Izanagi and Izanami Descending to Onogorojima
Envisioning the Myth
The Digital Artworks of Seishiro Jay Tomioka
December 26th, 2008 - May 2nd, 2009
Curator: Dr. Ilana Singer
Seishiro Jay Tomioka creates digital images which he then manipulates by means of the computer programme "Photoshop". His subjects are taken from Japanese mythology, focusing mainly on the celestial couple Izanagi and Izanami, creators of the universe. Izanagi (the male) and Izanami were the fifth celestial couple to appear, according to the myth. They created the earth and the Japanese islands, and procreated many deities. When Izanami gave birth to the god of fire she was burned, and died.
Izanagi lamented the death of Izanami and journeyed to Yomi, the Shadowy Land of the Dead. But since Izanami had already eaten the food of the underworld she could no longer return to the land of the living. Izanagi fled from Yomi and quickly sealed the entrance with a large rock.
Then Izanagi bathed in a stream to purify himself from contact with the dead, thereby "giving birth" to several deities. The sun goddess Amaterasu, a central figure in the Shinto pantheon, was born from a tear that fell from his left eye. Legend relates that Japan's imperial family are her descendants. The moon god, Tsukiyomi, was born from a tear from his right eye, and the storm god, Susanoo, was born from another drop that fell from his nose.
Japanese mythology was transmitted orally until it was written down in the 8th century in two books - the "Kojiki" (Register of Ancient Matters), and the "Nihongi" (History of Japan).
In his artworks, Tomioka tries to interpret and actualize the Japanese myth, so that it will be meaningful for today. His intention is to reveal characteristic elements of modern life. He believes that in order to understand the Japanese of today we must comprehend the past from a new, contemporary point of view. At the dawn of time, mankind had to cope with an existence very similar to that of today - how to survive in a hostile world. Quite naturally, every culture turned this effort into a narrative, simultaneously unique and universal. Tomioka sees mythology as the crossroads where nature, society, belief, and spirituality meet.
Seishiro Jay Tomioka began his undertaking by researching deeply into the Japanese mythology and how it was created. He read translations of various authors. He also made a point of studying ancient sculpture and traditional Japanese works of art depicting Izanagi and Izanami, including the representations of Haniwa from the Kofun era (3rd-6th centuries CE). To learn about designing the costumes, he also watched videos of the Kabuki drama ‘Yamato Takeru' with the famous actor Ichikawa Enosuke III. "That research helped me to create the look I wanted" he says.
Tomioka then prepared a script and, like a film director, planned the continuity of the images. He designed the costumes and the figures, and worked on the partnership of Izanagi and Izanami. Then he approached the artist-actress Germain Tsui, who designs the "cosupure" (costume play) costumes, and she created the costumes according to his designs. She also modelled them in her appearance as Izanami.
For the role of Izanagi, Tomioka selected Eisaku Tokuyama, an amateur model from San Francisco whom he had contacted on the internet, and Hiroshi Katori. He directed and filmed the three actors in costume against a black background. When the filming was complete, he composed the images on the computer, first arranging the sequence and then organizing detail and backgrounds. For the latter, he used examples of textile designs of the Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-1926) eras.
Seishiro Jay Tomioka has participated in solo and group exhibitions in the United States, South America, and Japan.