Contact Image (A Ball in Edo)
ink on paper
Contact Image (A Ball in Edo) reproduces a phrase from Pierre Loti’s "A Ball in Edo," an essay in which he reflects on a party he attended in 1886 at the Rokumeikan dance hall. As part of a larger effort to present Japan as a new, modern nation, the event catered to the tastes of foreign dignitaries, but Loti characterizes the women hosts’ manners and dress as failing imitations of European culture. This work steals, copies, and recontextualizes Loti’s ideas through a scanner’s flatbed and Cleave’s racialized and gendered body.
This work also addresses Roland Barthes' punctum — the idea that objects that are unintentionally captured in a photo can reach out to prick us or touch us in unexpected ways. Taking from this idea of a prick or a touch, Cleave uses their fingers to trace Loti's words on a scanner bed. Scanners are machines that make images based on touch, and they cannot accurately capture objects further than a few millimeters from the sensor, so they offer a way to regain agency over Loti's representation of Japanese women. The work takes its title from the image-making technology in a scanner—the contact image sensor.