Tomoko Yaneda was born in Akashi-city, Japan and lives and works in London.


If these walls could speak

Heat 1, 1996

History seems to weigh heavily upon artist Tomoko Yoneda's shoulders. In the world presented to us through her dazzlingly beautiful photographs, places and inanimate objects are invested with the memory of the events that have taken place there.

Yoneda has obsessively travelled the world collecting images with titles such as "Classrom II, used as a temporary mortuary after the earthquake", or "Seascape – Location where Dr Mengele drowned, Bertioga, Brazil". Each location gets the same flat, panoramic large-format treatment with the visual formalism of much contemporary photography.

What sets Yoneda's work apart is the consistency of her approach. Often we are looking at almost nothing, a landscape or interior with the minimum of visual clues. In one sense these images are life-affirming – giving the impression that no matter what outrages have taken place at a particular place that time and nature will heal the wound. Yet, the majority of her images don't seem to want to give us that reassurance; they are so cool, they rarely depict people obliviously going about their business, in fact they rarely contain any human life at all.

This ghostly objectivity infects her earlier series, "Topographical Analogy", depicting the interior walls of derelict houses about to be demolished. With a forensic eye for detail she shows us the stained and faded wallpaper that has silently witnessed the lives of the inhabitants of the house. In this case there is no clue from the title of the work – simply "Wallpaper III", or "Heat I" (above) – as to the events that may have taken place in the house and the identity of the people who lived within these walls. We are left simply to speculate from the visual clues. The pattern of the paper itself, the standard of its upkeep, all suggest the taste, the standard of living, even the race of the people that lived there.

This is history in microcosm rather than the worldview of the later work, and without the extraordinary titles used elsewhere it is more humane as a result. Instead of evoking the sound of guns and death, this heavily used and ultimately abandoned interior evokes a personal history rather than a collective one. It memorializes life instead of death. SC



Issue 03 £5.20

Back Issues £5.20 to £14.50

Visit shop