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MIMI KATO: Wild Corporation

September 23 – November 14, 2021

Monroe-Brown Gallery


Following an online-only preview and interview with the artist during the fall of 2020, the Richmond Center for Visual Arts is pleased to announce the Midwest premiere of an on-site exhibition this September featuring Japanese artist Mimi Kato’s most recent body of work, Wild Corporation. Inspired by the hallmarks of Butoh dance theatre—absurdity, resistance to fixed forms, and earthbound postures—Kato combines photography and performance to explore gendered power dynamics in large-format digital prints and surreal sculptural objects. Appearing repeatedly in costume throughout a series of complex scenes, Kato weaves a darkly humorous narrative that references Japanese culture and its corporate traditions, the artist’s personal experiences, as well as more broadly gendered tasks, from warfare to washing laundry. Set against dramatic landscapes, Kato’s female characters take hostages, hunt, and lash out against one another, fashioning their weapons from staplers, rubber bands, zip ties, rulers, thumbtacks, binder clips and the like, all while donning impractical short skirts and high heels.

Coming of age in Japan during the 1980s and ‘90s, Kato was taught to accept society’s remaining gender inequalities as simply inevitable. While many women were urged to assume Japan’s non-career tracks (Ippanshoku), women who pursued leadership and managerial positions (Sōgōshoku) often ignited powerful feelings of resentment and conflict amongst women in the workforce. Incorporating her personal experiences with corporate Japanese culture as well as her life in the United States, Kato’s work contests the boundaries of patriarchy, while also examining rivalries between women. Turning the expected feminist script on its head, Kato’s larger-than-life visual sagas in Wild Corporation feature two tribes of female workers who, with little hope of career advancement, turn against one another to battle it out. Despite the aggression at work in these narratives, the series culminates in a heroic sea hunt during which the female teams work together to take down the social structure that seeks to keep them submissive and sparks their antipathy against one another.

Saturated with voyeuristic tendencies, Kato’s images feature dozens of female figures frozen in mid-stride. Layering multi-perspectival views and aerial shots, the collection of viewpoints in Kato’s large-format photographs plays on the idea of constantly shifting roles and the sensation of an out-of-reach, almost other-worldly reality. Reminiscent of strategies adopted by photographers who costume for the camera, as well as narratives that reposition female hostility as pure strength, Kato’s crowded panoramas are rife with tension. The women appear resilient, combative, and clearly objectified while also in control of their present moment. Shot with a vintage 35mm camera and handheld remote control, Kato’s Wild Corporation incorporates performance, as well as original costume construction, prop design, and drawing.

Mimi Kato (b. 1974) grew up in Nara, the 8th century capital of Japan before it moved to Kyoto in 794. During her late teens, Kato began to live primarily in the United States and this split cultural experience is deeply relevant to the creation and meaning of her work. Solo and two-person exhibitions of Mimi’s work have been staged at the Columbia Museum of Art in South Carolina; Nicole Longnecker Gallery in Houston, Texas; SPACES in Cleveland, OH; Roswell Museum of Art, NM; Ballina Arts Center in Ballina, Ireland; McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas; Dallas Center for Contemporary Art and Conduit Gallery in Dallas, Texas; Ripon College, WI; Grand Rapids Art Museum, Michigan; and Good Citizen Gallery in St. Louis, Missouri. Her work has been included in a variety of group shows at such venues as the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC; Cleveland Institute of Art; International Photo Festival in the Canary Islands; Wichita Fall Museum of Art, Texas; New Orleans Museum of Art, Louisiana; and at numerous other venues in San Antonio, Galveston, Houston, and Austin, Texas. Mimi Kato earned her MFA from the University of Texas at San Antonio and her BA in photography at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri.

Check out Mimi’s website here and hear Mimi talk about her studio practice here.

Read more about the Richmond Center for Visual Arts here, and take a look at RCVA’s online exhibition platforms here and here. For more information about the exhibition, contact Indra Lācis, PhD, Director of Exhibitions at indra.lacis@wmich.edu