The Imperial Body

Client: Fiona Amundsen, AUT University
Contributors: Fiona Amundsen, Cassandra Barnett, Tim Corballis
Publication design: Narrow Gauge, Layla Tweedie-Cullen
Awards: New Zealand Photobook of the Year Awards 2015 finalist, Best Awards 2016 nomination.

The Imperial Body brings together three interrelated series: Operation Magic (2012), Most Honourable Son (2013) and See You at Yasukuni (2014). Each series focuses, respectively, on the sites of the 1941 Japanese initiated Pearl Harbour attack; the plight of Ben Kuroki, the only American of Japanese descent permitted to fight in aerial combat in the Asia Pacific Theatre of WWII, and the Tokyo based Yasukuni Shrine, which is dedicated to those who died whilst serving the Emperor. Utilising photography and moving-image these artworks explore how images are able to fracture paradigmatic socio-cultural histories and narratives associated with how the Asia Pacific Theatre is officially memorialised and narrated across parts of Asia and the Pacific: the focus concerns what sits outside of known official narratives and memorialisation.

The publication includes four essays, which like the artworks provide counter experiences to historicised narratives of the Asia Pacific Theatre. Firstly, Cassandra Barnett’s essay Strangeface: A Sovereign Countenance, examines the racial prejudice Ben Kuroki faced in relation to present-day post-colonial ideas of cultural hybridity, identity, belonging and difference. The second essay by Tim Corballis titled Memories of the Invisible, develops the artworks’ relationships to ideas of empire building as related to the contemporary geo-politics of the Asia Pacific region. The third essay Spirit Photograph, is jointly written by both Corballis and Fiona Amundsen and explores photography in relationship to specific theoretical positioning concerning ideas of the spirit of a place, time or world. The final essay written by Amundsen, critically reflects on ethics as related to working with complex culturally specific histories and trauma experiences.

One of the primary objectives of this publication was to bring together contemporary and archival imagery, including photographs, newspaper articles and letters. The contemporary photographs by Amundsen were predominantly produced on a large format analogue or high-end digital camera, so their resolution is both detailed and crisp. This contrasted with the archival imagery which had a ‘scrappiness’ to its’ overall aesthetic form (grainy black and white photographs, taped edges, paper tears and rips, etc.). The publication design aimed to embrace these inherent visual qualities. Archival images are printed onto an uncoated recycled stock, and the artist’s photographs are reproduced on a clean, white, coated stock. A large format was selected to enable the archival material to be reproduced at full size to ensure legibility (text in newspaper clippings for example), with the contemporary artist’s photography receiving a more structured and formal design treatment, with each work centered on a page with a large surrounding white border. To further create visual contrast, red text set in Mono type (Lineto foundry) is overprinted onto the archival material listing the type of material (newspaper clipping, photograph, letter etc.), date, and location where the image originated. Mono typeface was selected to reference early print technology and typewriters, as well as for its visual similarity to lettering on aircraft in a number of the images. To create a further visual connection to historical documents and archive material, the publication begins and ends with sections of text set onto a creamy, flecked, valium paper stock.

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