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Written by Tomohiro MASUDA   
Published: December 02 2009

fig. 1 "Greek: Pigeon house", courtesy of the artist and FOIL GALLERY, copyright © Ichiro OGATA

fig. 2 "China: Castle", courtesy of the artist and FOIL GALLERY, copyright © Ichiro OGATA

fig. 3 Courtesy of the artist and FOIL GALLERY, copyright © Ichiro OGATA

fig. 4 Courtesy of the artist and FOIL GALLERY, copyright © Ichiro OGATA

    A smiling face, an angry face, a triumphant face and a jocular face - a human face plays an important role as means of expression. We often convey certain meanings or feelings to others by deforming or daringly not changing the shape of our organs, such as our eyes, ears and noses attached to our faces to be used to perceive things surrounding us or mouths from which we absorb nutrients into our bodies, and surrounding parts of them. Sometimes a face can express our intentions more instantaneously and clearly than language. In addition, we use our faces not only to convey particular meanings but to make others recognize various kinds of things. A face is used to provide a lot of information to others, including one’s personality (e. g., honest or proud), status (e. g., poor or noble) and origin (e. g., Slavic or Mongolian) or, as for more direct aspect, one’s appearance (e. g., beautiful or ill-looking). Furthermore, basically, a face is always exposed to others barely unless there is some particular reason to hide it.

    Regarding a building, the surface of it, namely, its façade, is deemed as its face. A façade shows us the origin of building as well as its current situation. In terms of this, the faces of humans and those of buildings have the same characteristics. For example, a picture of a pigeon house in Greece [fig. 1], taken by Ichiro Ogata, looks like a face which makes me imagine that of a death mask. In addition, the stubby and unstylish shape of the house gives me an extremely humorous impression interacting with the image of its face.

    Considering the foul appearance of this house and its surroundings, where there seems to be no people living, it can be presumed that the house has been ruined. The strangeness of this chalk and ruined building is highlighted by having been shot against the background of the bright blue sky of a typical Mediterranean view. Therefore, the building seems to be some independent thing, such as a face of something which has a personality. Although it has been already ruined, it still stands there with a smile waiting for pigeons to come back to it. Nevertheless, once leaving the land, birds may not return there. Presently, wild birds use the pigeon house as a place to sleep.

    The picture of a castle in Hong Kong [fig. 2] makes me feel strange on a different perspective to that of the pigeon house in Greece. The castle seems at first glance to have been made in a western-style. Nonetheless, looking at the photo more closely, we notice that the castle is surrounded by ears of rice which have been already harvested. This clearly shows that the picture was not taken in a European country. A photo of a western-style building constructed in an urban area [fig. 3] leaves us with a similar strange impression akin to that felt when viewing the castle in Hong Kong. Ogata expresses such strangeness by taking pictures which include two things that give us completely different impressions, namely, a western-style building and a sign written in Chinese. He also does his best to avoid pointing his camera at people. To use Ogata’s phrase, this work would make us feel a certain strangeness similar to that of a “film set”.

    Buildings such as those mentioned in the preceding paragraph were constructed in the 19th century by Chinese people who had come into contact with Western culture and yearned for it. For the people of that time, constructing a western-style building in one’s country may have been one of the factors of their status. Therefore, the façades of each of these buildings can be considered as an ideal model of oneself which has been separated from one’s identity. In other words, the façade can be called an artificial smile. Or, rephrasing this using more positive terms, it can be said to be a social expression. A façade can not only show its owner’s status, but can also hide it or exaggerate it based on certain statistics.

    What about the inside of a façade? Considering a “façade (face)” is exposed to others and sometimes camouflages its owner’s status or identity, it can be imagined that the true “I (subject)” may be hidden inside of a face which is covered with its other face opened to others. Inside of a building which has been ruined in the desert in Namibia [fig. 4], there is only a pile of sand which inspires a feeling of emptiness. The gentle ripple marks show that the land in which the building is located has never been trampled under anyone’s foot. In this way, there is an empty space in the inside of “façade (face)” which has been disclosed through Ogata’s photo. There cannot be found any true “I (subject)” that could be considered as a certain existence. Nevertheless, there are a few clues to imagine the inside situation of the façade. For instance, a switchboard and wirings prove that electrical systems were arranged inside of the building. This casually shows that people were living a cultural life in this savage land. On the old wallpaper, colorful patterns are depicted. These patterns may have given some peace of mind to people who were engaged in their jobs on this dreary land. The above-mentioned traces clearly show us the attitude of the heart of people who were living there.

    It is said that owners of this building which was photographed by Ogata were Germans who immigrated to the land in the late 19th century after hearing that diamonds had been discovered there. After all the diamond mines in the land had been dug, the town became a ghost town. Even after all the residents left there, such traces of people having lived on this land remain for approximately half a century despite having been covered with sand. Indeed, they do not prove the certain existence of true “I (subject)”, but show us some parts of traces or fragments of it.

    Considering the pictures shown in this exhibition as above, it would become clear that the photographs of façades - the external walls of buildings - and interiors which were taken by the photographer, Ichiro Ogata, and the architect, Yu Ogata, have some relationship with the status and identity of the buildings. A façade sometimes shows us such twist that a western-style castle, which was built by Chinese people who disguised their origins with the aim of representing themselves as favorably as possible, also reveals their self-consciousness. On the other hand, the internal structure seems at a glance to be empty and not appealing. Nonetheless, as shown in the picture taken in Namibia, if we closely look at the inner structure which is buried in a pile of sand, we can find out some traces of living of people who resided there. The essence of building does not exist in either its façade or internal structure. Just like human nature which appears on both our faces and minds, façades and their inner structures are connected with each other to make up one thing in whole. They show us various kinds of their aspects by telling the truths, falsehoods or others things which cannot be judged whether they are fact or fable.
(Translated by Nozomi Nakayama)

Last Updated on October 31 2011

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