Yumiko Utsu is of a generation of young Japanese women photographers that took to photography with a passion in the 1990s. Her influences, though, were not from the traditions of Japanese photography but from the mad fantasies of Western artists since Hieronymus Bosch, particularly surrealists like Dali (who famously asked why, when he ordered grilled lobster in a restaurant, he was never presented with a boiled telephone?) and – her favourite – the Czech animator, Jan Švankmajer. Food is always rich in metaphor for surrealists (Švankmajer’s Meat Love, a touching story of two beef steaks falling in love obviously got to Utsu – despite calls for help, her own desperate Rensaku Tomato dissolves before our eyes as we look on in horror, powerless to save it), particularly as there is an uncomfortable point where potential food means confronting a very-much-alive animal. Utsu’s Octopus Portrait is a case in point. This creature has no intention of submitting to a culinary artist. He (she?) is on top of the situation and is determined to remain there. Octopuses have a long tradition of unions with women (almost always with women; Herb Ritt’s Djimon with Octopus, 1989, is exceptional, but then again his octopus is probably gay), their tentacles implying all kinds of insidious ways they can get around their prey. Personally, I would keep my distance from Utsu’s coquettish sitter.
Text by William A Ewing