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Art review: Tomoko Sawada at Rose

July 21, 2011 |  4:10 pm

Mirrors2 
Photographs of twins tend to set the eyes on a ping-pong course between the two faces, marveling over likeness, seizing upon distinction. Tomoko Sawada’s recent images at Rose trigger that same compare-and-contrast reflex, exercised not just within each picture but among them. All 22 photographs depict what appear to be sets of twins: the head and shoulders of two women, side-by-side, against a neutral background. All, however, are self-portraits of Sawada, who mines the multiplicity and mutability of identity with aplomb.

In past work, the Japanese photographer (based in both Japan and New York) has occupied the role of every student (as well as the teacher) in what looks to be a set of class photos. She sat alone 400 times in the same photo booth and, thanks to her performative modifications, each time the machine spit out a quartet of images that appeared to represent a different person. In the new series, “Mirrors,” Sawada assumes dozens of disparate personas, altering hair, makeup, expression, jewelry, posture and dress to become, in turn, tough, sassy, shy, plain, perky, cheerful, guarded, hostile, hip and frumpy, young, middle-aged, and old. Each small, color picture, about five by eight inches, features two of each character, often with only slight changes distinguishing them — angle of the head, color of a blouse, shift in attitude.

The range of personalities that Sawada manages to extract from her single self is remarkable, and the pictures are unabashedly theatrical, even with their mug-shot frontality and sober uniformity. Amusing additions to the role-playing genre of photography, they join work by Cindy Sherman, Yasumasa Morimura, Anthony Giocolea, Nikki Lee and others. Ever remaking herself and never unmasking, Sawada revels in contradiction. Like Whitman — like each of us — she contains multitudes.

-- Leah Ollman

Rose Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 264-8440. Through Sept. 17. Closed Sunday and Monday. http://www.rosegallery.net/

Photo: Tomoko Sawada, "Mirrors 2." Credit: Rose Gallery.

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