This book is a catalogue made to accompany an exhibition of the same name. It explores the subject of cuteness, its place in Japan, the concept of super-flatness, and the presence of defining factors of Japanese pop art-particularly through the 90s-, citing artists and groups who incorporate some sort of cuteness, childishness, and/or pop culture aesthetics, into their work. These include: Takashi Murakami, Kaikai Kiki Co. Ltd., Mr., Aya Takano, Masahiko Kuwahara, Yoshitomo Nara, Hiroshi Sugito, Shintaro Miyake, and Jun Hasegawa.
I've taken some extracts from the book which I feel help me to place and understand my own work and its purpose through the relevance of Margrit Brehm's text on "being a child" and the artists featured. These follow.
The Floating World that Almost Was, Being and Remaining a Child - pg. 16-17:
If parallels to the behaviour of children at play can be recognised in otaku culture and the associated-at least for outsiders-fanatic drive to collect irrelevant information and establish group-specific hierarchies through the possession or knowledge of the most special items on the anime market, then this is just one example of regression to being a child, which, as a metaphor for a limited freedom outside the strict social code, enjoys a special status in Japanese culture. So the otaku movement, or the generation-spanning immersion in the illusory world of the manga, stands for a form of refusal to become an adult, i.e., to become totally integrated into the system. The current younger generation seems to believe instinctively, and as a kind of protective mechanism, that the only possibility of saving their identity from further erosion is to remain in a state of childlike innocence. The resulting infantilisation of society, however, not only increases their manipulability, but is easily utilised as a compensation mechanism by the post-capitalist economic system, and thus for additional profit. The artists presented here reflect on these mechanisms by integrating the popular idiom into their works and repeatedly linking it to the social situation. So the children Nara has created do not satisfy the need for an ideal world, but, instead, insist on the reality of the conflict. The infantile characteristics (Kindchenschema)-nature's strategy for eliciting a caring response-are used as a foil to engage the spectator's emotions and to present the insidious relationship between power and powerlessness with reference to this structural contrast.
Mr. - pg.86:
The decisive moment in his life came when he decided to stand up for those works, to look on them as his art, an original expression of his person, and to deliberately ignore the view that high art and bad manga were irreconcilable.
Aya Takano, Girls Brimming with Pure Energy - pg.98:
Aya Takano's fine line drawings and glowing paintings are dominated by young girls on the threshold to puberty. Using a playful lightness and precise reduction, the artist places her protagonists in situations which are a mixture of fiction and reality checks, stage poses and body explorations. Although the typological similarity of the girls-huge prominent eyes and the apparently bone-less movements of their slim bodies-points to a close affinity with manga figures and the futurist spacesuits or the placeless hovering of many of them are reminiscent of science fiction, Takano's pictorial idiom still differs from the mostly standardised narratives due to an imaginativeness that possesses the expansive potential of a kaleidoscope. Aya Takano mixes studies of movement-often with a striking sensual/sexual corporeality-with scenes in which dream and reality mingle. On closer inspection, the apparently adolescent reverie of the figures turns out to be a method used by the artist to represent the necessity of self-experience as the basis of a (non-alienating) appropriation of the world. The separation of body and soul, of apparently objective event and subjective experience, is eliminated; everything that happens is experienced physically and finds expression in Aya Takano's works in the most varied depictions of the body, its poses, its relationship to its surroundings. Despite cherry mouth and apparently defenceless nakedness, what Takano commits to paper in energetic lines are not helpless creatures, but allegories of a state that involves a constant process of relocation.
Formally, this centralised viewpoint is visualised in the drawings by the restriction to one figure or the confinement of the pictorial motif in a closed organically-rounded frame. These miniatures, varying in form from window to amniotic sac and deliberately sabotaging the respective paper format, intensify the atmosphere of intimacy, while at the same time pointing to the microcosm each of us constitutes.
Hiroshi Sugito - pg. 152:
"So I start moving my brush like walking into the woods, away from everything, and I want words and meanings to lose their power and just fade away."
Shintaro Miyake, Fuji Girls - pg. 166:
Like Hiroshi Sugito, Shintaro Miyake has preserved the spontaneous innocence that characterises the scrawls of a child lost in reverie. Tried and tested on the covers of notebooks, school desks and the free margins of textbooks, a figure gradually emerges that combines the flatness of the comic figure with the inventor's delight in variations and colours. The playful challenge here lies in varying the repetition, the possibility of sending the figures off on ever new adventures without changing their so typical character.
These extracts pinpoint a lot of ideas about art which I am enthused by. The idea of "bad art" being on par with "high art" and the classism and elitism involved in the "popular art world". The idea of childlike art as symbolic of freezing identity in childish form to protect it (childlike art as a survival/coping mechanism, or self care). The idea of cute art as provocative of a protective response in a spectator, and subsequently an emotional connection to the subtler idea within the cute imagery. The idea of removing all thought and meaning from artistic process, creating a sort of trance-like, dreamy state, and dreamy artwork. The idea of the variance of repetition to exercise a childlike glee through that variation of individual creation of individual figures, but at the same time creating troops of this figure which are so almost uniform as to be strong identity markers, but individually varying enough to be explorations of the self: creative, happy, free.
I feel extremely inspired by the ethereal, sweet, spooky qualities of Ayo Takano's work, the cheeky, rebellious work of Yoshitomo Nara, and the simplicity, endless repetitions, and identity present in Shintaro Miyake's work. I think every artist in this book has a relevance to and possible influence on my work, if not so much artistically, then at least philosophically, but Takano, Nara, and Miyake are the three I feel deeply connected to.
|Cover image: Mr.|