Remodeling Shiseido Gallery Edition


Remodeling Shiseido Gallery Edition is a work by Anneke Hymmen and Kumi Hiroi commissioned by the Shiseido gallery in Tokyo Japan for the exhibition: Anneke Hymmen & Kumi Hiroi, Tokuko Ushioda, Mari Katayama, Maiko Haruki, Mayumi Hosokura, and Your Perspectives. By using the same concept of Remodeling that Hymmen and Hiroi have started in 2014, they created Remodeling Shiseido Gallery Edition based on the two advertisements of Shiseido.

Mika Itagaki, the curator of the Shiseido Gallery asked visitors of the gallery to describe in words two Shiseido advertisements. The collected words became their working material. Without seeing the original advertisements they reconstructed their own visual interpretations of the descriptions at hand. The resulting images are four portrait photos. They chose two photos and asked Akiko Otake to write two stories using their photos as inspiration for short stories.

Links: Shiseido Gallery

Concept: Anneke Hymmen & Kumi Hiroi Research and Development: Kumi Hiroi Photo: Hymmen & Hiroi Text: Akiko Otake Translation: Polly Barton

Curator: Mika Itagaki Supported by Dutch Creative Industry Fund

Shiseido Beauty Cake “Beloved by the Sun” Poster,1966 Photo: Noriaki Yokosuka, Model: Beverly Maeda ©Shiseido

K: These words transport me to a beach. This is quite a classic scene, no?  

A : In the Netherlands, there’s only a limited number of days where we could shoot this on location, though. We’re not famous for our sunny weather... What do you mean by a classic scene?

K: With words like blue sky, dazzling sunlight, and white swimsuit, the first thing that comes to my mind is a Mediterranean summer scene. Although I’m not a beach person really. I’ve never lived near to the sea, and I don’t have a strong connection to it. So I guess the first image I imagine is the generic Mediterranean beach, rather than something from my personal experience.

A:You mean those images that you see a lot in travel advertisements or TV commercials? Models jumping on a white sand beach or people drinking cocktails and so on?

K: Yes. Sometimes, although I don’t look at Instagram and other social media that often, I can look at a professionally taken image there and perceive it, unconsciously, as just a regular photo. And then I process that image as a standard image. In the way that I had the Mediterranean Sea in my head, even though I wasn’t familiar with it.

A: Yes. I think the same when I show my clients sample photos to represent ideas for future jobs. You know when you have meetings with them, right? I make several versions because I want to show a variety of different directions we could go in, and I notice that stock photos go down well with clients. Even though it’s clear that when you actually shoot a scene like that in real life, it will look different, right? The models are heavily photoshopped as well, in those sorts of images.

The photos that are eventually delivered have a strong documentary element, and the clients seem to be happy with that. So why do you think people think that stock photos are realistic?

K: I guess whatever you’re used to seeing becomes reality in your mind. Even if that’s not the reality.

A: Returning to the Summer, heat, light, dazzling sunlight...’, what shall we do about white clouds? If there aren’t any white clouds that day, should we Photoshop them in later?

K: I don’t know… I have a feeling that it’s not a good idea to Photoshop them in. But if there are no white clouds on the date of the shoot, I guess we have to consider it.   

A: Yes.

K: The image composition that came to my mind first was like the photo of Niels that we took for Ping Pong. The face and torso are in focus and the background is blurred. But instead of the pink/light blue gradated background of the sea, we’d have the blue sky and sun.  

A: Yes. The sun is strong and there’s sandy sweat on the model’s skin.

K: Who could be the model?

A: The description doesn’t mention anything about the model. It could be anyone. I’d prefer not to use a typical female model. A typical model in combination with summer, blue sky, and a white swimsuit could look clichéd.

K: What do you mean by a typical model?

A: You know what I mean.  Someone with very long thin legs and arms and a symmetrical face. Isn’t it strange that there is no description of the model? There must be one in this advert.

K: That’s true, there are no words written about the model. It’s a Shiseido summer advertisement, so it might be a sunscreen advertisement.

Behind the Eyelids

That day, after returning from the beach, I ate a quick breakfast and then entered my studio right away. I set the primed canvas onto the easel, and dipped a fine brush into brown paint that I’d thinned down considerably. Beginning with the forehead, I moved the brush in one fluid line, tracing the hollow of the eye socket, the pointed tip of the nose, the mouth, then lifting from the chin up to the ear before drawing in the curve of the neck. With the addition of one more line running in parallel, the outline of the head was established.

Almost immediately after getting up that morning I’d set out for the beach, which lay about twenty minutes’ walk away from my house. As always, my camera hung from my neck. Standing on the strip of sand from which the morning tide had began to recede, I raised the finder to my eye and began moving the camera back and forth, side to side, in search of something that piqued my interest. The task I set myself is to look carefully, to remember, and then to paint what I see. I use a telephoto lens in order to better remember whatever I look at. I find it hard to get my imagination working by taking things in hand, or moving close enough towards them that I can physically sense their distance. Rather, I like to quash the usual sense of distance, the standard relationship we have with objects when looking at them, and to generate instead an image that appears somewhere severed from an everyday context. For that purpose, I find a 100mm telephoto lens works well. As soon as my eye meets the finder, the distance vanishes, and I’m drawn inside a different way of seeing. Do you actually press the shutter? I’m often asked, and my answer is no. Commit the scene to a photograph and it becomes a memory of the eyes, filtered through the camera. What I want to paint is rather the world that materializes on the other side of the lens, set apart from my physical being.

In the frame that morning was a woman facing out to sea, shown from the chest up. Her long hair, pushed up from her forehead. hung down her back; her chin was slightly raised, and her eyes were closed. Keeping the lens trained on her face, I used my eyes to trace the contours of her forehead, her nose, her mouth, her chin. Her neck was impressively long, and seemed to burst forward diagonally from her shoulders. There was something about her sculptural form, its proportions slightly exaggerated, which I found myself drawn to.

In the studio, I worked for five hours in a state of absorption, breaking only for lunch, and then my hand came suddenly to a halt, as if I’d run out of gas. The canvas before me was layered with light browns, ochres, and beiges. As I’d repeatedly gone over the outlines, the figure I was depicting had blended with its background—to such an extent, in fact, that one couldn’t tell any more that the canvas depicted a person. I didn’t want to explain the woman, but rather to bring into focus her true essence. So what was that true essence, then? The only reply I could have given to such a question would was that it was something that transcended form. 'Trying to capture a person's true way of being which transcended form’—putting it into those words, it made little sense, but it was exactly that paradox that I wanted to enact in my artwork.

I’d been invited for dinner that evening at the house of a friend who lived in the next town along. An acquaintance of theirs from Japan was coming to stay, and the friend had announced the intention to make sushi. The idea of sushi appealed, but part of me was resistant. I wanted to remain immersed in the woman’s image for longer. It seemed that if I pulled myself away, then what I had achieved today would slip away from my eyes. Yet I decided to go to my friend’s regardless. I’d cancelled our last meeting after something sudden had come up, and I felt reluctant to do so again.

As it turned out, I may as well have cancelled. On the drive to my friend’s house I had a car accident, and never made it there. According to the police’s explanation afterwards, I’d turned too soon coming right off the bridge, and smashed into the railing. When I regained consciousness, I had no memory of the incident at all. Staring up at the unfamiliar ceiling floating above me, I wondered where on earth I was.

My body was exhaustively examined using all kinds of devices, from the top of my head down to my toes, but the doctors could find nothing out of the ordinary. They had no explanation of why I might have caused an accident of that kind. The parts of myself I’d hit upon collision were a little sore, but that was the extent of my injuries, and I was amazed to discover that I had no visible wounds. On the fourth day I was told there was no need for me to stay any longer, and discharged.

Reaching home, I headed straight into my studio, and came to a stop in front of my easel. The sight of the painting I’d begun that day leapt out at me. There was no doubting it. It was the same person—the first nurse who’d come to see me after I’d regained consciousness. As my eyes had fallen on the long neck protruding from the triangular collar of her uniform, I’d been taken by the feeling that I’d met her somewhere before. The second time she came to my bedside, that sense became a conviction, and so I asked her. “Were you on ------ beach early Friday morning?” She cocked that long neck of hers, and then answered, ‘No, that couldn’t have been me. I was on the nightshift, and fell asleep immediately after. I woke up after 2pm.’

Maybe her memory was mistaken, I thought. But no, that wasn’t it. Recalling the way her closed eyes looked that morning on the beach, I suddenly understood. They were the eyes of a person who had climbed out of bed in the middle of sleep—a person watching whatever images flicked across the underside of her eyelids. I had been taken along on those eyes’ voyage, and finally, now, I had returned. As this idea moved into the realm of certainty, I felt the strength brimming up in me. I threw off my coat, picked up my brush, and carefully lowered it onto the canvas.

Short story by Akiko Otake, Translated by Polly Barton

SHISEIDO Ultimune “With One Another. Without Limits. Our Future Is Beautiful.”, Poster, 2020
Photo: Sebastian Kim, Model: Beverly Maeda ©Shiseido 

K: What do you think of this description? Do you have any particular associations with any of these words?

A: Well, in the context of Amsterdam, pride makes me think of Gay Pride. What do you think?

K: You’re right, the English word ‘pride’ has become associated with ‘Gay Pride’ here. Also ‘Transsexual pride’, and ‘Women with pride’. It’s used for people who feel their rights aren’t treated equally. In Japanese, the English word pride often has a negative meaning, such as “having a lot of pride” or “wounding pride”, but originally the word is about honouring and having respect for oneself. The Gay Pride flag is a rainbow. I think that’s also a symbol of respect for individuality and diversity. What about the other words? passion, progress, and so on…

A: Well, for me, passion lies in the energy of the model. You feel it through a person’s body language and the expression of their eyes. So, we can think about body language. How do you show passion with body language?

K: The model looks straight into the camera.

A: But if you capture someone standing in a strong posture looking away from the camera, that might also look passionate.

K: That’s true. Then how about the pose? What is a ‘passionate pose’?

A: I think people sitting on a chair with their legs spread expresses a certain strength. Also open arms signify passion. Feet on the ground also says strength? And then in terms of the opposite, covering the face with hair, or putting hands in front of your face reduces a sense of both passion and strength. 

K: How about progress?

A: The photo could be a frozen moment from a particular movement. A moment cut out from a process. We’ve got the word healthy, so we could think about a sporting situation.

K: Yeah. Who could be a model?

A: I can imagine Mariko or Salome working well?

K: Good idea. Both have a strong look, and at the same time give a calm and confident impression. Both have black hair. Salome has dark skin and curly hair. Mariko has western features, and her hair is straight.

A: Huh? That is funny. For me as a German, with her almond eyes and black straight hair, Mariko looks Asian. Also her cheekbones I guess make her Asian-looking for me. For you as a Japanese person, she has western features. Interesting.

K: I guess we hold things up to our social and cultural background. For better or for worse, that influences the way we look at people.

The Right Half

Coming across her photograph was a total coincidence. Paying a visit to my parents’ house for the first time in ages, I was clearing the desk in my old room, which now functioned more or less as a storage cupboard. As I opened up a drawer of the desk, I noticed something flutter down, and then there was her face staring up at me from the floor – the last face I’d expected to see there. A face I had last seen 30 years ago, which I scarcely brought to mind any more.

Her name was Cynthia, or Cindy for short. It was her voice that had first drawn me to her. It had to it a richness that echoed in the belly, a mysterious quality like travelling down to the bottom of the ocean. And then, after we got to know one another, there was the magnetism of her skin. Yes, her skin had a forceful energy to it, as if there were invisible suction pads all over her body. Embracing her, I experienced the exultation of transforming into a different kind of creature entirely.

Back then, it was the very height of Japan’s bubble era, and the media was kept on its toes by news of Japanese firms buying up the Rockefeller Center in New York, or Van Gogh’s Sunflowers painting at auction. Cindy taught English at a language school in the day, and worked at a karaoke bar at night, where non-Japanese people from the area would congregate. At that time, Tokyo was a place where people from English-speaking nations could make a killing in a short time.

When the expiry date on Cindy’s visa was drawing near and the time for her to return home approaching, I thought about going with her to London. It was my final year of university, but I felt that getting a job straight after graduating was boring, and so I said to myself that the important thing was first to glimpse life outside of Japan. I realize now that my ability to entertain naïve impulses with such ease was testament to Japan’s state of prosperity.

I was sure that Cindy would welcome the idea of me accompanying her—so convinced was I, in fact, that it never once occurred to me to think otherwise. Yet when I confidently informed her of my plans, her behaviour immediately altered. Her attitude grew cooler, she began to tell me more frequently that she was busy, and one day, she vanished from me entirely.

At the time, I had no idea what was going on. Like a plastic suction pad that had suddenly come unstuck, I felt totally at a loss. I wondered if I’d done something to offend her, but I couldn’t think of one single thing it might have been. I was in such shock that it took me a good while to admit to myself that it had just been a fleeting relationship, of the kind that were ten-a-penny around me.  

The photograph was a promotional shot from her modelling agency. I could keep it, she’d said as she gave it to me, because she’d had a bunch of them printed. In it, her right eyebrow was raised. This was an expression that she often made. She would jut out her right shoulder at a slant and look at me over it, her chin slightly cocked. ‘You should go further, you mustn’t hold yourself back like that’—I remember her saying those words to me on several occasions. I had no awareness of holding myself back, as such—I just didn’t know how to let myself out. Yet when she would say such things to me with that bold directness of hers, which suggested she could at any moment yank up her anchor and set sail on the seas of life, I felt something deep within me rising up, as if in response. If I didn’t have any of the kinds of abilities that could be awakened by a provocation like that, unfaltering as the straightest arrow, her words did at least generate in me a kind of thrill.

Now, staring at the photograph, I felt something niggling at me. I tried turning it so it was straight, tilting it at an angle, and then, eventually, put my palm over her face, concealing the right side. After repeatedly lifting up my palm up, then replacing it, I realized what the issue was. The left and the right-hand sides of her face gave a quite different impression. There, concealed in the left half, was a different person to the one who appeared in the right.

It came to me that back when we were together, there had been a moment when I’d had a similar feeling. I’d gone to meet her after work, and after having a quick dinner together, we’d popped into a bar, where for some reason I sat to the left of her. At that time, whether we were on the train, alongside one another at a bar counter, sitting on the sofa watching videos, or lying together in bed, I was always positioned to her right. I was hard of hearing in my right ear, and so whomever I was with, I was accustomed to positioning myself so that my better ear was closer to the person I was speaking to. In the bar, sitting on the other side of her to usual, I noticed that her profile looked different. Was this really how she looked? Had she not swapped places with another woman I didn’t know? The burst of anxiety that surfaced in at that moment took me by surprise. Cindy wore a tired expression that day, and didn’t speak much, just took two or three sips of her scotch and then fell into silence. With our conversation at a standstill, we’d left the bar after one drink, but now, gazing down at the left side of her face in the photograph, the strange sensation I’d felt on that occasion returned to me.  

It struck me that, concealed in the left side of her face was the essence of a Cindy whose existence I’d been totally unaware of back then. There was no doubting that she was a friendly, sociable, cheerful person, but that didn’t mean she was a pushover. Her way of seeing things was as a mature as her rich voice, and when she’d made up her mind about something, she showed no mercy. The left half of her face took on an expression best described as a kind of rational cool-headedness. Back then, I had my head in the clouds, and the extent of my naivety was somewhat tedious. In fact, I was much like Japan itself in those days: sweet, but with no real bite, like the flimsy-thin wafers you’d find perched on top of the ice-cream served after dinner. It was really no wonder that she got bored of me. Now, the photograph from thirty years past whispered in my ear: I had been looking only at the right side of her face, and worshipping only that half. The photograph itself remained as it had always been—it was me who had changed.

Short story by Akiko Otake. Translated by Polly Barton.