Kotoe Ishii: Open Wide - Art Collector

Issue 45, July - September 2008

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Young video artist Kotoe Ishii is obsessed with what goes into and comes out of her mouth. It makes for fascinating and occasionally agonising viewing, writes Edward Colless.

Kotoe Ishii is obsessed with herself. No, not narcissistically with her appearance or personality, but – in a way that is unexpectedly impersonal and yet singularly affecting – with her own mouth. The short video pieces she’s been making over the past year have compulsively focused on a voluptuous and alluring fantasy of orality: of what goes in and comes out of the mouth. She makes these videos solely of herself and, equally important, she makes them by herself. There’s an inescapable impression of elated solitude and ambiguous innocence in these captivatingly discreet and fetishistic self-portraits.

Earlier this year, Melbourne’s Centre for Contemporary Photography ran a video projection in which from the artist’s mouth, in close shot over several minutes, an unreal length of red fibre was teased and drawn out as if she were pulling on a loose thread and unravelling her own tongue. At the end of last year, on one of several monitors in the Victorian College of the Arts’ Margaret Lawrence Gallery, Ishii is seen standing sullenly and silently in the corner of a sterile white room before unaccountably bursting into a violent infantile tantrum of forced laughter which is sustained for an unedited and agonising five minutes. It’s like a behavioural affliction rather than an act. Next to this, for an equivalent running time, was a monitor with a close up of her clenched fist, steadily and dryly and uncomfortably working its way into her open mouth, until at last – with grotesque relief – saliva begins to flow, mixing with smeared red lipstick as the mouth seems to sexually respond, and to almost suck at the fist’s entry and advance. In recent work this mouth became the repeated tight necks of a variety of t-shirts that Ishii – a wriggling unidentified shape inside – wrestles with as she comically tries, in rapidly edited staccato sequence, to pull down over the top of her head, which becomes an indefinable creature struggling to be born the way a fur ball might be coughed up.

There’s no avoiding the hypnotic sensual texture of imagery like this; and Ishii’s work identifies its mood of demonic possession (much as in Japanese horror movies) with an induced hysteria. The wordless voice streams from the mouth as a bodily fluid but it is an unnatural overflow, like ectoplasm: a cursing or ecstatic emission of spirit. In one motionless close up of her, apparently asleep or at least unconscious, there’s hardly even a breath until a slowly increasing dribble from the lower corner of the mouth begins to run and forms a pool on the bed sheet. But with her head on its side the vertical, slightly parted lips of the mouth clearly suggest another orifice, and the drooling another kind of secretion. The erotic charge is conspicuous and transfixing, if weirdly fantastic: an effect superbly rendered in an entrancing video in which Ishii sucks ecstatically, in a solo bedroom mania, on a plastic pacifier that morphs her mouth into an alert, twitching snout.

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