The Traces and Gesture of Blurriness—A Room of One’s Own by Miwa Ogasawara


CHEN Ping-Hao*


Prose and Essay

Miwa Ogasawara’s latest solo exhibition at the Yu-Hsiu Museum of Art is entitled A Room of One’s Own. Based on the title, audiences can immediately get the allusion to the classic, same-titled essay written by Virginia Woolf. In fact, one of the artworks, a portrait titled Virginia 3, is precisely the artist’s tribute to the writer. However, after viewing the ensemble of artworks featured in this solo exhibition by Ogasawara, who has always taken a feminist stance, it becomes rather clear that “a room of one’s own,” in this case, does not merely refer to the feminist position, gender sociology, and even gendered political economics discussed in Woolf’s essay.


In Taiwan, “prose” usually refers to “lyrical essay,” and is even often associated with “small essay” (or “xiaopin” [小品], a form of non-fictional short essay composed in prose) criticized severely by Lu Xun (for being merely a type of literary display of Chinese literati, and pastime knickknacks in Qing dynasty). Consequently, Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” should be called a “zawen” (literally translated as “sundry thoughts,” and a general term used by the writer to include treatise, essay, and short commentary) in the Lu Xun-style for the reason that the writer argues compellingly for women’s financial independence, which in turn enables them to have the time and space to write—this is the type of “zawen” that Lu Xun describes as “spear-throwing” and “dagger-like.” 


From “Display” to “Framework”

In A Room of One’s Own, Ogasawara’s paintings all exude a lyrical quality – vapory, supple, delicate, and exquisite. No aggressive edginess is found in the line, palette and brushstroke of her paintings, let along spears and daggers. Could this be the female artist’s unhurried gesture of feminine writing after having finally gained “a room of her own” through tough struggles and movements? Would Lu Xun – a supporter of feminism as shown in his “What happens after Nara leaves home?” – thereby criticize Ogasawara’s painting for being “a small display”?


However, judging from the “object” (the painted subject) in Ogasawara’s work and its “objectification” (the form or gesture of painting), the display of Ogasawara’s paintings in the exhibition space in fact forms a dispositive: a display as an inquiry into display itself. Furthermore, it can almost be described as a Heideggerian dispositive, a framework (Gestell) as an inquiry into framework itself.


A room of one’s own, as a site of “dwelling,” is always “outreaching.” When Ogasawara opens up a “window” through her paintings mounted and displayed on the museum wall, the white-box exhibition space is immediately transformed into “the room of one’s (Ogasawara’s) own.” Meanwhile, window is also a device that dissolves the separation between the outside and the inside, and reaches outward to the (external) world beyond one’s own room. On the other hand, the limited view that a window affords (the view within the painting/window frame) enables the spectator to see past the walls of the exhibition space on the one hand, and also implies the unknown part of the world (hors cadre, or outside the frame) with the limited vision on the other hand.


From a Heideggerian point of view, the framework (Gestell) frames the existence and the world in both the positive way (it composes and supports) and the negative way (it confines or enframes).


Revelation and Cover by the Window

Ogasawara uses the window as a metaphor for the framework; furthermore, this metaphor of framework is also visual. In addition to the window, most of the works in the exhibition feature visual subjects as well. 


For instance, her Glass Bead involves representing the vision through lenses – from the Renaissance perspective, to the skull on the curve mirror depicted in The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein der Jüngere, to curvature and refractive index (i.e., the straight or tortuous progression of the line of vision). In addition, Ogasawara’s paintings include both distant and close views, which indicate “overlooking from a distance” and “gazing” as well, concretizing “landscape (painting)” and “close-up view of the (partial) body.” Surely, we cannot ignore “curtains” that usually come with windows. The transparency of curtains encompasses a spectrum from the holy light of religious paintings to Rembrandt’s use of light and shadow. Moreover, the self-paradoxical nature of curtains to both conceal and reveal seems to beckon the potentiality of “unmasking” because of their semi-transparency (dusk or dawn) and dynamics (blowing breeze). Even the reflection on the window, or the light and shadow cast on the ground, seem to suddenly flip the window (like a glove turned inside out), revealing itself as a secret metaphor for the screen and its projection.


Blurry Blurriness, or the Ambiguity of Blurriness

These paintings, which seemingly portray everyday objects found in the domestic space and point to visuality, all present another feature: blurriness.


In truth, the term “blurriness” already contains “visuality.” However, blurriness is also contradictorily “anti-visual”: being blurry denies the modern visuality that demands “clearness and precision.” The blurriness visualized by Ogasawara’s painting easily be associated with words such as “poetic,” “virtual” or “dream-like”—nevertheless, these are all associations of a lyrical, or even a blurry, nature.


In Die Geschichte der Unschärfe (The History of Blurriness), Wolfgang Ullrich lucidly and accurately theorizes the blurriness in modern art history (or, the blurry history of modern art). The author’s theorizing process and central argument, in a brief and rough summary, moves from pictorial photography and Romanticist landscape painting (Ogasawara also happens to exhibit several landscape paintings in this exhibition), to Futurism and abstract art, to the blurriness in modern art history after the invention of (or perhaps facilitated by) photography, which constitute indeed the core of the history of modernist painting (from mimetic representation to reflection on material) and that of the history of the avant-garde abstract expressionism (from the concrete to the abstract).


Therefore, Ogasawara’s “blurriness” can also be viewed as an approach to reflect again on painting itself (including the materiality and visuality of painting), which, at the same time, is permeated with the driving force of abstraction: blurriness is a type of abstraction, and an action based on “questioning the framework of painting.”


Questioning the framework through the materiality and visuality of oil painting, it can be said that Ogasawara’s painting demonstrates the exploratory route of the phenomenology of perception: visuality (contour, light and shade, color), materiality (tactile hint of paint—the hand in one of the paintings in the exhibition not only reflexively points to the action of artistic creation, but also seems to reach out and touch other painting surfaces); the spatiality of the “display” of the paintings in the exhibition space; the multiple forms of spatiality unfurled towards the external world by paintings themed on “window”; the “atemporality” of “the room of one’s own” as a physical volume as well as the “temporality” introduced by “dwelling.” All these implicitly correspond to the phenomenology of perception from Husserl to Merleau-Ponty, while demanding Ogasawara herself and the audience in the exhibition room to open up and reflect on their perception.


Woolf’s Room? Yan Shu-Xia’s Room

As such, Ogasawara’s A Room of One’s Own, though borrows Woolf’s famous essay title and its subject of discussion, in fact steps away from the topics of gender political economy or feminist movement discussed in the essay, and shifts to the stream of consciousness in Woolf’s modernist novels (e.g., Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse). 


In addition to delineating psychic activities and further constructing a “psychic reality (psychorealism),” the narrative technique of “the stream of consciousness” is also a means to conduct thought experiments of filtering, twisting or editing; associating (or linking up) and disrupting (or genealogy); constructing and altering; outflowing and emerging, etc., on “perception,” “time” (history included), or “the subject.”


Thus, Ogasawara’s A Room of One’s Own does not remind me of Woolf’s homonymous essay but rather the works of another literary writer (one closer to Taiwanese audience by comparison) – Yan Shu-Xia, whose prose works has received much attention in the Taiwanese literary field in recent years. 


Yan’s prose works often depict her rooms, from her childhood partition room in Kaohsiung’s Linyuan to the student suite rentals during her years of studying in schools—the rooms in her writings have been very well-received in the literary circle. As a matter of fact, she has never truly (realistically) depicted her (physical) rooms. Her rooms are not really “her rooms” per se, but instead the subjective space sometimes and the space of others at other times, including a film screening hall, notes written in a basement (Dostoyevsky), a window seat on a night train, an interim reception of a mental institution, the surface of a writing desk, etc. Moreover, the “room” in her prose works serves fundamentally as a screen or projection—it is itself an anti-academic (anti-dialectic) genre; it is viewing, non-viewing, or anti-viewing itself; it is the normal and the abnormal, along with the visible and the invisible of them, as well as the recognizable or the unrecognizable; and finally, it is the writing itself (The Space of Literature by Maurice Blanchot). The seemingly “lyrical” or “poetic” rhetoric, to me, is a means to sneak in or repeat phenomenology and Heidegger or Derrida.


Consequently, Ogasawara’s A Room of One’s Own, as a matter of fact, is closer to the “room” depicted in Yan’s prose works—here, “one’s own” is gone, apparently suspended, or simply erased by one’s own hand.


The Blurred Aesthetics of Blurriness

If the paintings featuring “leg” as the foreground in the exhibition could be associated with sex (think about the fetishism of feet or other objects theorized by Sigmund Freud), the “hand” depicted in another painting could signal agency, artistic creation, capture and release, and grasp (in German, “grasp” [beherrschen] also means “understanding” [Verständnis]). With the visual representation of “hand,” Ogasawara reverses the (patriarchal) gaze on the sexualized “leg.”


More importantly, “hand” is not just being painted; it also beckons the gesture of erasure—“blurriness” is created by “blurring.” Therefore, the image of “hand” adds “materiality,” “technicality,” “bodiliness” (layering of paint, scraping with a paint knife, smearing and wiping of fingers and palms), and “politicalness.”


According to Ogasawara herself, she is very fond of Gerhard Richter’s painting. More precisely speaking, she admires Richter’s “photo painting.” Using “photos” as his “subjects” of delineation in “oil painting,” the completed works of Richter’s are often hard to define: did the painter accurately portray an out-of-focus photograph? Or did he somehow make a mistake in delineating a clear photo, which leads to the blurriness in the final work? 


Undoubtedly, Richter’s technique of blurriness questions simultaneously the boundaries among photography, painting, image, and picture, along with their intricate and complicated relations—in short, it is also a questioning of “the framework of representation” (like what Ogasawara is doing).


As a painter, Richter first received his training in realism in (socialist) East Germany before immersing himself in modernism in West Germany, the influence of which is the politicalness of Cold War in his “photo painting.” In particular, his works featuring themes related to the Nazi and the end of the Brigate Rosse (Red Brigades), such as Uncle Rudi (1965) and October 18, 1977 (1988), have rendered the gesture of blurring or blurriness more acutely political. 


The relatively indistinct historicalness and politicalness in Ogasawara’s work, in my opinion, might be a result produced by blurring or the blurriness. It is possible that her growing up and education in Japan and Germany (both in the Axis alliance) as well as her parents’ radical political stance (against the increasingly institutionalizing and conservative Japan society following the burst of the economic bubble in the 80s) have always been present in her paintings but only in an extremely opaque and ambiguous form. This form is indeed the “traces” and “gesture” of “blurring” or “blurriness”— “erasure” is also a form of writing and representation; and “de-politicization” is political after all. In the end, the vapory, poetic impression created by the aesthetics of blurriness in Ogasawara’s works, along the line of Ulrich’s Die Geschichte der Unschärfe, is an aesthetic politics that emphasizes on form through the blurring of form. 


© CHEN PING-HAO  All rights reserved