I just visited the Setouchi Triennial that takes place on a group of Islands in the south/east of Japan. In a gallery on Naoshima I fell upon the installation “bystander” by Mari Katayama made specifically for the triennial.
In a series of photographic self-portraits, Katayama arranges herself, with stuffed, toy-like mannequin-like prosthetic legs and arms, in a way where it becomes difficult to figure out which is her limbs and which are dummies. It takes time and effort to see that she has a deformed hand and both her legs are amputated mid-leg. To a backdrop of the sea, she mimics the figure of the mermaid or the siren, which made me think of Giorgio Agamben’s The Open in which he tells the story of how scientists have always struggled to point out exactly what it is that separates human from ape, animal or even mythical figure. The Danish anatomist Caspar Bartholin categorized the siren as “Homo Marinus” next to man (homo sapien) and orangutang (homo sylvestris). Agamben goes on to argue:
“[Homo-sapiens] is an optical machine constructed of a series of mirrors in which man, looking at himself, sees his own image always already deformed in the features of an ape… Whoever refuses to recognize himself in the ape, becomes one.”
In this manner Katayama, points to the deformity at the heart of what it is to be human.
Agamben, Giorgio (2004) The Open, Man and Animal, Stanford University Press
Setouchi Triennale 2016 Official Guidebook (2016) Gendaikikakushitsu
image source: http://benesse-artsite.jp/en/art/miyanoura-gallery6.html