An examination into Contemporary (1980-2012) Photography’s role within Japan’s Post-WWII adolescent consumerist culture.
Cuteness in Japan is ubiquitous. Cute sells just as much as sex does. In the 80’s a subculture arose out of Japans technology Capital, Akihabra. Otaku originally refereed to outcasts, grown men obsessed with childish activities, although they held a secure job and were intelligent, their minds were consumed by Manga, Anime, Maids, Sexual fantasies and Figurines. As Otaku culture grew into a pop culture phenomenon, and a sub-branch came about “Kawaii” artists and theorists began to explore why Japans culture had taken such a dramatic shift. Takashi Murakami, a leader in Japanese Contemporary art, explains this unusual cultural change as a reaction to WWII. Japan suffered the horrific events of Hiroshima, then surrendered to American dominance and signed a Peace treaty, leaving them defenceless. Japan reverted to a child, fascinated with adolescent ideals and America became the Parent, force feeding Japan their consumerist culture. Leading us up to today, Japan adapting American ideals and becoming consumers.
So how does this fit into the Art world?
Photography’s role in this culture. Consumerism & Advertising:
Once we define Kawaii culture as being a child-like state, and understand that Japan has taken America’s forced consumerism and appropriated Western ideas to create a unique hyper version of Consumerism culture, we can start to interrogate photography’s role.
Superflat: Taksahi Murakami, Japans art scene becoming flat, no boundaries between Art and Consumerism. Superflat originally took influence from Anime and Manga, taking the flat aesthetic features and using them to make social commentary on the flatness of modern culture. This idea is visible within photography, in terms of Advertising products and making money. Churning out photography with one intent, to sell.
Analyse works: lack of substance, purely visually pleasing, doesn’t challenge us, link back to the adolescent state of Japan.
David Elliot – Director, Mori Museum – “Society has become superflat, things get dumbed down”.
Makoto Aida – Talking about his use of women in his art “In a simpler manner there is one reason; after Japan lost the war Japanese people became people who were left without fatherly and patriarchal existences. This includes the fact that the Japanese Self-Defence Forces are not a proper army… I believe that there haven’t been many incidents in history where a nation has been in such denial of masculinity and become so feminine.”
Sebastian Masuda of 6%DOKIDOKI – “Just like the punk and hippy movements, the anarchism young people need these days comes from the kawaii movement, or happy feelings and a colorful world view,”
(ibukimagazine.com) – In my opinion as a man selling the products his opinion may be slightly bias. At least with Murakami’s views he is pointing out the flaws in this culture even if he is making money off it.
New breed of photographers, trying to create thought provoking work, taking a more active role.
What about the photographers who are fed up of consuming? and want to use their skills to make the spectator think about the society they live in rather than drip feed them products? 4th look – making the spectator question themselves.
‘Bye Bye Kitty: Between heaven and hell’ – Collection of artists challenging Kawaii culture & Murakami’s work in particular. They directly oppose the post war child state by “challenging visions of Japan’s troubled present and uncertain future”.
The difference between consumerism and art? One Provokes change, the other enforces ideals. Is Murakami right? has the border between the two becoming no existant or is one just over powering the other?