Takashi Murakami – In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow

Photo by Shin Suzuki. Artwork © Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.
Photo by Shin Suzuki. Artwork © Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.

Murakami is at it again (yay!). The superflat artist of our time is back with a new exhibition.

The Japanese artists work usually tackles ideas of consumerism and war, man-made destruction so-to-say. However his latest work has taken a turn, this time looking at natural disasters; the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in particular.

In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow‘ is the title of the NY show, the title itself consistent with the contradiction between childhood and destruction Murakami’s work so often focusses on.

His past series ‘Little Brother’ represented how the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings in WWII forced Japan into the position of the child and America the overpowering parent. As much ‘Little Brother’ did, ‘In the Land of the Dead…’ also uses destruction and innocence in such a way that once you dig beneath the aesthetically beautiful surface dark themes and ideas arise to the surface.

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One new theme creeping into this series is religion, Murakami uses his art to explore how human use faith to cope with destruction.

To me, religions are a narrative…Natural catastrophes, earthquakes, are things caused by nature. Such chaos is natural, but we have to make sense of it somehow, and so we had to invent these stories. That is what I wanted to paint.
—Takashi Murakami

And so this new exhibition further ignites my admiration for Murakami, a connection with his work and a want to have a piece of his work hanging on my walls. For now the postcards I bought at the Mori tower in Tokyo will have to suffice.

Read more about this exhibition in Artsy’s write up for The Huff post

Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co.
Photo by Shin Suzuki. Artwork © Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.

Takashi Murakami – Birth of Superflat

*my opinions written in blue

This is a channel 4 documentary on Takashi Murakami, the founder of ‘Superflat’.

Key notes:
-Highly theoretical
– Jelly fish eyes 2001 & Jelly fish eyes wallpaper: “An instillation about the concept of a hallway”
Pop Art
– Warhol – Images from mass media, reproduced and enlarged them.
– Jeff Koons – Kitsch and Pop culture.
– Murakami – Japanese cartoons & enlarging them.
– Childlike but repulsive. On first sight it’s pink, then it’s a fleshy pink.
– Flower artwork, critique of contemporary Japan, culture is childish and empty,
– Superflat – Dark vision of contemporary Japan
-Paul Schimmel, Chief curator @ MoCA Consumerist Aesthetic – Dirty words,
– Tom Eccles, Director of Public Art Fund, New York – Murakami celebrates consumerism, Warhol showed campbell soup cans, he didn’t actually design them unlike Murakami.
– Artists usually see art and business as two separate things. Murakami doesn’t. – “New form of Art” – Murakami

Superflat – “It’s a catch phrase” – Murakami
– Japans loss of national identity
– “The Otaku are grown ups who act like children” – says the presenter. Completely disagree, getting into the debate of what is Otaku is a different research project, but I am not taking this stance for my research project. My opinion is Otaku’s in Japan are looking for escapism  they hold well paid jobs and are very intelligent, but the pressure of society is too much for them so they enjoy adolescent things like anime and games.

Hiroki Azuma- Writer on Otaku culture
– Murakami’s used of big eyes reflect on the dark side of animation

David Elliot – Director, Mori Museum
– Everything has an emblem, a police station has a mascot. Murakami’s Mr. Dob is one of those, but he’s nasty, “he’s a rouge
muppet”

“After 1945 America swamped Japan with it’s consumer culture, Japan became the worlds best consumers.” Not sure it’s fair to say “best consumers” – like it’s a competition, in my eyes they are the “worst” consumers, they have fallen for consumerism which isn’t a positive thing.

Since 1990’s Japanese economy has been flat – terrorist cult with otaku links hacked the subway with poison gas, an Otaku killer was on the loose. Animation before this showed a hopeful future. Now they are a social malade [malade meaning – someone who is crazy, a patient]

“Society has become superflat”, David Elliot – Director, Mori Museum,”things get dumbed down”.

3 dimensions to Superflat
– Sociological
– Historical
– Aesthetic

Murakami appropriates others work, traditional Japanese art & Wester culture. Mr. Dob – Like Mikey Mouse with the stylish of traditional Japanese paintings.

Any irony involved? making the finest Japanese tradition of art (scrolls) to make a print of flowers? – doesn’t really give us an answer

Little Boy
Japans childish culture & the name of the bomb dropped on hiroshima.
Time Bokan – Murakami – 2001 – name taken from the animation – every week the bad guys would get defeated and a mushroom cloud would appear at the end in the form of a skull.

Murakami talking about “Time Bokan” – “This is typically Japanese, we have taken the worst tragedy that ever befell us and turned it into a joke”… “Just 30 years after the war, this fascinates me” “In the west Skulls are dark symbols of death. In japan they are not so negative. We in Japan have no awareness of our cultural identity. There is a reason Manga obsessively shows images of the atomic bomb. We are the only people who have experienced the atomic bomb…. thanks to man-made forced more powerful that gods. This has made us numb, past feeling and caring.”

The smiling flowers are like surrendering. In the future it will be hard to tell the difference between art and other commercial materials. Art is becoming simpler but toys are becoming sophisticated.

This documentary has been very informing, yet it tends to do what I hate, there is no conclusion, the narrater simply states the future remains to be seen and how we read Murakami’s work, ironically or not is a choice. I suppose as a BBC documentary it has to remain balanced as a PBS.

However it has made me think about my project. Why am I trying to use Murakami as an example of Kawaii culture? when he is a mesh of both, his art comments on this work, whilst making money from the consumerists. This could be something to explore, does Murakami’s work oppose Kawaii culture as much as photographers does?

One word I need to explain more is Irony, a word I hate to use in general because it’s so difficult to explain, but is unavoidable, and is a pivoting aspect to this project, consumerism and irony.

Pop Psychosis: the Influence of the Bomb on Superflat Art

Pop Psychosis: the Influence of the Bomb on Superflat Art

April 19, 2010 By 

http://postbubbleculture.blogs.wm.edu/2010/04/19/pop-psychosis-the-influence-of-the-bomb-on-superflat-art/

Japanese artists of the Superflat movement use the language of this pop culture iconography to explore what kawaii says about the Japanese people and their history. Takashi Murakami, founding member of the Superflat movement and author of its manifesto, views the development of kawaii as Japan’s response to World War II and the atomic bomb.

Murakami, “Mushroom Bomb Pink”

Although this article is about an Art movement rather than photography it is a really good piece of text which helps analyse when this escapist, Kawaii, Otaku culture derived in Japan and the reasons for it.

The first section of the article is called…

The Neutered State

When the Americans rewrote the Japanese constitution after World War II, they included a clause prohibiting Japan from using its army for anything but self-defense, and demanding that it remain a “peaceful state.” Some historians see Article 9 as a symbolic castration, forcing a policy of nonaggression and stripping the country of its right to express dissent through military action. In 2005, Murakami curated a show of Superflat art called “Little Boy,” also the codename for the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The show’s catalogue directly faults Article 9 for the infantilism and willful innocence implied by the kawaii aesthetic, as it “forced the Japanese people into a mindset of dependency” and cast Japan in the role of a “child” obliged to follow America’s “adult guidance.” The New York Magazine review of the show notes that “Japanese pop represents the strange, even psychotic response of a population traumatized by World War II…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…” The sweetly naïve youthfulness of kawaii may well be attibuted to a sense of emasculation in Postwar Japan.

Finally I have found a piece of text which justifies my thoughts. I never thought about the use of childhood imagery as a metaphor for Japans surrender but that makes perfect sense. The superflat movement comments on this and often explores the world of “Kawaii Noir” a sub category of Kawaii (Cute) culture which has a dark undertone.

The Escapist Mentality

The growth of kawaii corresponds to the growth of otaku culture in Japan, and both kawaii and otaku provide a means of escape. Otaku can become engrossed in anime, manga, or other hobbies, sometimes to the detriment of their ability to interact with the outside world. The world of kawaii is a fantastical one by nature; where loaves of bread talk, cats wear pinafores, and children frequently possess special powers. In “Plumbing the Depths of Superflatness,” Michael Darling cites anime legend Yoshinori Kanada as an inspiration for Murakami, and notes the escapist atmosphere of his work: “Kanada’s fanciful images of destruction serve to distance the viewer (and the creator) from the real horrors of war, and can be seen as a symptomatic retreat from an honest reckoning with the ravages of World War II and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” Murakami also filters confrontation with the war through a cartoonish lens, but is aware of the dynamic and deliberately plays with it, as in “Mushroom Bomb Pink.” Here the mushroom cloud has formed the shape of a skull with two big eyes, painted against a fluorescent pink background. Mushrooms recur in many of his pieces, as in “The Army of Mushrooms.” The connection between the image of the mushroom and the miliaristic reference of the title is impossible to ignore, but the implications are obscured by the anthropomorphization of the mushroom and the sunny, springlike palette.
From an academic standpoint, Superflat art and the kawaii aesthetic it reappropriates is a means to examine many aspects of Japanese culture and self-perception. But forefront in the work of Takashi Murakami is a preoccupation with the past and how the Japanese choose to view and confront it.

Murakami, “The Army of Mushrooms”

Although short, this article gets right to the base of japanese pop culture and it’s reference to the war. Thankfully the references are listed, so I can explore this area more.

Sources:

Darling, Michael. “Plumbing the Depths of Superflatness.” Art Journal 60.3 (2001): 77-89. JSTOR. Web. 8 Apr. 2010.

Holmberg, Ryan. “Little Boy: the Arts of Japan’s Exploding Subculture.”Artforum International (2001).

Stevens, Mark. “Toxic Cuteness.” New York Magazine, May 21, 2005.

External links:

Video: Murakami interviewed by Jonathan Ross

Trailer for Murakami’s new animation project:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yg1RP_eaoRM

Another interview with Murakami:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJw8U9yMFZ4

Murakami’s official site: http://www.takashimurakami.com

The fan site! http://www.takashimurakami.net/

Wired Magazine profile: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/11.11/artist.html