cleansed’ American vision of the atomic bomb as a shinny vessel, it attempts to bring something of the horror – of people evaporated – home.


 
 
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