BY Eri Kawade in Reviews | 02 JAN 97
Featured in
Issue 32

Go Kato

BY Eri Kawade in Reviews | 02 JAN 97

What if we could turn men into 'women', putting them into the role of being fucked for a change? This is the question that opens Go Kato's show. Extended on the floor of the gallery is a white marble arm whose hand sticks its middle finger up into the air. Meticulously rendered like a copy of a Roman statue, the tense muscles and protruding veins of the sturdy arm convey a long and deeply suppressed grudge against pride in virility. This assault may at first seem suggestive of some homoerotic love/hate relationship; but with a blob of whipped cream curled up on the tip of the raised finger, it seems more like self-ridicule ­ as if asking 'why do I have to be a man?'.

Such a desire to resign a male position, or to search for alternative forms of sexual identity, is already familiar in Japan, as is apparent from the recent spawning of material on gender and queer issues: publications, film screenings and bar and club events featuring gay, lesbian and bisexual lifestyles have all gained a considerable amount of attention. Although now embracing the voices of non-heterosexuals themselves, there is still a sense of queer identity being viewed as the possible guarantor of liberation from the confinements and artifice of the masculine/

feminine encoding. It is this expectation that supports a certain puristic tenet visible in many of the arguments: what is most eagerly sought after is the possibility of finding a 'true' self and engaging in a non-sexually-differentiated sexual relationship (or 'Homosexuality of and between Men and Women', as suggested by the title of a 1995 group show in which Kato participated.) Such a mentality curiously recalls how the current queer boom was first instigated in the 80s by straight voyeurs ­ the readers of girls' yaoi comics depicting boy-and-boy love fantasies, where the sublimation of the readers' sexual desire is heavily dependent on their temporary aphanisis and empathy with comic characters who inhabit the forever-inaccessible terrain of male homosexuality. Whether all these debates are actually heading for a resolution of the problems surrounding one's own sexual identity is another question. The naive amalgam of self-assertion and self-hatred found in Kato's arm somehow implies a dilemma caused by the hope of creating a new form of sexually-neutral being.

Kato's most recent work, a series of womb-shaped plastic objects, seems to suggest another line of desire flowing beneath that pure aspiration. Hung on the wall or gathered on the floor, the wombs have become de-sexualised, portable things, freed from the burden of flesh and blood. Some contain artificial flowers and others are just empty. Nothing is hidden inside their transparent bodies,as if it were mere illusion to believe that they held a secret to be revealed in the first place. Standardised like laboratory anatomical models or brand new, tasteful vases displayed in a shop-window, the womb is now for everyone, men and women alike, to enjoy on any occasion. But then, with its pristine, smooth materiality and gaudy, acid colour, it will reject the humidity of your body. Once having obtained that long-coveted privilege of remaining a self-satisfied being enclosed inside an impermeable antiseptic skin, it cannot desire anything external ­ including you, its supposed 'owner'. While it shields you from the impurity of your sexual instincts, you yourself fade away, becoming more and more transparent and desiccated. What can sustain life in such a sterile world except those enchanting yet born-to-be-dead synthetic flowers?

The earliest piece in the show, a long narrow strip of the right one-third of Yukio Mishima's face, offers a curious contrast to the womb-objects. Made manifest solely in graphite powder, Mishima (the embodiment of the incoherent constellation of sexual selves) appears to be blurring into the whiteness of the background. With his mouth cropped out of the image, he won't be telling you any stories. He just remains silent, staring at you inquisitively with one eye from behind a column in the upper corner of the gallery.

Exhibited at together, the two sets of work recall the vases that appeared in Mishima's story, Haruko (1947). Emanating 'an odour of both face powder and filth', the story traces the psychology of an 18 year-old boy who gets entangled in a three-way relationship with a lesbian couple. Intoxicated by the intriguing pleasure of sharing a kind of no-man's-land of sensual secrecy, he is unable to tell who he is jealous of ­ Michiko, Haruko or perhaps himself. One night in Michiko's room, he discovers a pair of pale pink vases over which she has scribbled Haruko's name in scarlet lipstick. Standing in front of the mirror, the vases witness his lips being painted with rouge by Michiko, 'taken over by some other lips', before she makes love to him. Sealed inside this world of dense, fermented sensuality, the intricacy of the boy's sentiment is left unresolved. Coming back to 1996, where can we taste such voluptuous ardour? On TV screens and poster hoardings, the Kanebo cosmetic company's new lipstick drips off the lips of an androgynous male idol, running over his unshaven cheek.