Toxic Cuteness

Toxic Cuteness

At the Japan Society’s “Little Boy,” Hiroshima leads directly to Hello Kitty.

By Mark Stevens. Published May 21, 2005

http://nymag.com/nymetro/arts/art/reviews/11707/

On display are dozens of sappy-sweet toys, examples of anime and manga, and many depictions of monsters and adolescent cutie-pies. Works of art based upon this material are also on view, but no strong distinction is made between art and artifact. The key argument here is that, far from being just sugary kitsch, Japanese pop represents the strange, even psychotic response of a population traumatized by World War II, and then made impotent and infantilized by occupation. Fantasy can provide an escape from history. Art averts. Art anesthetizes.

Another example of how modern art and culture has been directly influenced by the bombings. The problem I am facing at the moment is that it’s easy to find Super Flat art but not so much photography, living in the UK means it’s hard to find access to japanese photographers work, other than online, After finishing reading this article my next mission will be to stray away from the artists and instead look at photographers who play part of this extreme escapism method in reaction to the actions of America.

From this vantage point, the firebombing of Tokyo evolved into the city stomp of Godzilla. The mushroom cloud became a pretty flower rising into the sky at the conclusion of a children’s TV show. Fantasies of power are irresistible to the impotent. Little Japanese boys (of all ages) love robots and space suits, and have a kinky obsession with girls who play peek-a-panty. Fashion and shopping provide bits of distracting and addictive glitter. Murakami calls this culture “superflat,” by which he means, in part, that the interior life of the nation has been ironed into an ahistorical and decorative field of games, melodrama, apocalypse, shopping, and cuteness. Everywhere in Japan, for example, you come upon that appallingly cute little figure called Hello Kitty. It has no mouth and no developed limbs—an image of powerlessness and, Murakami suggests, sublimated hysteria.

An interesting take on the meaning of Hello Kitty, I have heard before that she is emotionless therefore you can reflect your ideals and emotions onto her. I have never heard that she is “an image of powerlessness before” it’s a strange thing to suggest as she is one of the most powerful brands in the world. It might be interesting to research deeper into Hello Kitty’s origins, again she is not a photography area but all of this research is providing me context for my project. Giving me that knowledge it’s so important I have before I even start talking.

Also I want to find to superflat manifesto, get my around what it is and decide if it relates to photography or not.

The title “Little Boy” is brilliant: It conflates cuteness with the nickname of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

A major artist would have to reach in a powerful way into the sexual, emotional, and historical fear that gives rise to an impotent infantilism. But the show is utterly convincing in one important respect—this isn’t just Disney.

Unfortunately the references aren’t listed, so I can’t find out where Murakami said that Hello Kitty is “an image of powerlessness”.

Little Boy has also been made into a book, one in which I am seriously looking into finding.

Google Books offers us the synopsis

Yale University Press, 11 May 2005 – 312 pages
Little Boy examines the culture of postwar Japan through its arts and popular visual media. Focusing on the youth-driven phenomenon of otaku (roughly translated as “geek culture” or “pop cult fanaticism”), Takashi Murakami and a notable group of contributors explore the complex historical influences that shape Japanese contemporary art and its distinct graphic languages. The book’s title, Little Boy, is a reference to the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, thus clearly locating the birth of these new cultural forms in the trauma and generational aftershock of the atomic bomb.

This generously illustrated book showcases the work of key otaku artists and designers, many of whom are cult celebrities in Japan, and discusses their feature film and video animations, video games and internet sites, music, toys, fashion, and more. In the process, the following questions are posed: What is otaku, and what does it tell us about contemporary social, economic, and cultural life in Japan and throughout the world? How is it related to the pervasive and curious fixation on “cuteness” evident in Japanese popular culture? What impact did the atomic devastation of World War II have on the development of Japanese art and culture?

This brilliantly designed, bilingual (English and Japanese) publication examines these themes to explore how contemporary Japanese art has become inseparable from the subcultural realms of manga and animé (Japanese animation)—a world where meticulous technique, apocalyptic imagery, and high and low cultures meet.

Little Boy concludes Murakami’s “Superflat” trilogy, a project conceived in 2000 to introduce a new wave of Japanese artists and to place their work in the historical context of traditional styles and concepts.

Although this book is priced at over £100 it is key I get my hands on in, a reviewer on amazon says that Murakami himself has written 2 essays within the book that focus on how Kawaii and Otaku are coping mechanisms with what has happened in the past, reverting Japans society to a child like state.
Another reviewer says…
Murakami’s latest curatorial effort has gained nearly universal acclaim amongst the art world. His “Little Boy” exhibition attempts to understand the origins of contemporary Japanese art’s affinity for both the horrifically violent and the frightfully cute (kawaii). Ultimately, Murakami argues that these images are spawned from the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined with postwar US domination. Violent imagery becomes a sign for a fascination with the kind of power that postwar Japan lacked. Kawaii imagery is then seen as stemming from Japan’s status as a protectorate of the US. This relationship was not unlike that of a parent and child (the child/adolecent becomes a prevalent theme in Japanese art from postwar era forward.)
– By Andrew C. Raymond
As it turns out we have this book in our library. Keep your eye out for another post on this tonight.

Beautiful New World: Contemporary Visual Culture from Japan – Exhibition catalogue

You can read the catalogue is online here

Beautiful New World is an Art exhibition that focuses on the idea of a new world, along with the 21st century came a great expectation of peace and growth in Japan, but it soo became the most violent and destructive time in recent history. Whilst WWII was harmful, post war provided great growth for Japans economics. However in the last 30 years Japan has suffered from some horrendous events such a earth quakes, tidal waves and economy crashes. Influenced by the theme of a new world which is so current in Manga, the world being destroyed and trying to rebuild itself is featured in thousands of manga stories, these art pieces comment on the lust for a better place, an escape from reality which is so predominant in Japanese pop culture. (off the top of my head I can think of 3 or 4 manga series I have read where creating a new world is the main theme.)

The exhibition itself features the work of 34 creative people, spanning across all art forms, and is divided into 3 sections, Beautiful real world, New media world and End of the world and future world.

Section 1
Beautiful Real Wold @ Long March Project

The main theme of this section is understanding beauty and reality. Question both of their meanings and re-exploring how we understand them. The pieces are based on the representation of females in Contemporary advertising and fashion shoots. It also takes direct influence from manga..

Japanese manga and animations that illustrate gender-specific features in the boy’s world / girl’s world; and works that focus on “kawaii” culture, as well as the personal world-view of hitori-asobi(solitary play) that deviates from this culture.

Some of the exhibited work:

Teppei Kaneuji

teenage fan club #5. 2007.
plastic figure,hot melt adhesive
25x12x37(h)cm

This piece by Kaneuji Teppei has a direct reference to Japanese popular culture, using the brightly coloured structured hairstyles which feature in anime and manga to create a Big foot type creature.

Paramodel

Paramodel is an “art unit” formed in 2001 by Yasuhiko Hayashi (2001 Fine Art graduate from the Kyoto City University of Arts) and Yusuke Nakano (a Nihonga [Japanese-style painting] graduate from the same university). Their title comes from the combination of the words, “Paradise” and “model”, and the fusion of these two concepts is essentially the launching point of their creations. Although the unique talents and interests of these two individuals hardly ever intersect, they manage to work in parallel towards the same vision of constructing intricate models of Paradise using toy parts, like plastic train tracks and mini-cars. Engaging in this poetic, yet paradoxical practice of remodeling paradise, this art unit presents their visions in a variety of media, including installation, objets, animations, painting, sculpture, and photography. –www.azito-art.com/paramodel/

These pieces by Paramodel play on the miniature culture within Japan, the sushi presented on the truck plays on the idea of Kawaii culture within Japan, the need for everything to look cute and sweet.

Go Watanabe

“face (“portrait”) -8″, 2006, digital print, translucent film, light box, h.135 x w.123 x d.20 cm

All featured artists:
Aida Makoto, exonemo, Kaneuji Teppei, Konoike Tomoko, Kusama Yayoi, Murayama Ruriko, Nishiyama Minako, Odani Motohiko, Okazaki Kyoko, Paramodel, Sawa Hiraki, Shimabuku, Takamine Tadasu, Tanaka Koki, Ujino Muneteru, Watanabe Go, Xijing Men (Ozawa Tsuyoshi, Chen Shaoxiong, Gimhongsok), Yanagi Miwa

Section 2
New Media World @ Inter Arts Center

The art of new media has changed the ways in which we view the world. The works that tune into the new possibilities of communication and physical sensibilities are becoming ever important in considering contemporary society; such works take interest in what effect technological development in images and sound has on human sensations. The idea that perceives human relationships, or relationships between human and the environment as fluid, rather than predetermined, could be the driving force behind such developments. The works to be on exhibit in this section encompass a broad range of works, including not only those works that incorporate new technology, but also those that relate to the urban environment, fashion, and objects. – Taken from the online catalogue

some of the exhibited work:

Hiroshi Fuji

 

Hiroshi Fuji’s work looks at consumerism and a culture who chuck out anything that isn’t up to date. His sculptures are made from discarded items, he tries to take unwanted objects and turn them into something interesting. All the parts are childrens toys.

All featured artists:
Atelier Bow-wow, doubleNegatives Architecture, Tsumura Kosuke, Fuji Hiroshi, Ikeda Ryoji, Oshii Mamoru, Yokoyama Yuichi, National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan)

Section 3
End of the World and Future World @B.T.A.P.

This section touches on the deep-seated apocalyptic world-view in Japanese society and culture, together with the visions for the future that are projected as result. The apocalyptic world-view is shaped by the disintegration of society and the collapse of urban cities, caused by natural disaster, war, and genocide as such, as well as death and the fear of facing death, while the visions for the future are projected in forms of cities in rejuvenation and futuristic cities. Some of the works in this section signify eternity and sustainability in relation to these themes. – taken from the catalogue

some exhibited work

Hatakeyama Naoya

Hatakeyama Naoyas stunning landscapes toggle between the destruction of the world, juxtaposed with landscape photos with no sign of human life, making us think about the beauty of the world, and putting us in the position of imaging a new world.

Yanobe Kenji

– Project Viva Riva – Sutanda
2001 200cm × 200cm × 300cm
aluminum, brass, motors, other monuments (Revival) Play arose from the “ruins of the future.” Work was born doll suit atom was picked up in the ruins of the nursery of Chernobyl, the sun that had been painted on the wall has become a group. Doll rises senses radiation 20 times, objects located beyond the line of sight of the sun shine at the same time. Stand up on two legs is also a big step in the process of human growth and human evolution.

Tomoko Yoneda

An End is A Beginning – Tokyo, , JP – 2008-09-12 until 2008-11-30

Tomoko Yoneda’s photographs of an end is seem less kitsch and colourful as some of the work in the exhibition, however it’s message is strong. Unless accompanied by it’s title the photo holds no real connection to the idea of a new world, but with the title we imagine we have reached an end of a story, perhaps a family or couple fleeing to the new world after a long series of events.

All featured artists:
Fujihata Masaki, Hatakeyama Naoya, Miyajima Tatsuo, Miyamoto Ryuji, Ohmaki Shinji, Urasawa Naoki, Yanobe Kenji, Yoneda Tomoko

The exhibition as a whole

There is no doubt that this exhibition would have been one worth seeing. Rarely are so many forms of art in one place, the interesting idea is that all artists work is based along the idea of a Beautiful New world, but each result is completely different, and that the repetitive use of a new world narrative within Manga has a big enough influence and has become such a big part of japanese pop culture that many artists are using it as their influence for work.

 

polaroids

I recently acquired a polaroid camera, and since i have got it, I have wanted to produce a polaroid series. However I don’t want to do the hipster thing and use it to document how “awesome” my life is.

This polaroid camera got put to the back of my mind until today, when I found 10 polaroid sheets for 1.50. I saw this as a sign, I must do this project.

But what do i photograph? what series of images would benefit the effects of a polaroid camera?

For a while in my head I have though about a series which I have yet to name, this is a series of people in wigs, I want to produce close up images of people in wigs that make them anonymous. When I went to my first Anime Con it fascinated me how normal everyone was under their costumes, most had office jobs and brown hair, this was their escape and hobby. in my mind i picture 10 polaroids, each with a different person wearing one of their wigs, but all thats in the frame is the hair that might have been missed when putting on the wig. No identity or context just a hair line which is being desperately hidden by the wig.

The reason I want to take these images on polaroid is because its disposable, just like their identities they consume at the weekend.

Lets begin the nameless series…

Re-think, let’s begin the series called…

Weekend Heroes

20120810-211903.jpg

Day 8: Poster and Opening night of the mobility project

Unfortunately all the gallery work I spoke about in the previous post was something I couldn’t take part in, I was ill for the main day of setting up so sent a friend in my place. I am really gutted that I missed such a great opportunity to meet the artists and get involved in the debates they had about arranging the work.

However yesterday I was continuing working with artist and curator Elly Clarke, helping her set up the Mobility project exhibition in The Meter Room in Coventry. It was the official launch in the evening so there was lots to do. Me and Genea were asked to get the posters printed for the sandwich board. The Gallery is hard to find so this was important. Elly wasn’t bothered about quality, she just needed poster asap. It was stressful for me and Genea, we had a few hours to print the posters and get them to the meter room in time. We first went to printing bureau in coventry university, only to find out they don’t do same day printing, so we had to look else where, we tried printing them at the uni because we have free printing credits, the colours were a bit off, the blacks weren’t the right tone. We then went to 2 printing shops and they quoted us £20 per A3 print, Elly needed 4 and was on a tight budget, so after a phone call with Elly we decided to just use the library print outs. I know this doesn’t sound to time consuming or hectic, but walking from place to place took us 3 hours and the stress of being under pressure makes simple tasks harder. I learnt from this that if you need posters or any advertisement it should probably be done in advance, you can always print on the day but that may mean you have to compromise on quality.

This was one of the posters Elly wanted printed

The second part of today was the actual gallery opening. It was exciting after all this time setting up to finally be open. I was in charge of documenting this and taking photos for the night. I have done this before with Elly at the Trove Gallery in Birmingham, so i learnt rom last time to try and capture every moment you can, because this will never happen again. Here are some of the photos i took from the night. (I cant upload all of them because there are too many)

I met lots of great people, and figured out a camera is the great way to break the ice at gallery viewings, once you have taken someones photo they are either put off and walk away or open up to you.