Japanese porn embodies a wild and rigid dichotomy: On one hand, there’s the softcore mainstream, legally prohibited from showing genitalia and, until recently, pubic hair and intended to be consistent with the country’s image of modesty, tact and low crime rate; and on the other, there’s an underground notorious for producing the world’s most brutal and degrading kink, from hardcore bondage to scatology, a genre equally in line with a longtime national love of violent manga (comics) and yakuza (Mafia) films, and the late-’60s/early-’70s mainstream softcore bondage-film genre known as Roman porno.

The work in Marnie Weber’s “The Un lovables” — an exhibition of photo-collages depicting nude Japanese women in alternately barren and idyllic landscapes, many in traditional porn poses (e.g., bent over, spread-eagle), but with genitalia conspicuously not visible, and most with their heads lopped off and replaced with animal heads — would seem to be somewhere between the two extremes. The works might aim to subvert the Eastern notion that Japanese women are sexless and submissive (via not only showing massive bushes of pubic hair but having profusions of images radiate from them), and possibly also the Western notion of their being small, frail (the women here are tall and full-framed) and the height of exotica (via their placement in relatively banal landscapes from Western travel magazines, mostly Zabriskie Point–like California and Arizona highways and deserts). Unfortunately, there are few clues, outside of a clipping citing earlier work that utilized images of women from Mexican porno, as to Weber’s intent, meaning it’s as likely as not that the fact that these women are Japanese is completely arbitrary.

What Weber does is make these nude female forms melt into and appear as organic as their landscapes — limbs as tree leaves or branches, pubic hair as brush or tumbleweeds, women with rodent heads, rabbit heads, shark fins. The text cited above also includes an interview, about earlier but similar work, in which Weber talks about taking exploitative images of women and re-situating them in sweeping scenic tableaux in order to liberate them or “give them hope” — and apparently make them one with nature as well. The work attempts both to bear out and parody this slightly hippie ethos, with confused but lively results.

The apology for or attempt to diffuse the work’s excessively altruistic bent comes in the form of attempted psychedelia. Least successful in this respect is a text allegory, included as a part of a papier-mâché sculpture of three giant animals reading books, concerning women and vermin discarded in the desert who ultimately build a utopia from nothing. Most successful are a series of works on one wall in which the female forms, more like ’60s film stills than the others, are tinted a gorgeous blue against the best of the color travel images. These are also the most polished, and abstracted, works and most worth comparison to the obvious reference point of assemblist Joseph Cornell. Here the abstractions range from giant eggs flying across the scene to enlarged-to-distortion insectlike forms, and suggest another instance in which deepening the connection to Japanese culture could’ve greatly helped clarify Weber’s juxtapositions. (These images did come from the country that once offered Mothra as the almighty nurturing mother.) While it might depend on how giddy and benevolent one’s view of nature is, images of women dismembered and hung by their feet don’t veer all that far from Roman porno.

The Unlovables
Bergamot Station,
2525 Michigan Ave.,
Santa Monica
Through February 14

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