Ready Player One: Photography, Alternate Reality and Fiction

Over the course of 4 days I read Ernie Clines New York bestseller novel ‘Ready Player One’. My original intent was to tweet everything I found interesting, but this became imposible, it would have taken me months to read if I tweeted every single thing. I also found myself reading 100 or so pages at a time too immersed into the book to remember to take notes. The theme I found most interesting within the book is the idea of identity, knowing someone so well in a virtual world without ever meeting them. Once Ernie Cline made the comparison that Dungeons and Dragons was the original virtual reality it made me think about the role of this book. Like the protagonist Wade I found myself connecting with people I didn’t know. In Wade’s case they were real people but their avatars might not have represented them, but in my case I felt I became quite intimate with characters who didn’t even exists, all I knew of them was my interpretation of Clines writing. In turn this made me think about how this reflects within photography, in creating something fiction we are creating an alternate reality, wether it be through the more accepted route of gaming and films or through writing and photography. In photography we see all these genres, documentary, fine art, conceptual but why isn’t there a fiction genre like there is in writing? I guess you could argue in some cases there is, Cindy Sherman creates a series of characters all with fictional identities but you would never call her work fiction photography or an alternate reality.

 
Image above ©Cindy Sherman

Photography seems to still have this relationship with reality that it can’t get away from. I would like to over my career help separate this tie. Once you’re established as a fiction producer then you can start to think about sub genres, sci-fi, fantasy, romance etc… By all means photography is about telling a story, but who’s to say that story has to be fact?

Food for thought while I think about what’s my product, leaving university trying to find a voice as a photographer. See my book notes below, I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of anything, games, anime, tv, sci-fi.

  1. On page 16 and hooked already @erniecline #readyplayerone #erniecline #rpg #oasis http://instagr.am/p/U6U0aalDcC/
  2. “I had access to the OASIS, which was like having an escape hatch into a better reality. The OASIS kept me sane.”#readyplayerone #erniecline
  3. “A Gunter rite of passage, like a Jedi building his first lightsaber.” Wade Watts on coding his first Atari game #readyplayerone #gunter
  4. “The lines of distinction between a persons real identity and that of their avatar began to blur.” #readyplayerone #quote #oasis #erniecline
  5. “In a way, these old role-playing games had been the first virtual reality simulations.” #dungeonsandsragons #dandd #readyplayerone #quote
  6. Just finished level one. Damn this is a good book. meant to be reading it bit by bit. But just read 150 pages in one go #readyplayerone
  7. “It didn’t matter who was in charge. Those people were rearranging deck chairs in the Titanic and everyone knew it.” #readyplayerone #quote
  8. 47 pages to go. Lets do this!!! #readyplayerone #finalbattle #oasis #rpg #scifi #erniecline http://instagr.am/p/VH_V7oFDVb/

“Girls are dancin’” by Emily Jane Wakeling

“Girls are dancin’”: shōjo culture and feminism in contemporary Japanese Art

by Emily Jane Wakeling
University of Queensland

Read the full text here http://pdf.jpf-sydney.org/newvoices/5/foreword.pdf#page=134

Key:
Word definition( Collins English Dictionary)
“Quote”
Personal Note
Page Number
Other peoples References & theories

Abstract

It is relevant to read and discuss all of the abstract as it defines the project well and gives clear indication to the purpose of the text. It is broken up with my notes.

“This article explores the gender-transgressive (transgressive= offend/ violate boundaries) expressions found in shōjo culture in order to highlight the potential for feminist analysis in the prevalence of the shōjo motif in contemporary Japanese art. Shōjo culture is a fascinating cultural space, within contemporary Japanese culture, which fosters creative expressions of gender that negate or make complex hegemonic (hegemonic = dominant) categories. (In my mind this sentence translates more simply to challaging the expectations related to the depiction of women.) Departing from stereotypes of Japanese girls, this article will pay particular interest to an emerging wave of figurative contemporary art practices in which the figure of the shōjo is utilised for a new generation of feminist critique. Aoshima Chiho, Kunikata Mahomi, Takano Aya, Sawada Tomoko and Yanagi Miwa are among the current artists who feature the shōjo motif in contexts that foreground female subjectivities found paralleled in shōjo culture. These works will then be contextualised in the greater picture of current trends and themes in global contemporary feminist art.”

Although the majority of artists mentioned are painters I will read all of this text as I feel it is the most relevant text I have found to my topic, especially now it has been narrowed down to the representation of women.

Introduction

“The cultural construct of girlhood in Japan typifies the country’s typical absorption of foreign cultural influences and embracing it as uniquely “Japanese”.”

“The Japanese term “shōjo” is particularly useful to gender discussions of the Japanese girl. It is a way of referring to someone as feminine, but with a distinct suggestion of youth.” I have encountered the term Shojo before, but as a genre of manga rather than a feminist view.

“The shōjo is ‘free and arrogant, unlike meek and dutiful musume [daughter] or pure and innocent otome [maiden]’. “Daughter” and “maiden” both suggest the presence of a male authority in determining the girl’s identity, while the concept of shōjo has neither of these connections” – A woman who is considered independent.

Shōjo motif in contemporary art

“What differentiates them from others is their use of the shōjo motif in reference to the gender-transgressive expressions found in shōjo culture.”

“Aida identifies the sexualisation of shōjo in contemporary Japanese culture and makes comment through an exaggeration of his powerful position as a man and “pervert”.” – To my surprise this text does talk about Aida Makoto. Mainly discussing his artwork the text talks about how he uses his position as a man to make a social commentary on the representation of women. Almost ironically via adopting the iconic schoolgirl uniform and imagery we see so much in anime.

“Specifically, these artists use the shōjo motif to reference elements of shōjo culture that focus on her subjectivity over the male gaze.”

“They go beyond the sexual objectification of shōjo, as seen in the work of Araki, or ironically presented by Aida, to make reference to the creative uses of the fantastic, girlish aesthetics or gender-transgressive concepts found in shōjo culture.”

“Yanagi presents young women—specifically, the shōjo—as a status far removed from social conventions such as marriage and child-rearing”

“Minami (2000) imagines her older self as the eccentric owner of a Disney-style theme park being tended to by carers.” see photo left.
 “Yuka (2000) enjoys a ride on a sidecar speeding across the Golden Gate Bridge.” see photo left
“Feminist critic Ueno Chizuko notes that most of the shōjo subjects just imagine an extension of themselves ‘as they are now’ because ‘several of the grandmothers appear as cheerfully active and carefree as they are today’.38 ‘As products of Japan’s affluent society, these women refuse to relinquish the privileges afforded them as children, even as they approach their thirties. So children they will remain, into old age’.” – This analysis needs to be followed up!

38 Ibid., p. 61.

Feminism and Contemporary Art

“Yanagi considers her art practice to be different to artists who come from a Western background because ‘my knowledge of the origins and history of what is referred to as Western fine art, and of modernism, was grafted later on to a base of novel, movie and manga subculture’.41” Again this quote need following up. What else has Yanagi written about her interaction with manga and how it influenced her.

41 Yanagi in ARTiT, ‘Interview with Yanagi Miwa’, p. 56.

Gender in Shōjo Culture

“Kawaii style, mentioned briefly above, has been analysed as a female-centred rejection of adulthood. 51 Laura Miller presented cases of girls using photographic technologies, specifically the print-club sticker booths, to resist stereotypes. 52 Both refernces worth following up on as well. Laura Miller’s view on print-club could be helpful within my context section, heling me define this culture in a way that can be understood within minutes.

51 Kinsella, ‘Cuties in Japan’.
52 Miller, ‘Bad Girl Photography

“Shōjo manga is an especially rich subject to draw out girls’ expressions of gender transgression. To illustrate with an example, The Rose of Versailles—possibly the most iconic shōjo manga—was called a “revolutionary romance” by Deborah Shamoon. This manga would be worth a read, just to gain a better understanding of Shojo and see if I can find any similarities between the photographers I am looking at and this iconic manga.

This article has been really helpful. Towards the end it turned out to be looking at the photographers as practioners rather than what their work is trying to say. That it a key area to explore but I don’t want to end up creating a similar exploration into the artists  cultural background and reasons for creating work. I am more concerned with what they are trying to say with their work, are they trying to provoke change? but I have a long list of texts to look at. What I think this text is trying to say is the artists discussed within it are Shojo themselves they are part of this new breed of women, ans whilst that is vital to the understanding of their work it’s not what my topic aims to conclude on.

To read now:

51 Kinsella, ‘Cuties in Japan’.
52 Miller, ‘Bad Girl Photography
41 Yanagi in ARTiT, ‘Interview with Yanagi Miwa’, p. 56.
38 Ibid., p. 61.

Japanese Schoolgirl confidential – How teenage girls made a nation cool

‘Japanese Schoolgirl confidential – How teenage girls made a nation cool’ – Brian Ashcraft with Shoko Ueda

I bought this book at Hyper Japan in February 2012 just out of interest to read. However there is one chapter in particular which is very relevant to my symposium research project. The Japanese school girl is at the center of Popular Culture and has helped to define Japan as the eccentric, youthful and energetic nation it is today.

Chapter 6 – Art

This chapter gives an insight into the way Japanese school girls are represented within art and photography, including themes of sex, innocence and violence.

The chapter starts by talking about one of Japans most famous modern artists “Mr.” and his role with the school girl.

‘Nobody Dies’ is a short film which embodies all the aspects of the school girl. Teenage girls with airsoft guns depicting war as fun, cute and harmless. It is based on one of his paintings from 2007 called ‘It hurts when it hits the bare skin’. Directly influenced from the role of young women in Anime Mr.’s work has helped push the assumption that the best age for a woman in life is 14/15, no children, no work and no husbands, an idea that to us might seem absurd,  but in Japan the pressure of marrying and having children for young women equivalents that of 50’s Britain.

‘It hurts when it hits the bare skin’ – 2007
‘Nobody dies’ 2008
‘nobody dies’ 2008

Time out new york describes Mr.’s work and ‘Nobody Dies’…

Mr. is an unabashed fan of otaku, a geek-driven fantasy world whose denizens include pubescent girls with saucer eyes engaging in Lolita-like scenarios. His first solo exhibition portrayed these doll-like cuties as giant candy-colored sculptures that exaggerated their peekaboo innocence. Perhaps to distance himself a bit from Murakami, Mr.’s second solo exhibition, “Nobody Dies,” presents a video starring live girls “discovered” on the streets of Tokyo, along with a series of related photographs and a panoramic acid-hued painting, which seems to depict Akihabara, the massive, arcade-filled Tokyo neighborhood that is otaku’s subcultural epicenter.

The video follows the story of five tween schoolgirls who plan their revenge against a team of punk chicks who beat them in a mock survival game reminiscent of paintball. More than a half hour long, the tedious narrative weaves together silly flashbacks with a plethora of crotch shots. The accompanying photos depict the girls in front of various locales in elaborate costumes—from gingham uniform skirts to fashionista camo—designed by Mr. and Kaikai Kiki. What the viewer is supposed to get out of “Nobody Dies” is anybody’s guess, but if Mr. hopes to entice more than just otaku geeks, he’d better start giving a clue, or his own career may expire.

The next artists which is discussed in the book is Makoto Aida, who’s work I had come across before but only on anonymous bloging sites. As an adult man Makoto Aida is fascinated with the idea of the Japanese school girl.

These artists had grown up after the war, while the process of rebuilding Japan was in full swing. they experienced the rapid ascent of the japanese economy during the heady 1980’s, and came of age surrounded by pop-culutre. They drew inspiration form this-using the language of manga and anime to convey their message.
-page 128/129 Talking about Makoto Aida, Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara.

Makoto Aida. Azemichi (a path between rice fields) 1991

The book continues to write about how Aida uses the combination of innocence and sex to make his subject feel uncomfortable,.

“At the age of fourteen, I became obsessed with the magical quality young girls have,” he says. “As I get older, the age difference gets wider, and yet the almost magnetic attraction to these girls gets stronger and stronger.” But the artist emphasises  it’s not a romantic interest. Rather, it is a reminder of his youth and his ageing.
-page 129

Tomoko Sawada is a key photographer is understanding life as a Japanese School girl, understanding the abilities appearances can have for young girls. Individuality is a huge problem for Japanese school girls, living in a country with so many people how do you stand out?

In the late 1990’s Sawada used subway station photo booths to take passport-style portraits of herself. In each photo her hairdo or expression was different. Ultimately, the four hundred monochrome photos she took made us her work entitled ‘ID400’. The point was that although these were ID photos, none of them identified Sawada.
-Page 132

The passport-style photo is a key part of japanese life, it’s sent along with job applications, used for marriage match making, and remembering the “best” part of their lives, School.

Sawada then went on to create a ‘school days’ series which pushed her identity project further.

At first is appears that this is a normal school photo, but when you look closely you see that each character is the same person, Sawada. This is her exploration of individuality and shows how teenagers have the ability to be individual in the most structured environment. Maybe that is the appeal of teenagers, the freedom and individuality they possess.

Sawada, Koide, and Aida, and many other Japanese artists today, use schoolgirls in their work much in the same way French Realists like Millet and Courbet painted pheasants – schoolgirls represent the common people, they are the soul of the country and bear the brunt of society, they are the ones who keep it going. And sometimes that stress can take its toll.
-Page 135

Photographer Motoyuki Kobayashi also uses the school photo to present his thoughts on society, but in a different way.

‘I feel that if society looks at the purity of schoolgirls, it can see the future,” says Koboyashi. There’s hope. These girls represent the Japan of tomorrow. “The purity of young girls’ hearts is a common theme in Japan.”
-Page 136

Roughly half of Japans 120 million residents either were, are or will be school girls. They represent the mass. “Schoolgirls are a symbol of Japanese culture.” – Says Kobayashi

His books depict innocent, hopeful images of japanese school girls.

Keitai Girl is an image made by photographer Noriko Yamaguchi it looks at school girls and their relationship with  “Keitai Denwa (portable phone)”. Her photos are self-portrait, she has covered herself in hundreds of mobile phone key pads which concern the desire to touch.

Chapter 6 End