rushthatspeaks: (Default)
Some time ago I reviewed Yuichi Yokoyama's astonishing conceptual art project Garden, so I was fascinated to see another volume of him lurking in the manga section-- what else would an artist who has both successfully visually depicted infinity and bent representational art beyond what I had thought were its conceivable mental limits do?

Well, the internet won't tell me whether Travel was made before or after Garden, which is a shame, because I would really like to know. Garden follows the approach of taking a visual image and endlessly complicating it until it falls into abstraction: the face reflected in the water which is being rippled by the fountain, all of that in the photo being played over the holography projector, so you get a set of lines on the page which are representational if and only if you have done the narrative and conceptual work which allows them to become so, and which play to about ninety percent of your brain as abstract art, in a way poised midway between 'transcendental experience' and 'splitting migraine'.

Travel is doing exactly the same thing, with one major, and I do mean major, conceptual difference: every single panel of it is physically possible.

So in Travel, your nearly-to-the-point-of-headache abstraction/narrative image will be something along the lines of the interplay of light and shadow from the lightning which struck the tree behind the spouting fountain outside the train window in the middle of the extremely stiff downpour, reflected off the glasses of the man in the seat across as he puffs out another cloud of extremely dense cigarette smoke. Which does not make it any less a pattern of perfectly classical curves and symmetrical lines, in fact a set of curves and lines playing across every panel on the page, and also makes it no easier, but also no harder, to parse as a representational image. Except that once you've figured out what the image is of in the real world (tree, bird, elk antler, man reading) your brain also ties it to whatever your brain has as a more realistic signifier of that image, whatever it was you just pictured when I said tree, bird, elk antler, man reading, and this representation actively fights with the damn-close-to-abstract image on the page, and just, did I mention migraine, you will never stare so hard at a single black-and-white drawing as you will at a Yokoyama page.

Oh, and this one has more narrative than Garden, in that it follows three people who get onto a train, find seats, stay on it for some time, and eventually get off again, which means of course that it has no dialogue at all, because dialogue would just be unnecessary since we have had so much spelled out.

You know what I don't get? The damn thing has emotional impact. The final page is as brilliant an image of triumphant joy as I have ever seen. I don't know how. Something about the line shape and the line weight and the way the curves are in contrast to the way the curves are in the rest of the book. I will swear up down and sideways that it is totally intentional and I have less than no idea how it was done.

I gather from interviews I have read online that Yokoyama hates comics, does not read comics, and does not consider himself to be drawing comics. Fair enough. I don't think he is either. There isn't a word for whatever it is he is doing, but I am impressed that he manages to do it.
rushthatspeaks: (sparklepony only wants to read)
I really like this trend lately where people put out Very Nice editions of manga. PictureBox has done an amazing job on this; the full-color cover painting beneath the dust jacket is spectacular.

Garden-- huh. It's more of a conceptual art project than a narrative. Yokoyama is using narrative only as a device to teach you how to visually parse some of his more complex images, and I get the impression he is annoyed about needing it for that reason.

The images he would like you to decode are Surrealist (capital letter intentional) meditations on architecture. The book begins with a group of people who want to look at a garden being told that the garden is closed. Finding a break in the wall around it, they climb in anyway. The rest of the book is their walk through the garden. None of them look human-- they have scales, or odd coloration, or protruding cones instead of eyes, or are metallic, or made of umbrellas, in a very flat abstracted style that makes them appear friendly but depersonalized. There are probably several hundred in the group, but they have no difficulty hiding when garden staff are patrolling.

The garden is full of geographic features that start as relatively normal, physically possible things and become stranger and stranger. Nothing is what it initially looks like. The properties of the objects and landscape formations are described and probed by the group of people in mildly curious, emotionally flat language ('There are curtains of falling water.' 'They are thin curtains' is a typical dialogue exchange). Each section of the garden, for a while, seems to be a riff on a kind of object: here is a mountain made of glass, here is a two-tone mountain, here a three-tone, here one made of rubber, here one made of hair, one made of trees, one made of houses, one made of beach balls, this one is bolted down...

The types of object the garden contains refract endlessly. Just as we will have a mountain made of houses, so we will have a house made of mountains. Several portions of the garden seem to me to be possible nods to Borges; there is a segment that is an infinite library, where the books contain portraits of all the other things in the garden, including the people reading them, and also a segment where airplanes drop photographs which when pieced together would become a map of the garden the size of the garden itself (a sea of photographs, which become briefly the medium through which everyone walks, photos of mountains piled into mountains made of photos, pictures of one person's face plastered onto another person's face by the wind).

Eventually the images of the people become part of the complexifying forms. There is an area where automated cameras take their pictures and project them onto nearby surfaces such as mountains and waterfalls. The water bubbles and shapes itself into different contortions, keeping the projections, distorting and changing them. There is an area where 3-D holographic projections of the entire rest of the garden can be summoned, projections which contain the area with the water bubbling under the projected faces, so that you get watching faces seen through projections of water-distorted projected faces--

this is about the point at which you realize that what you are looking at is functionally an abstract, that the only reason you can make anything representational out of these incredibly convoluted yet stark black-and-white lines is the careful and deliberate narrative buildup, and even then the pages flicker in and out of meaning in a way I cannot really describe, an optical illusion of meaning, now you see it and now you don't, but the whole thing has been an optical illusion of meaning from page one because these have always been black lines on white paper--

if you're looking for narrative, that is the story you are going to get. I think it's worth it. It ends when it cannot go one iota farther (well, it fractures, actually, and ends in several different nearly-impossible directions), and it never ceases to be beautiful.

It's also so far removed from anything else I have ever seen attempted in comics that I have to applaud it just for that. It's like comics as approached from an alternate universe. It is a peculiar combination of boring, breathlessly entertaining, exhausting, incomprehensible, and joyous. It feels like a place, as the title tells us, rather than like a book, and like a place made of the edges of human visual perception. It will make you ponder limits that you did not know you had. It is amazement.


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March 2017

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