Sunday, August 21, 2011

TUKATA, Post industrial Venus

A solo exhibition of Claude Estèbe
Toot Yung Gallery
3 Sept - 15 Oct 2011
Opening reception 3 Sept starting 7pm

Claude Estèbe is a French scholar in Japanese visual culture. He organized several exhibitions as an independent curator in Japan and Thailand ( including First photographs in Siam, Queen Gallery 2008) or as a photographer. He published The Last Samurais and The Dawn of Geishas. He was fellow artist at French Villa Kujoyama in Kyoto in 2001 and is now teaching in Paris (University of Oriental Languages) and writing a study about Gojira and Kaiju eiga (Japanese radioactive monsters movies).

No name dolls
This exhibition is about femininity, modernity and economic globalization in Asia. The tiny no name dolls used as models for Claude Estèbe’s photographs are a ghostly testimony of the millions of women working in small Asian factories for the sake of economic development. Unlike Michael Wolf, Claude Estèbe does not concentrate on the accumulation of thousands of toys; he isolates some chosen dolls, which have a sense of mirroring humanity emanating from their defects and astonishing bright pop colors. These toys were never intended for exportation in western nations but aimed for local market. Although they are mass products, these cheap plastic figures are still painted by hand, and their design retains something of their own visual popular culture. In this sense, these no name dolls are somehow fragile and human. Unlike the perfectly cloned copyrighted American fashion dolls with their stereotyped aggressive smile, the very own defectiveness of these petite dolls make them unique.

The first series focuses on close-up of faces. The thin plastic catches gorgeously the light and the defaults of the materials oddly giving life to the dolls, providing them with a human skin with pores and life marks. In sharp contrast, a unique perfect red smile is painted by an anonymous artist’s hand. The mouth, according to classic Asian esthetic, is small and closed avoiding showing the teeth. As Japanese writer Tanizaki wrote sarcastically in ‘In Praise of the Shadows’, the toothed white smile of Western people echoes the cold hygienic white of sanitary ceramics…

Agent Orange
Claude Estèbe’s work on some dolls echoes the concept of French philosopher Jean Baudrillard in his book “Simulacra and Simulation”. Especially in his series of Agent Orange, the dolls, which are supposedly an alter ego of young girls, a way to identify with a perfect feminine figure, are almost lost in abstraction. The distinction between reality and representation vanishes. When the defaults of mass production go too far the dolls become creepy, with damaged bodies. These dolls have been copied so many times and with such poor material and care that their lack of realism pushes them away in an inhuman shape.

Global fairies
The arrival of the Peak oil dooms the era of cheaply made plastic products. These are already vanishing symbols of the decaying global trade. As natural resources decrease the pollution produced by fossil energies jeopardize the ecologic balance of the planet. Claude Estèbe likes to see the smallest of these dolls, made in Thailand, as trooping fairies of our times, helplessly witnessing the global weather change.

Due to mass production constraints, the plastic bodies are dramatically simplified. Nonetheless, they are still oddly seductive and powerful, bringing back pure primitive energy echoing the animist feminine deities of the Bronze Age; A post-industrial mythology, showing a kind of “Neolithic intelligence” to quote Claude Lévi-Strauss, who linked timelessness with the savage mind.

For further information please contact
Myrtille Tibayrenc. Director and curator

Toot Yung Gallery
19 Prachathipatai Rd. 10200 Phra Nakon Bangkok Thailand
Tel: 66(0)849145499 - mail:

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