The images in Mayumi Lake's exhibition, Latent Heat, at Miyako Yoshinaga through December 24, are an elegant, minimalist expression of existential unease. Made in response to the 2011 tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan, as well as the deaths of several of Lake’s loved ones, the images are not merely mournful – they also reflect an acute anxiety about the survival of Japanese culture.
Everywhere you look in Lake’s images, there is a ghostly sense of absence and isolation. Much of that feeling might be attributed to the personal items, including kimonos, parasols, and dresses, which appear suspended in mid-air or abandoned, as though their owners had suddenly vanished.
The people in Lake’s images are always alone, their faces obscured. In one particularly haunting photograph, Layered Solitude #1537, a solitary figure stands, arms outstretched, in a dark wood, draped in a blood red robe, evoking the iconic image of a tortured Abu Ghraib prisoner.
Clearly, Lake sees traditional Japanese culture as endangered: In Spiral Echoes #141136, a Navajo dancer performs at night in an empty athletic field, suggesting a parallel between the two peoples. In Dark Sun #4340, we see that symbol of tradition and patriotism in a faded light, as though in the last gasps of a glorious sunset.
One sees something of Ishiuchi Miyako’s work in Lake’s treatment of loss. Like Ishiuchi’s photos of the clothes of Hiroshima victims, Lake’s focus on unpeopled garments suggests the transience of human existence as well as its ability to carry on through physical artifacts.
These photos are not solely dour. There is, in some of them, a sense of tribute and grace: In It’s Alright #141199, white parasols dot a green landscape from the foreground all the way to the sunny background, as though forming a heavenly procession. And finally, in her video, Latent Heat (Awakening #9295), clothes burn on a pyre, the resulting sky-bound smoke suggesting at once death and, perhaps, rebirth.