ikemura image

ikemura image

ikemura image

ikemura image

ikemura image

Graces 2

Presence Girls: On some ghosts in Leiko Ikemura's painting
Wilfried Dickhoff

But why is it the impossible which the work desires
once it has become the care for its own origin?
Maurice Blanchot

I want to speak of the girls in Leiko Ikemura's painting and of the desire for the impossible which they present to view.

To first glances, this painting shows a lot of girls, girl-like beings which seem to emerge, with careful preference, mainly from nocturnal seas, from black sponges on the other side of the canvas. In detained moments of emergence and submergence , they appear as the astral dashes of the other, on thresholds, close to deep coloured waters. Composed of monochrome surfaces that form spaces without any illusionist suggestion, they resemble fleeting apparitions of an atmosphere composed of sadness and eroticism. Ghosts of a being-outside-oneself, beyond anything personal, beyond representation, reference, skilful peinture, beyond figuration and abstraction and art's other stereotypes and illusions of identity. Nonetheless they have taken up many motifs, taken them up into themselves and finally left them behind. Resonances and reverberations of dresses, skirts, cats, shadows, hair-washings, unwanted children, loved animals, butterfly larvae (which in their transparency promise one beauty or another), of terrible and horrible events and other triggers for painting (generated from the experienced necessity of building a form and a chosen responsibility to form that guides the conscienceless ethics of an artistic positing ) have entered into a crystallization of potential images of girls which are not to be seen outside this kind of painting.

Many lying, but also a few standing or sitting girls are to be seen. Their colours and forms are so gaily flowing and radiant that they often divert attention from what could have happened here. Are the girls crying? Have they fallen over? Have they hurt themselves or have they been hurt? Is it a matter of fallen girls who have followed their desires too far and have been punished for it by those who do not allow themselves such liberties in the name of a morality, a convention, a fear or a law? Are these girls lonely, sad, desperate? Or are they not at all so sunk in suffering and pain, but simply by themselves, dreaming, dreamy, reflective, concentrated on what they could be or become, in the transitional zone of becoming a woman, on the track of a feeling for their own bodies, exploring their diverse facets and folds? Leiko Ikemura's girlish, beings of sensation are all this and a lot more. They bring with themselves contrary moods of all possible and incredible girls. Self-contradictory mood-images of sadness and eroticism, lethargy and passion, deep pain and radiant beauty, vulnerability and the will to transgress and many other intermediate tones. Polylogues introducing and seducing into a decisively undecided dimension, composed of chromatic tones and possible meanings that mutually attract each other, reject and deflect each other. But they are also not all this, but nevertheless not nothing. The "ambivalence in the mood" does not come to rest. It circles about a very concrete nothingness, present absences of impossible girls, misplaced between a no-longer and a not-yet. They remain beyond reach but are strongly present in their unreachability, an impression that is reinforced by the fact that the girls usually do not have any legs which, on the one hand, suggests an immovable standstill, but on the other, opens up ghostly spheres of colour. Sometimes their dresses seem to have become independent, as if beneath the skirts and blouses there were no bodies, but empty spaces in which something else had claimed space. Perhaps something psychic? Leiko Ikemura speaks of the soul as the name for what could be the issue, as the name for the central vector of her painting, for its gesture. Could one see these girls as the clothes for invisible bodies and/or souls that are the issue (for us)? Do Ikemura's girls' clothes perhaps play around a chaos of unstable openness which they defy by giving it a form? Her patches of colour resembling girls clothes play into each other like "intervals dynamically dividing themselves" , spatializations which form "habitation(s) for the soul" "there, where the ego has been forgotten" . Other spaces of psychic presence? Ambiguous images of the non-identical?

Obviously, Leiko Ikemura's girl-like spatializations manifest themselves as ungraspable polyphonic beings which always allow a further voice to resonate and, in view of every semantic, thematic or content-restriction, still have yet another encore in store. They are always in motion. Even from one painting to the next, they appear in rotational movements of various nuances and in some paintings as the simultaneity of different comportment perspectives. It looks as if it were always a matter of the same girl who is also always a different girl, a non-identical girl, a girl-like non-identity in painting. In their decisive ambiguity, these beings of painting are more than pictures of girls. They are images of a radical openness, of a becoming, of a transitional zone that is not confined to a specific gender but which concerns everyone. It is not a matter of gender here. The being-a-girl which these paintings present to view is "the becoming-woman of every gender". This is vouched for in Ikemura's painting by the painterly diagram's insistent lines of flight which give the ghostly girls their sharpness and refractoriness. Here it is by no means a matter only of fallen or dreamy girls. The sweetness of the girlish images and the sweetness of their painting are equally deceptive. They are always also unruly ghosts that insist on their desire and their otherness, their becoming-woman and their becoming-intense which not infrequently also assumes forms of becoming-animal. Simultaneously child-like and adult, sweet and nasty, loveable and mean, beautiful and ugly, but also defiant, combative, attractive, frightening and erotic, they unfold a sad, unruly sexiness. In this they are akin to the simultaneously hyper-conformist and super-tough, rebellious anime in Japanese comics. Like these figures, they move effortlessly back and forth between unscrupulous sentimentality and merciless cruelty and many other all-the-way feelings experienced in the 'Asian' way as equally valid. A touch of anime can be felt everywhere in Ikemura's girl paintings. This observation is not completely off the mark, not only because she grew up in this Japanese world of images, but also because she herself drew comics while at school in Japan that were very popular among her schoolgirl friends. Perhaps this is the trace of a specifically Japanese attitude on which irretrievable losses not only return in the angry looks of hurt, proud girls but are continued on, that is, insistently repeated and abducted to somewhere else in painting, sculpture and drawings. Leiko Ikemura explicitly speaks of the fact that she wants to take the liberty for her art to withdraw from "stereotypical moral ideas of good and evil" "in order to look certain dark zones straight in the eye". In doing so she is "not very much interested in the drama of human conflicts" and the psychological fetishisms of the 'West' that cling to them, but in the "irrational combination of the ugly and the beautiful or good and evil". The equally innocent and fathomless interstitial ghosts who are adapted to a shifting, indistinct coexistence and compatibility of good and evil are to be seen within the horizon of this conscienceless art-ethics. The fact that in more recent paintings sometimes even long legs and other distinctly feminine contours crop up which not just coincidentally recall anime who have become reality from the red-light district around Berlin's Oranienburgerstraße underlines, underscores and intensifies this painterly interest once more. Could it be that here we are dealing with presence girls of a painting beyond good and evil? And assuming this were the case, could we then not speak of a painting of non-positive affirmation, of a painting of non-affirmative yea-saying , of a form of painting in which an art of parrying is presented to view?

But how does something like this manifest itself? How does this present itself to view? What lets itself be seen, what presents itself, what can provoke thought is a form, but not an essentialist form, and definitely not a form with a substantialist presence. "The form is presence itself. Something form-like is what in general presents itself of something". Form is a formation, the forming of a form, for instance, the way in which for a painter the ineffable things with which she is concerned are shaped in the imagination on canvas. In painting, formation is always also a deformation, albeit a coherent deformation, just as every artistic deconstruction is a de-construction, assuming that it wants to be something more than illustration. And the figure can only ever become painting as a disfigurement, that is, as a formation which presents a desire for the impossible. Such a presentation is a presence of difference or else it is uninteresting.

Leiko Ikemura's painterly diagram that circles the "heart zone" provides something interesting. Her way of painting that resists any ascriptions of identity is perhaps the most refractory, sentimental, subversive, most humorous and intelligent, most endearing and nasty girl in this painting. A painting-girl who likes disappointing expectations and confronting the viewer from one moment to the next with apparently contradictory atmospheres, colours, forms and possible meanings. The becoming-woman of this painting-girl generates formations of irreducible difference from which ambiguous images of non-identity could emerge. Ikemura's painting-beings are interesting forms with presence, presentations of difference. They bear multiple traits that are emotionally and existentially close to us, perhaps even too close. Perhaps here we could come across views of a closeness that touch painful and/or pleasurable sore points, symptom-formations of which nobody can be acquitted because they could have addressed the real, the ineffable core of our desire, the central impossibilities of our lives, the ineffable im-possibilities for the sake of whose possibility we have engaged ourselves and continue to insist. There is a lot that speaks in favour of the view that here we are dealing with formations whose intensity could have been a return of the repressed in the sphere of the visual. Moments in which the object of an irretrievable loss or the subject of an impossible demand for freedom gazes at us. Such gazes take up the legacy of aura by passing on to the viewer the "forgotten trace of human labour in things" as the material event of a desire for impossibility. Such gazes, which painting opens up in happy coincidences of material events, do not make anything visible. For instance, they do not in any way make desire as something unconscious (of which Lacan says it is the desire of the other) visible. On the contrary, "I would like to say that here it is a matter of a kind of desire for the Other/désir à l'Autre at whose end there is a giving-to-view/le donner-à-voir".

In Leiko Ikemura's painting, such a desire for the other assumes girl-like forms. Her ghostly and refractory presence girls composed of unsecured and not infrequently abysmal percepts and affects are beings of sensation extracted in painting which embody yearnings for transgression. Leiko Ikemura speaks of a great yearning "to go out of myself, to go over the horizon". The girl ghosts in her paintings do that. They stand, sit or lie on horizons that are painted "phosphorescing like stretched-out animals". A becoming-woman snuggles up to horizon-animals that mark open zones of transition. Painting-beings in love with the horizon which, at the thresholds of impossible transgressions, commit themselves to the border-crossing venture of an art of the im-possible. That is the art here.

And in another darkness or in the same one, the presence girls stand for themselves - beautiful, mean and torn: Responses preceding every question, response-abilities of form, responsibilities becoming girl-like forms, intensities of an irreducible difference that meet the eye as gazes of non-indifference, offering possible models of im-possible freedom that parry unfreedom.

Translated from the German by Michael Eldred

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