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.
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