The objective of this exhibition is not just to present the works of a doll artist but to present a man called Yotsuya Simon. While concerned about making its focus too broad, and therefore too diffuse, we chose a compound structure for the exhibition in order to introduce this artist whose wide variety of activities has made him impossible to confine merely within the framework of a visual artist.
For those of my generation, our first experience of Yotsuya Simon was through his Rene Magritte's Man, which was exhibited at the Textile Pavilion at Expo'70 in Osaka. We have a strong impression of him as the maker of the mysterious and erotic "Simon dolls" he exhibited thereafter, with their spherical joints, which call to mind the work of Hans Bellmer. For those who are of a slightly older generation, however, the name of Yotsuya Simon brings back memories of an actor who played female roles in the Red Tent Situation Theater, the underground theater directed by Kara Juro. Both these men are Yotsuya Simon.
While discussions about dolls seem instantly to assume a psychoanalytical approach, it is nevertheless easy to imagine how making dolls and standing on the stage oneself in women's clothing like a dress-up doll may be impulses that represent opposite sides of the same coin. At the same time, the words that are the titles of the two books of photographs of Simon's dolls, Pygmalionisme and Narcissisme (pygmalionism and narcissism in English), are the keys to unlocking this artist's world.
Both dolls and theater are forms of expression that use the human body as a motif. But Simon has performed the paradoxical actions of creating lifeless dolls and, as actor and model, playing imaginary people, while insisting on a negative physicality that rejects the physical body.
The Prelude of Yotsuya Simon, a portfolio of photographs by Hosoe Eikoh, is an interesting collaborative effort between Hosoe and Simon as model. It may be considered simultaneously both a treatise on landscape and a treatise on the body. Prior to this work, Hosoe had published Kamaitachi, his masterful book of photographs of Hijikata Tatsumi, the originator of Ankoku Butoh (Dance of Darkness), taken against a background of scenes from a farming village in northeastern Japan. The photographs in his work with Simon were taken with the same concept in mind, this time with Tokyo as the stage. These strange-looking beings suddenly burst in upon the tranquil everyday. But Hijikata's and Simon's bodies and their interaction with their landscapes provide a good contrast with each other. Whereas Hijikata's masculine physique causes an intense dissimilation from the landscape, Simon's body, divested of sex, assimilates into the landscape of Tokyo's old shitamachi area.
The dolls made by the artist, like the figure of the actor photographed by Hosoe, create a unique aura around them by being assaulted by the world of reality and thus exposing their fragility. Characteristically in Simon's art, the more the eroticism of the external appearance is emphasized, the more the doll is transformed into a sacred being.
Moreover, it is important that the background is Tokyo. This artificial metropolis, which has been liberated from the ponderousness of local customs and convention, is a most fitting stage. "Yotsuya" of course is not the surname that appears on Simon's family register, it was borrowed from the area of Tokyo in which he lived. It is not an exaggeration to say that the metropolis of Tokyo, or rather its postwar culture, was what created Yotsuya Simon the artist.
Simon apparently became acquainted with Kaneko Kuniyoshi, who later became a painter, and Koshino Junko, who later became a fashion designer, at a jazz cafe in Shinjuku which he used to frequent, and from there, his network of friends grew. Painters, designers, literary people, poets, playwrights, essayists, and editors -- Simon was surrounded by a crowd who became the creators and conveyors of Tokyo culture in the 1960s and 1970s. They were his teachers, his sympathizers, and his supporters.
Simon created his series of dolls within this "Shinjuku network", which had nothing to do with academic art education, art movements, or schools, and it is difficult to define the position of his work within the framework of "art". Tokyo culture in the 1960s was characterized by a multiple crossing over, in which confinement within established fields of artistic expression was impossible. This situation generated several creative trends in Simon's circle, away from the artistic mainstream. Creative acts like these artists', which are not bound by the notion of "field of art", make Tokyo what it is even today. We can see Tokyo through Simon's dolls and through Simon's body.