Posts Tagged ‘participation art’
The site of Spanish collective Boa Mistura‘s (that’s Portuguese for “good mixture”) latest project: the narrow back alleys of Brasilandia, a favela to the north of Sao Paolo.
These self-proclaimed ‘graffiti rockers’ frame their public works in the language of interventionist and participatory aesthetics: visual transfiguration as agent of social change. Or, as they put it, “ The intervention focuses on “vecos” and “vielas”: winding streets that are the true articulators of the internal life of the community. Sharing with the inhabitants the transformation of their environment.” Luz nas Vielas (“Light in the Side Streets”) engaged the residents of Brasilandia in painting over selected areas of their neighbourhood in screaming, neon-bright hues, and inscribing trompe-l’oeil graffiti on the walls – larger-than-life articulations of concepts like “doçura” (“sweetness” or “honey”), “amor” (“love”), “firmeza” (“steadfastness”) and “beleza” (“beauty”).
I love this.
Here’s the problem, though: the specific viewing position that anamorphic visuals like these demand of its audience. Shift even slightly from that spot, and the unitary illusion is shattered. Not unlike what Martin Jay as referred to as “the perspectivalist scopic regime that was so often identified with vision itself after the Quattrocento.” (See his essay, “Photo-unrealism”, in Vision and Textuality.) What he was referring to, of course, is the one-point perspective perfected by Renaissance painters, which – as some art historians maintain – was later imbricated with claims of so-called evidentiary realism by photographic technology. The sort of anamorphism employed by works like Boa Mistura’s simply re-imports the representation of the perceptual world, with its illusionistic rules and aesthetics, back into experiential reality itself. It’s certainly eye-catching, but for a project that’s explicitly demotic and democratic in nature, the imposition of linear, one-point perspective seems well, self-contradictory – as if the messiness of reality, and the optical perception of such, can be reduced to the conceit of a faux mimesis.
Luz nas Vielas was sponsored in part by our very own Singapore Airlines.
More pictures below; enjoy.
The Inside Out Project
The large-scale collaborative Inside Out Project in its own words:
INSIDE OUT is a large-scale participatory art project that transforms messages of personal identity into pieces of artistic work. Everyone is challenged to use black and white photographic portraits to discover, reveal and share the untold stories and images of people around the world. These digitally uploaded images will be made into posters and sent back to the project’s co-creators for them to exhibit in their own communities. People can participate as an individual or in a group; posters can be placed anywhere, from a solitary image in an office window to a wall of portraits on an abandoned building or a full stadium. These exhibitions will be documented, archived and viewable virtually.
A participation map provides participant numbers by country.
My lil’ island nation ? – Nada. Zero. Zilch. Zip. Not a one. No love from Singaporeans.
(Ok, fair enough, I know posting stuff outside of regulated spaces at certain bus-stops and lift lobbies is disallowed, which sort of defeats the purpose.)
But even Iceland has a single participant …
All images here from insideoutproject.net.
Image from Hyperallergic LABS.
Interested in participating in an art project ?
Canadian designer slash artist Daniel Toumine is offering you that chance – just log onto Twitter and follow his account. (Details above.)
A million names … now that’s a redefinition of “community-oriented” art.
There’s also an interesting inflection of the Althusserian idea of the interpellated subject to be excavated here. Someone should do it.
It had to happen: art-making moves into the realm of the scatological. (Well, after Belgian prankster Wim Delvoye anyways …)
As part of the Living as Form exhibition currently showing in downtown Manhattan till Oct 16, artistic collective Superflex recreated a completely functional copy of the executive restroom at the JP Morgan Chase offices (below) – in a Lower East Side diner. Both restaurant and er, designer facilities are open to the public.
Now that’s taking participation art to a whole new level.
All pictures here courtesy of Superflex.net.
A NY Times review of Living as Form reproduced at the end of the post.
WHEN LIFE BECOMES ART
By Ken Johnson. Published: September 29, 2011.
At the Olympic Restaurant on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, customers who heed the call of nature are in for a pleasant surprise. The grungy stairway leading to the second floor is ominous, but on opening the door to the unisex lavatory, they will discover a clean, well-lighted bathroom with the black tile floor, sleek stainless steel fixtures, dark wood wainscoting and gleaming white sink of a high-end corporate washroom. It is a work of art — not just figuratively, but literally. Called “Power Toilet / J.P. Morgan Chase,” it is a fully functional copy of an executive bathroom at that investment bank’s offices, created by the collaborative art-making group Superflex.
The Superflex bathroom was unveiled last Friday as part of “Living as Form,” an enthralling, philosophically provocative round-up of 20 years’ worth of socially engaged art. Organized by Creative Time’s curator Nato Thompson, the show is mostly housed in the raw, cavernous interior of the Historic Essex Street Market; the Olympic occupies a corner of the same building.
It represents efforts by more than 100 artists to expand definitions of art and change social conditions by inventive, nontraditional means. Low, temporary walls of stacked concrete blocks and gray metal shelving units divide the space, creating an ambience that suggests a revolutionary militia’s headquarters. (The layout was designed by the architectural firm Common Room.)
Some of the artists veer toward symbolism. For “Palas por Pistolas,” a project orchestrated by Pedro Reyes, 1,527 guns were collected in a Mexican town racked by drug-related violence. The weapons were melted down and turned into shovels that were then used to plant trees on public-school grounds. Some of the spades are on display at the start of the exhibition, along with a young tree, which will be planted in a community garden after the show ends.
Ambiguity is not commonly a feature of social-practice art, but “Golden Ghost,” an installation by Surasi Kusolwong resembling a piece of 1960s-style scatter art is an exception. It is a two-foot-deep field of colorful factory-thread waste, in the depths of which are hidden six pieces of gold jewelry. Visitors who dive in and find one can keep it. It could be argued either way whether this is a satire about grubbing for material wealth or a metaphor about searching for spiritual meaning.
But most of the projects aim without ambivalence for pragmatic, real-world results. For“Operation Paydirt/Fundred Dollar Bill Project,” Mel Chin has invited people here and all over the United States to fill in the outlines of printed cartoons of hundred dollar bills. An armored car will deliver almost 400,000 of these bills to Congress in a bid to prompt legislation and financing to cleanse lead-contaminated soil in New Orleans.
Some enterprises are hard to distinguish from social outreach programs. Since 2001, a group called Women on Waves has traveled in boats around the world providing women’s health and reproductive care, including abortions. Their vessels have been included in international art exhibitions, but to call what the organization does art, in however expanded a sense of the term, is to invite a question: What is gained by viewing certain programs as art rather than social work?
This is a point to which huge quantities of learned and often theoretically abstruse verbiage have been devoted in journals, art magazines and conferences. The most persuasive argument is that breaking down the usual divisions between categories like art and social activism is liberating, energizing and consciousness-raising for both: art can escape its ivory tower, and activism can be more creative. Utopia rises in the visionary distance.
It is typical of many a social-practice action, however, that the whole experience can only be had by those directly involved from beginning to end. The rest of us must imagine a project like Mr. Chin’s by reading descriptions of it and studying photographic and video documentation, ephemera and publications. How are we to form opinions about this kind of work if we know about them so indirectly? The problem is compounded by descriptions that often sound as if they were written by and for bureaucrats, which frequently is the case, given the genre’s dependence on institutional financing.
Some descriptions are more imaginatively appealing than others. Speaking at a conference held at the Skirball Center at New York University on the day of the opening, the Czech artist Katerina Seda described a project that sounded like a Monty Python sketch. In 2003 she went to a town of about 350 people and did a survey to find out how they spent their time. She learned that they all did pretty much the same things — shopping, cleaning, cooking, eating, watching television and so on — but that they did them at different times.
So, with the mayor’s blessing, she organized a day when everyone was to do the same thing at the same time. At the end of the day, there was a beer party for the whole town, and at 10 o’clock it was lights out. It would be nice to think that the townspeople experienced some enlightenment about, say, the possibility of creating alternate realities. Conventionally categorized forms of life may not be as fixed as we tend to believe.
In any case, Olympic Restaurant regulars will be pleased to know that the new bathroom will remain a permanent, usable fixture, an enduring testament to modern art’s refusal to be fenced in.
“Living as Form” runs through Oct. 16 at Historic Essex Street Market, 80 Essex Street, south of Delancey Street, Lower East Side; (212) 206-6674, Ext. 222, creativetime.org.
The queues were crazy. Getting our tickets took some 15 minutes, and then waiting for the tour to actually begin – we were herded off in groups of 10 or so – had us in line for an hour and a half. By the end of which I seriously needed a drink ..
Though this year’s Open House was quite a treat, so it was all good. Dubbed an ‘art walkabout’ – the event’s tagline is “Come Walkabout. Art Walkabout.” – it got its participants walking into the heart of Marine Parade for a dose of home-inspired art, and then some. The impulse behind OH! was to bring art out of galleries and museums and to the masses; one of the organizers remarks: “Open House is on a mission to make art a part of our lives, our homes. Most Singaporeans live in HDB flats, that’s where we needed to go.” (Qtd. in Corrie Tan, “Art Invades Homes in HDB Estate”. Straits Times, January 14, 2011.)
And indeed that’s where MP, SY, their friend MY and I headed to late last Saturday afternoon. After the protracted wait at the community center, where the tour started, we were off to the first and second homes at 32 Marine Crescent, located side by side on the same floor. Our first stop slipped right by me: there were several instances of staged and doctored photographs alluding to (apparently mythological) sightings of dolphins off the Katong coast, as well as a manufactured ‘dolphin bone relic’ (below). I think the artist in this case was Zhao Renhui – at least the bone object was his – but I wasn’t paying much attention; the works would not have looked out of a place in a museum, and didn’t engage much with their very unique domestic setting, which I expected would have been the point of this singular opportunity to display works in not just a quotidian space, but one that is utilized, lived in, indelibly a part of someone’s most intimate everyday experience.
The art in the second home, which belonged to a friendly yoga instructor who was on hand to greet us, proved to be more compelling. Local artist Terence Lin had a piece titled The Perforated Night, which was essentially a piece of black fabric with holes cut out, masquerading as a curtain (below). According to our guide – an amiable young architecture student, whose name unfortunately I didn’t catch – it appropriates the inherent voyeurism of HDB living, where the high-density character of such neighbourhood estates ensures that simply looking out the window means gazing into someone else’s home. What especially struck me about this piece was how it insinuated itself into the very fabric (haha) of the living space, albeit imperfectly of course. Here was what I had come to see: art that interacted with their everyday surroundings, deploying inventive formal strategies to speak cogently to the idea of the ordinary and the familiar. In another part of the apartment, artist Jes Brinch recreated the contents of an entire room, from the furniture to soft toys to books strewn about in supposedly careless fashion, upside down on the ceiling (below). A mirrored floor inverted the upturned space, thus visually righting the imaginary. Only Apparently Real III was a clever, highly amusing installation, although the most interesting thing about it was its site-specificity. I suspect it would seem .. paltry in a traditional display environment. (The flip side: situating this piece in, say, the showroom of a furniture or interior design concern would render it far more witty, even brilliant, no?) Terence Lee contributed another work, Bed, here. The painting of a floral-patterned bed with pillows and bolster was rigged up to resemble a TV screen (below), and hung on the wall of the home owner’s bedroom directly confronting – what else <lol> ? – her bed. This piece functions on a couple of levels. For one, it rehearses one of the most common domestic rituals, TV-watching, both formally and display-wise, approximating the appearance of a television set and being positioned on a wall at eye level, thus bringing together our experience of TV- and art-viewing at once. Bed also reflects its immediate surroundings – an empty bed – through the gesture of quasi-imitation, in what could be construed as an oblique comment on the egocentric act of inscribing our personality into our belongings. In other words, what Lee has done here is to paint a bed, not specifically the owner’s (which looked very different); putting both in a direct encounter within the most intimate of spaces highlights this disjuncture, or what is at stake in our choice of personal objects.
Home No. 3 brought more surprises. In a stairwell next to the apartment, Teng Yen Ling painted anamorphic projections of various objects and animals, ranging from bikes and chairs to a cat to an entire elevator (below). She very helpfully provided vantage points, marked by little X-es on the ground, from which to negate the element of distortion when viewing, but as it turned out people were so charmed by the line renderings that they started interacting with the art as if they were real: sitting on the chair, which was painted on some stairs to allow for an actual occupant; standing in the doorway of the elevator as if just emerging from within. The sheer unexpected whimsy of Teng’s Secret Landing (2010) made it a surefire crowd-pleaser, but also seemed to be the point of the work: located in an otherwise completely utilitarian and often overlooked public space – how many people even take the stairs, unless one’s living on the first couple of floors ?- the paintings defy strict trompe l’oeil representation, yet invite the viewer to interact with them in very practical and prosaic ways by dint of their life-size scale and their appearance in a setting so closely allied with the business of day-to-day living. (You can just imagine actual bicycles and birdcages and a lift lobby being right there on the landing …)
A number of Indonesian artists were featured in the apartment itself, a reflection of the home owners’ tastes, whose personal collection they were. There was In Between by Nurdian Icshan (below), which included a figure of the artist on a flight of brick stairs, with his head up against an imaginary wall. However, it had been positioned against a bookcase, humorously giving a very personal and expressive work of art the character of a bookend. Desziana, one of the few female artists represented in the couple’s collection, had produced three rows of little fabric houses, which when lit up from the inside brought out figures of trees and potted plants otherwise difficult to discern on the surface of the material (below). The diminutive quaintness of the piece was disarming. On the one hand, the tiny structures sans windows and doors reminded me of fellow Indonesian Rudi Mantofani’s Rumah-Rumah Cokolat, one of my favourite paintings (below); on the other, the uplit homes definitely channeled the surreally and enigmatically warm yet remote interiors of Todd Hido’s Homes at Night photographs (below).
The next stop was dominated by Messy Msxi’s Ten Years in Training series (below). Comprised of paintings, videos and found objects, I found Msxi’s quirky figures a little too derivative of contemporary Japanese visual culture – say, Yoshitomo Nara’s big-eyed people; her moniker was also something of a turnoff, literally screaming cuteness … I guess I’m one of those annoyingly arch postmodernist-wannabes whose idea of acceptable sincerity can only ever be irony. However, an installation set up in a back room (clearly used for storage) was a lot more compelling: a TV had been placed in one corner, playing what looked like footage of the artist’s work, and certain objects pertaining to the theme of athletic training and competition had been inserted into the mess of the home owner’s personal stuff, looking for all intents and purposes like every other article or gewgaw in the room. Even more than Terence Lee’s curtain or television-imitating canvas, here was a work of art that convincingly passed itself off as no more than another everyday object or occurrence, effectively effacing the line between artifice and actuality. While it isn’t hard to figure out which the pieces in question are, it seems as if the employment of the found object has been extended to its logical end here – re-embedded in its natural environment, as simply one more anonymous thing among a jumble of things.
Finally, at the last apartment of the evening, we witnessed the culmination of what I took to be the unspoken theme of this year’s OH!: art both in and of the home. The living room of the apartment was screened off by a white sheet punctuated by little peepholes, behind which an actress, moving among what one assumes is the home owner’s furniture, performed various acts like playing the piano, reading, and toying with a little dog (yes, there was a live one involved; below). I forgot to note the title, but it was the brainchild of two artists, Clare Marie Ryan and Marc Gabriel Loh, in collaboration with the owner. It was also the sole performative piece of the event, involving a human – and canine – body interfacing with a domestic space in all its multifarious dimensions. So far we’d seen a number of works which spoke directly to their unusual settings; here, at our finishing stop, was an actual body inhabiting a lived space, rehearsing household rituals and mundane experience as a means of performance art. To put it another way, by incorporating the human body into the realm of art, art and actual experience were brought a step closer - even more so than the use of found objects, or visual simulation, or the utilization of everyday space ..
Of course, my interest in trying to discern an aesthetics of the domestic probably occluded from view other less dominant themes in the show. For instance, there was also a definite engagement with the larger community of Marine Parade and Katong – or the neighbourhood estate as a form of collective memory. The photographs which posited an ersatz history of marine and social life in the area, for one, as well as Lynn Lu’s Tremor, which consisted of a tray of vibrating crystalware perched on a small table beneath which a device emitting sound on a continual loop had been placed, thus ensuring the constant vibration of the glasses (below); our guide informed us that it reflected the fact that the estate often feels the effects of seismic activity in Indonesia very keenly. Local artist Mark Wong’s numerous sound installations in the various apartments, produced by hidden gadgets and creating an ambient soundscape as part of the art-viewing experience, also deserves greater notice, but that unfortunately is a little beyond the scope of the present review (below).
OH! may be said to fall under rubrics familiar in the contemporary art scene: participation art, happenings, relational aesthetics. This last was a term coined by French curator Nicholas Bourriaud in the 1990s (which admittedly we are a decade away from as of now). Bourriaud’s aim was to describe the means by which forms of conviviality and sociability have become the desired ends in art-making: “In our post-industrial societies, the most pressing thing is no longer the emancipation of individuals, but the freeing-up of inter-human communications, the dimensional emancipation of existence.”* Unlike the scripted nature of a John Cage or Allan Kaprow Happening perhaps, in which the audience is invited to engage with the work of art in a specific, regulatory manner, the generation of a “community effect” is the point which Bourriaud wishes to stress: “The aura of art no longer lies in the hinter-world represented by the work, nor in form itself, but in front of it, within the temporary collective form that it produces by being put on show.”* In other words, it is the staging of a forum wherein relations between viewers – rather than simply a relation between the audience and the artwork – which is held out as the chief site of interest, or the instituting of an arena or an open system under the auspices of art to foster the sorts of communal conviviality that Bourriaud has identified.
I can’t imagine a more apropos instantiation of his ideas. Yes, the participatory element of the show was very much a restricted one: we couldn’t take pictures of the homes themselves, just the art; and of course we weren’t permitted to disrupt the owners’ possessions; their bathrooms were likewise off-limits; the time spent at individual apartments was limited to no more than ten minutes. However, the ambulatory character of the event – combined with the circumscribed relationship between viewer and work, where both time and space are controlled factors – was certainly conducive to communication and interaction between viewers instead. And here, in trying to account for the effects of the art experience rather than just the work itself, a shift from cataloging formal qualities to narrativizing the less tangible elements of art-viewership is desirable – and where perhaps moving into the personal and anecdotal may not be inappropriate. As mentioned, I was there with several friends. MY, whom I was meeting for the first time, was just done with her M.A. thesis, in which she maps urban theory onto military aesthetics (from what little I understood anyways). The point is, as a student and thinker she turned out to be just as keen on critical theory and cultural studies as I was. In between peering at the art, and trekking from one HDB block to another to peer at more art, we found quite a bit to talk about: my work, her work, the vagaries of academia, NUS, Foucault, Debord, the list goes on … It was a pleasant couple of hours, and while to describe it in Bourriaud-ian terms as a “freeing-up of inter-human communications, the dimensional emancipation of existence” may perhaps be something of an overstatement, the event accords, I think, with the general paradigm shift that Bourriaud lays out, in transferring the burden of significance from formal meaning to human terms like conviviality and sociability.
* See Nicholas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics (France: Les Presse Du Reel, 1998), p. 60 & 61.
That’s the clarion call of the über-hipness that is Trans-Cool Tokyo, now on at 8Q – a tasting platter of things artsy, groovy and Nipponese, which makes you want to hop on the next plane for the world capital of Cool.
And then, of course, there’s Murakami: reigning doyen of the Japanese commercial art world. His signature motifs, ranging from the Mickey-esque Mr. Dob to a variety of menacing, fanged shrooms, are well-represented in Trans-Cool. All that was missing, perhaps, was one of his oh-so-coveted Murakami-ized Vuitton bags … I was also reminded of a paper I wrote on the connections between the artist’s pop-inflected visuality and the Freudian implications of the atom bomb for contemporary Japanese culture. (Clearly I’ve been recycling Freud’s notion of the Uncanny one too many times ..) In any case, I think parts of it are worth reproducing here:
Mr. Dob is a strange creature. Not unfamiliar, but strange, and not least because at present, by his creator’s own account, there exists some 100 versions of him, most of which differ each from the other in the minutest of details as well as in the most arresting and inexplicable of fashions. There is Dob in an early incarnation, as a beaming, wide-eyed, bi-coloured head, the epitome of kawai’i, the ubiquitous Japanese concept of cute, with two oversized ears that makes perfectly plain his descent from Walt Disney’s famous animated mouse. There is 727, in which a monstrous Dob, sporting an array of eyes and a mouthful of pointed, razor-sharp incisors, drifts across a distressed surface on tendrils of wispy cloud. There is a garish, technicolour Dob, recast as Tan Tan Bo. Then there is Dob in the Strange Forest, a massive sculpture of resin, fiberglass and iron that sets the chameleonic creature amidst a number of multi-hued, multi-eyed mushrooms of various shapes and sizes that, like Dob himself, will take on an iconic, metamorphic life of their own elsewhere.
The creations of Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, who in recent years has enjoyed a tremendous surge of popularity both at home and abroad, particularly in the United States—he has curated several shows here, including one at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 2001, as well as Little Boy: The Arts of Japan’s Exploding Subculture in New York City in 2005—Mr. Dob and his fungal friends and their dizzying variety of types embody Murakami’s self-professed project of the “Superflat” (which lent its name to the MOCA exhibition), an interpretation of the traditional flatness and linearity of Japanese surfaces in a contemporary context where “society, customs, art, culture: all are extremely two-dimensional”, which finds a “visual correspondence in the reception mechanisms … of a screen-oriented generation …”
Beneath the deliberately depthless veneers of Murakami’s work, however, lurks a sense of something … more. It is a feeling of uneasiness, for instance, not an exclamation of “How cute!”, that the sight of Dob in the Strange Forest evokes: the immediate reference, at least for a Western viewer, is the enchanted world of the fairy tale, and one is reminded of the ambiguous nature of magic in those stories, of its capacity to heal or to harm in equal measure, by the expression of consternation that Dob wears, and by his hand held up in a gesture of defence as if to ward off the ring of silent, staring, mushrooms. Freud, in his 1919 essay The Uncanny, arrives, through a semantic interrogation of the terms heimlich and unheimlich, at the conclusion that the former, which commonly functions in the sense of “familiar” and “native”, “is a word the meaning of which develops towards an ambivalence, until it finally coincides with its opposite, unheimlich.”He quotes from the 1877 dictionary of Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm: “From the idea of “homelike”, “belonging to the house”, the further idea is developed of something withdrawn from the eyes of others, something concealed, secret … The notion of something hidden and dangerous … is still further developed, so that “heimlich” comes to have the meaning usually ascribed to “unheimlich”.Murakami, in an interview, has alluded to the role that the Shinto religion, and its concept of kami, plays in his art: “It is base don a belief in the existence of a multitude of divinities, in which “multitude” is metaphorically referred to by the expression yaoyorozu no kami—literally, “eight million gods”. These are pantheistic beliefs with connections to the fantastical world of specters and ghosts. In this view, any natural element, any object, has its own life—a soul.”He goes on to contrast this concept of the supernatural with the cute: “The notion of kawaii is extremely positive. It expresses the luminous side of an enchanted world. The ghosts, as divinities, are fairly close to its dark side.”The Janus-like merging of binary opposites that Freud identifies in the workings of the terms heimlich and unheimlich finds an analogue in the dual nature of Dob in the Strange Forest, the central dichotomy around which the image is structured being that of the cute, as represented by the figure of Dob, vs. the supernatural, as manifested in the eerie, anthropomorphic forms of the mushrooms, endowed, such as it were, with “souls”, and the spherical and ovular shapes that dominate the compositions of both find an echo in the large, round iron disc that serves as a base, which supports, encircles, and unifies, albeit in an alliance marked by uncertainty and tension.
(Disclaimer: Going back to it now after some 4 years, I’m not so sure of that preceding bit anymore ..)
In Super Nova, executed the same year (1999), Murakami subjects the motif of the mushroom, sans Dob, to multiplication and mutation. Sprouting in a line across several panels joined together to form a long mural, the fungi seem more creature-like than ever. Their individual palettes have been intensified, and the number of their eyes increased (indeed, as one commentator has observed, the sight-organs come across as having a personality of their own); some feature gills hanging from the underside of the cap, which the artist has rendered in the shape of jagged, barracuda-like teeth, much in the manner of Dob’s own sharp-toothed alter-ego. In the centre of the long row, towering above its fellows like an implacable, demoniac growth, like a kaleidoscopic spectre of the atomic decimation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II, is the largest mushroom of all, the super nova. Resemblance to the now-iconic image of the atomic mushroom cloud does not bear repeating, a fact that the artist himself has acknowledged,but it is interesting to note his comments about the collective amnesia of the Japanese regarding the A-bomb, and, as a corollary, that of Japanese Imperialist aggression during the war. Apropos of the recurrent theme of the devastation of Tokyo by a weapon of mass destruction, which surfaces time and again in manga and anime narratives—a classic example of which would be Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira—Arthur Lubow, in a New York Times Magazine article, reports that Murakami “concluded that otaku raised a “mirror” to a reality that the larger culture preferred to ignore. Like many other Japanese intellectuals of his generation, he deplores both his country’s militarist past and what he sees as its acquiescent present.”Freud, in his theory of the uncanny, locates the driving impulse of the phenomenon in the act of repression: “…the uncanny is nothing else than a hidden, familiar thing that has undergone repression and then emerged from it…”What Murakami has effected with Super Nova, in Freudian terms, is the disruption of mainstream societal discourse via the return of a suppressed memory from the subcultural realm of the otaku, where it has been kept alive, so to speak: the trope of mutation here serves to defamiliarize the (once-)familiar, to render it bizarre, alarming, and menacing, as witnessed in the metamorphosis of the mushroom from round-eyed forest waif, to be understood in a relational context which includes Dob as the focus of attention (all eyeballs are oriented towards his person), to a gaudy, grossly oversized apparition with blade-like appendages for teeth, and a lidded gaze which directly and unabashedly engages the viewer and, at the same time, exudes a self-sufficiency of being and purpose, one that entices and resists all at once.
Freud, however, admits that while “a hidden, familiar thing that has undergone repression and then emerged from it” is uncanny, and that “everything that is uncanny fulfils this condition”, the reverse is far from true: “Not everything that fulfils this condition … is therefore uncanny.”18 He cites the case of fairy tales, in which strange occurrences and supernatural incidents abound, but which he yet “cannot think of any genuine fairy-story which has anything uncanny about it”;despite that fact that “it is in the highest degree uncanny when inanimate objects—a picture or a doll—come to life; nevertheless in Hans Anderson’s stories the household utensils, furniture and tin soldiers are alive and nothing could perhaps be more remote from the uncanny.”Freud attributes this to what Coleridge termed the “suspension of disbelief”, since “in fairy-tales, for instance, the world of reality is left behind from the very start, and the animistic system of beliefs is frankly adopted”, and that “there are many more means of creating uncanny effects in fiction than there are in real life.”It is, in other words, context (here a literary or imaginative one) from which the uncanny may be said to derive much of its meaning, a framework in which the necessary circumstances may be articulated to generate the desired effect. Super Nova, as such, seeks to be understood within a particular discursive space, or within a set of discursive terms—if the image of the mushroom may be read as anthropomorphic, then the point/s of departure against which it is to be measured are not merely its counterparts of Dob in the Strange Forest, but the normative human body as well. The mutated appearance of the large mushroom, limbless, sinister and menacing—a dark red fluid of some sort may be seen to ooze from behind the creature’s fangs—reflects the fear of disfigurement, dismemberment, and of death, embodied in images of the immediate aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki produced by survivors. Most of these drawings emphasize not just the annihilation of the landscape, its transformation into a charred, blackened wasteland, but, to a greater extent, graphic depictions of the extreme violence enacted on the human body predominate, pictures of victims both dead and (barely) alive, a visual inventory of severed body parts, missing appendages, gruesome disfigurations: in one may be seen a woman “with her jaw missing and her tongue hanging out of her mouth”; another portrays “a stark naked man standing in the rain with his eyeball in his palm”;there is a watercolour of a single hand, missing the tips of 4 fingers: “… (it) was lifted to the sky and the fingers were burning with blue flames. The fingers were shortened to one-third and distorted. A dark liquid was running to the ground …” A drawing of the corpse of his wife as he found her on the morning of August 11, 1945, by one Fusataro Tanimine, both describes and itemizes the condition she was in: “1. She looked just like a ghost because her eyelids were badly burned and swollen. 2. Her lips, swollen and protruding, made her mouth look like a monkey’s. 3. Although she was under mosquito netting, the skin of her whole burned body on which maggots were breeding had the appearance of the crust of a crab.”One sketch simply shows the bloodied figure of an old (or bald) man dressed in a white robe wandering about a corpse-strewn scene, arms hanging limply down in front, in the manner of a revenant.
Takashi Murakami, Puka Puka
It is in these grotesque, mutilated figures that one may perhaps locate the seeds of the “uncanny” in Super Nova, for, to quote Freud quoting his predecessor in this area, E. Jentsch, “(he) has taken as a very good instance “doubts whether an apparently animate being is really alive; or, conversely, whether a lifeless object might not in fact be animate”… Jentsch says: “In telling a story, one of the most successful devices for easily creating uncanny effects is to leave the reader in uncertainty whether a particular figure in the story is a human being or an automaton …”The “ghost”-ly, or otherwise un-human, aspect of the representations is worth nothing in this regard, and Freud, in Totem and Taboo, offers numerous explanations as to the cause of the belief, both among “primitive” and “civilized” races, of the demonization of the dead, why the deceased are often perceived to be antagonistic towards their living brethren, returning in various unearthly guises to harass and harm. Freud writes: “…originally, however, the dead were all vampires who bore ill-will to the living, and strove to harm them and deprive them of life. It was the corpse that first furnished the conception of an evil spirit (italics mine).”His recognition of a visual source for the belief in demons and the undead strike a particular chord here, a belief encoded in the distinctly dehumanized figures of the zombified man, the jaw-less woman with her red, lolling tongue, the man with his eyeball in his palm, the crab-skinned corpse with the monkey lips and lidless, blood-shot eyes, and, in the same vein, the mutated image of Super Nova—the eyed, toothed, frighteningly large mushroom-form, with blood perhaps dripping from its maw, an almost convincing portrait of otherworldly voracity.
Ryuji Ikeda, Data.matrix (no. 1-10) [snippet]
Kiichiro Adachi, e.e.no.24 [snippet]