Tomoko Yoneda: Beyond Memory

Art, Photography Free
4 out of 5 stars
 (© Tomoko Yoneda)
© Tomoko Yoneda© Tomoko Yoneda
Tomoko Yoneda, from the 'Japanese House' series, 'Former house of General Wang Shu-ming, the Chief of Staff under Chiang Kai-Shek, Cidong Street, I', 2010. © Tomoko Yoneda
Tomoko Yoneda, from the 'Rivers become Oceans' series, 'Lone Deer, Sundarbans, Bangladesh', 2008. © Tomoko Yoneda
Tomoko Yoneda, from the 'Rivers become Oceans' series, 'Lone Deer, Sundarbans, Bangladesh', 2008. © Tomoko Yoneda

Evocative photographs with dark secrets

‘We shall meet in the place where there is no darkness.’ These prescient words are spoken in a dream to Winston Smith, the protagonist in George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’. Later in the novel he discovers (spoiler alert!) that the place without darkness is not a place of infinite sun but instead the Ministry of Love: a building with no windows – there is no darkness without light – where he is eventually tortured in Room 101. This quotation is also the title of a 2014 book of interiors and landscape photographs by Japanese-born, London-based photographer Tomoko Yoneda, some of which are included in this exhibition of her works from the last 14 years.

Like Orwell’s dystopian tale, Yoneda’s photographs allude to the horrors of history without showing them; terror permeates everything but has no human face. A swelling seascape marks the spot where Nazi scientist Josef Mengele drowned at a vacation resort in Brazil; a young forest is where the Battle of the Somme was fought; an empty house was once owned by General Wang Shu-Ming during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan. These after-the-event images are the sites of power struggles and ideological atrocities spanning both World Wars, the Second Sino-Japanese War and the aftermath of the Cold War.

Another comparison could be made with the ‘landscape of mood’ paintings by late nineteenth-century Russian painter Isaac Levitan, whose seemingly bucolic scenes pulsate with traces of destructive human influence, though any actual occurrence is obscured by the passing of time.

It may seem like Yoneda is a thematic one-trick pony: beautiful scenes, horrible histories. But history itself is the horse with a single ploy: an eternal cycle of regrowth, not newness. You are unlikely to find a photographer who can match her subtle understanding of light or one who can capture dark nostalgia in images of such inescapable beauty.

Ananda Pellerin