Kei Takemura’s Ethereal Compositions Imagine a World Beyond National Borders

Kei Takemura weaves stories that span wide stretches of time and space into delicate, layered compositions. By assembling references from personal experiences, family lore, and collective memory, the Japanese-born, Berlin-based artist makes connections between faraway generations and locations. Her recent work, now on view at Dominik Mersch Gallery, fuses the familiar and the foreign with a gentle nod to globalization. 

The largest piece in the show, They are still alive in the both cities (2012), offers a symbolic gateway—in the form of a palm tree—into Takemura’s investigations. As palms migrated from their desert homes into international film sets and furniture motifs, they came to signify paradise and, more figuratively, exoticism and colonialism. Here, Takemura engages these connotations by halving two different types of palms, and then piecing them together as a hybridized whole.

One half of the composition depicts a tree adjacent to Takemura’s family home in Nagoya. The other represents its Los Angeles foil. Surprisingly—especially in the case of L.A.—palms are not native to either city. A story of migration and appropriation emerges. The wall-size composite is printed in black and white, encouraging the two distinct photographs to fuse, further confusing the palm tree’s provenance. On top of the image, Takemura adds colorful embroidered fronds of her own design. Her intervention calls to mind the loaded horticultural term “escaped exotics,” used to describe invasive, non-native plants.

Other works in the show more subtly explore interconnected histories. In About a hat and mothers (2014), Takemura layers line drawings that depict domestic spaces. Set against each other, the black kitchen and white stairwell resemble yin and yang fragments of memories. Obscured behind a translucent fabric shroud, they seem to represent shadowy flashbacks. While the intimate scenes allude to Takemura’s personal history, the images are universal. This could be anyone’s dreamscape, from almost any era. A book floats clearly above the haze, representing recorded history that (unlike memories) won’t fade. 

In Untitled (2014) Takemura compares the fragility of memory to nature. A spray of flowers, doomed to falter with the seasons, veils the sea—that ever-churning, omnipresent force that operates beyond city limits and national borders, and will likely outlive us all.

—Alexxa Gotthardt

Hana no Iro” is on view at Dominik Mersch Gallery, Sydney, Apr. 9–May 2, 2015.

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