Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Shoujo, Revisiting

I'm aware of how obnoxious that picture is, but I'm signaling my reentry into the fineart-manga-verse.

I'm studying up on shoujo manga, hoping to incorporate it into some of my new paintings, experimenting with screentones, reading a lot of Riyoko Ikeda.

Stay tuned.

But not too tuned. No timetable yet.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Western Sensibilities through Anime Object

Or Animé used in Fine Art (Present)

Animé, with
its own very heavy stereotypes and stigmas, is sometimes used as a tool by an artist. It avoids being the content by serving something loftier and more abstract. Its success hinges on assuming what the West recongnizes as "animé-ness" and what its implications are. The use of animé in the art can be mocking, or it can be of reverence to the media.

Pierre Huyghe and Phillipe Parenno's Ann Lee Project is well known for doing this. They purchased a retired animé character cel/design from a Japanese clearinghouse for $428, named her Ann Lee, and used her to create the collaborative exhibition "No Ghost, Just a Shell." Her visage became rendered in a wide variety of mediums, including CG 3D, animation, paintings, prints, posters, wallpapers, a neon light sculpture, and even fireworks. While the subject used was an animé character, and the title even referenced a well-known animé movie, the content has nothing to do with animé.

The work was about ownership and identity. Who was this girl, and what personality were they providing for her? What history? Who owns her? Ann Lee was a character with no name and no story, and now she was at the whims of fourteen artists, bought and used like a labor slave. They questioned the illegality of artistic deviations and modifications. When people are invited to change a character, who has no predetermined personality, to their own liking, is it their personality they're filling it with?

Animé only provided the subject, and people could view the work without any understanding of animé. This is directly opposite of the final kind of a
nimé art, the work that is very much about anime in both subject and content.

(Personally, I was not impressed by the project. I think the premise got a lot of hype, but in the end there was very little good looking work, and the message, while STATED a lot, didn't quite come through for me.)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Anime Sensibilities through Fine Art Object

Or "Anime Revered Through Fine Art" (Past)
First, I'd like to talk about anime-style art gaining Fine-art status through legitimization.

Let's say that an artist is someone who groups things in order to create connections and new feelings and ideas. The past few years have seen an explosion in American comic and comic memorabilia exhibitions in the US. Galleries have staged numerous exhibits of actual comic artifacts, such as storyboards, original pages, and toys. As you can guess, the same has happened for manga.

In a Duchampian "If it's in the Gallery, it is art," manner, when the west puts your illustrations in a gallery, they supposedly gain the "importance" of fine art. But do they have to be something more than illustrations first?
Exhibitions like "Shoujo Manga:Girl Power" or "How Manga Took Over the World," seek to make fine art out of collections of memorabilia to talk about a social history. What does Shoujo Manga, as a trend, mean as cultural phenomena? What is the effect of Manga on the world? When you put all of Osamu Tezuka's work in one gallery, what is he saying about Japan and Culture? These questions, or rather, the answers generated by their respective exhibitions, are the work of art. The actual discreet objects never shake their "low art" status, but together, they add up to "high art."

So, manner number one in which animé-style art becomes fine art: Group it for Examination as a Cultural Phenomenon.

The only related exhibition I was able to attend was "Masters of American Comics" at the Jewish Museum New York. It examined comics artifacts from the 1950's onward. It was fascinating, as it depicted a change in American values, tastes, and tolerances over the years, as well as allowed for an appreciation of the individual comic artist's skills. It included work by Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Harvey Kurtzman, R. Crumb, Gary Panter, and Chris Ware.

Image Credits:
Both photos from the Tour of "Shoujo Manga: Girl Power" at http://www.csuchico.edu/~mtoku/vc/Exhibitions/girlsmangaka/girlsmangaka_index.html

Animé in Fine Art: Introduction

All around the world, (I'm venturing a guess here) hundreds of thousands of people, young and old, are making "animé-styled art." Now, while I understand that there are many different styles of animé, for this lecture to proceed we have to agree that there is such a thing as animé-style: work that bears stylistic influences by Japanese animation.
From the Japanese mangaka industry professionals, to
aspiring German mangaka, to the American hobbyist or illustrator, we are inundated with animé-styled art as it pervades as a legitimate art influence in our cartoon shows, media, and even packaging and marketing. As animé and animé-style gradually emerges as a cultural phenomenon, it becomes a subject of serious discourse. When one tries to examine the effect of something (animé) on a culture (ours), we turn to the artists and writers, who take the topic and translate it into something we can react to: Words and Pictures.

I'm going to talk about the pictures.

It's not uncommon nowadays to find an animé character on the wall of a gallery somewhere in the United States. But with all the animé-styled art in the world, how does an animé-themed work of art avoid being just a niche style or fad? How is animé used in intelligent social discourse through art?

I propose three main sorts of methods by which animé finds itself part of the fine art world,
progressing to shorten the distance between anime-styled art— and fine art about animé.

For Fun, the following was my original Outline for the lecture. Since my audience is probably a younger crowd, I decided to make it a little simpler. In the end, I like these headings better.

1. Anime Sensibilities through Fine Art Object
-Yoshitaka Amano
-Osamu Tezuka
-Shoujo and Manga Exhibitions
"Shoujo Manga, Girl Power!"
"How Manga took over the world."

2. Western Sensibilities through Anime Object
-Pierre Hyuhe
Ann Lee Project

3. Cultural Sensibilies though Anime Objects
-Chinatsu ban
- Takashi Murakami

Image Credit
Left:"Animé Style"by me, Right: "Anime Art"
V by Mr. (His name is simply "Mr.") See him here.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Anime in Fine Art: Past, Present, Future

I'm almost done writing my lecture for Fourth of July weekend at Portcon Maine.
Heres the jist.

In the western world, "Animé art" is a thing, but it's wholly removed from "Fine Art." "Animé Art" often refers to a style- animé styled art- functional in the massive leagues of amateur (and sometimes professional) mangaka, fanartists, and cartoonists. But there are numerous examples of animé appearing in fine art and fulfilling a role much greater than simply being "animé style."
I group them into three categories: Animé revered through Fine Art (Past), Animé used in Fine Art (Present), and Animé as Fine Art (Future).

Animé revered through Fine Art (Past)
Over the years, in the West, Animé has gained status as a legitimate art form. In turn, those marked as pioneers and champions of the medium come to be revered and honored, and their memorabilia, through their cultural value, attain the status of artwork. In a Duchampian "If it's in the Gallery, it is art," manner, when the west puts your illustrations in a gallery, they gain the "importance" of fine art.

Animé used in Fine Art (Present)
Animé, with its own very heavy stereotypes and stigmas, is sometimes used as a tool by an artist. It avoids being the subject by serving something loftier and more abstract. Its success hinges on assuming what the West recongnizes as "animé-ness" and what its implications are. The use of animé in the art can be either mocking or of reverence to the media.

Animé as Fine Art (Future)
Finally, there has been no shortage of late of artists using Fine Art to examine Animé, making Animé the unabashed subject of their work. A new school of Japanese artists in particular are declaring the implications and meanings of their native medium. Through work that emulates not only the style, but the spirit of anime, they call for the accountability of the culture and visuality of Otaku and Animé.

In My Work, I seek to approach animé as I know it: though Western eyes, and a fan's eyes.
I would fall then in group two, treating animé as a phenomenon of the present and using it as an aspect, not a subject, of my work. But I also seek to treat it with a mature reverence that goes beyond the animé stereotypes and draws on the aspects of the medium that have effected me, including the roles of females, the visual style of opening themes, and the visual flatness of color.

If you're in the New England Area, I recommend checking out Portcon Maine, a Four-Day Animé and Gaming Festival in Portland, Maine, July 3-6, 2008. My lecture will be on Friday, July 4 at 10 AM.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Murakami is Awesome 1 of 3: Superflat

I finally understand Superflat.

It's one of his older focuses, and pervades in the work even now. Since three years ago when I first laid my hands on his Superflat book, I had an idea of what he was getting at, but never fully understood it until I saw his work in person. Namely, his "flower" pieces are what made it click.

In his (c) exhibition, Murakami has a room dedicated to his happy, flashy, symbolic beauties. The wall is papered with bright flowers, and on the back wall is "Kawaii! Vacances d'ete" (2002). This six-paneled acrylic took up the entirety of the wall, but three moments caught my eye:

The flowers exist in three positions. Front, 3/4, and side. This is superflat. Even the 3/4 flower that may be assumed is dimensional is necessarily flat. It is as if the flower, drawn from he top view, was distorted on a computer. It is also as if an order and purity of position must be maintained in this world of flowers, as in the society in which he dwells.

Murakami was classically trained in nihonga Painting from Tokyo's National University of Fine Art and Music, and this image paired with that information made it apparent what Superflat meant.

Compare Murakami's flowers to these representation of Umé (Japanese Plum Blossoms) in Japanese Crests:

Here the formula remains the same. Umé are shown from strictly three positions: top, side, and beneath. In classical Japanese painting, this formula is never breached.

Murakami stresses that Superflat is not only a visual quality that pervades Japanese culture, but is also a cultural quality that is uniquely Japanese. He expresses the desire to show the pervasion of Superflat in the past as well as the present. So he represents Superflat in two ways, the representation of flowers in only a few angles, and the distortion of flowers in an illusionistically three-dimensional way. I think that the two are the past and present representations of the same Superflat. Modern and brighter, but the same Superflat.

What exactly does Superflat mean culturally? I'm not Japanese, there's not much I can say to it. It could speak to social and gender roles in Japan and their limited flexibility. To vapid, empty marketing. To a lot of things.

Below is the painting of an Umé branch that I based my Umé animation off of. It maintains the formula visually. But what does it maintain in the history of a national style?

1. "FlowerBall Blood (3-D) V," Takashi Murakami
2. Detail of "Kawaii! Vacances d'ete," Takashi Murakami
3. Book, "Family Crests of Japan." Stone Bridge Press, Berkeley, CA, 2007.
4. Book, "A Grammar of Japanese Ornament and Design," Thomas W. Cutter. Dover Publications, Mineola, NY, 2003.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Brief (c) Murakami Review

I finally got my rear down to Brookyn to see the (c) Murakami show at the Brooklyn Museum of Art this weekend. And it was everything I'd hoped for and more.

His work is, above all, high in craft and a pleasure to view. The sculptures are phenomenal in monumental vision, his paintings breathtaking in technical execution. The curation of the exhibition was absolutely top notch, and particularly of note is a connecting room filled with white shadowboxes displaying all of his small marketed memorabilia.

Additionally, the exhibition book (it is not at all a mere catalog, it is much more than that) is fantastic. Big, beautifully printed, and featuring all of his work in the exhibition and more as well as pages and pages of essays, it is a must-purchase for the Murakami enthusiast.

Finally, the exhibition sports a feature with which you call call a phone number and make comments on pieces in the exhibition to be featured in the audio guide, a really interesting bit of interactivity that encourages the viewer to think critically about the pieces.

Go visit the show. If you miss it, you will regret it.

Upcoming are three entries about major aspects of his work. Stay tuned.

Friday, May 16, 2008

I'm a "Female Cowboy", Not a "Cowgirl"

An important part of my thesis project was the title of the "Cowboy" piece.

If a studiomate passed by and mentioned something about the "cowgirl," I would have to correct them— it was important that the subject was a girl playing the part of the male cowboy, not the female version of the profession. There were "cowgirls" in existance. And that is not what I was representing.

Two of my favorite animé in the whole wide world are Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon and Shoujo Kakumei Utena, and I've mentioned them before. They both had prominent female characters assuming male roles, and not merely the female version of those roles.

Looking to Sailor Moon first, I'm going to talk about Sailor Uranus. Her alter ego, Haruka Tenoh, was a race car driver. She was not a female race car driver, she was a male race car driver that was female. It makes sense to me at least, so bear on. I'm not sure if there were female drivers in japan sixteen years ago, (I doubt it) but if there were, thats not what Haruka was. It helped that she was actually happy to lead others to believe she was male, which many did.

Five years later, and under the same director, was male-uniform clad, pink haired Utena Tenjou. Utena wanted to be a prince. Straight up, no messing around. Her mission was much louder than Haruka's. Haruka seemed to want to live the male life quietly with her partner, while Utena made much more of a statement about equality and rights and saving others and the whole nine yards or it. If she wasn't enough, the series also included Juri Arisugawa, the lesbian of the series who had a quieter existence like Haruka.

I thought the concept was pretty cool, the female being a male character, thus my sincere desire to see Takarazuka Revue one day. I don't think I quite understood it until recently, though, when I thought about what the cowboy character represented.

Perhaps this is about the difference between being a transexual and a transvestite. In the end, Haruka was living the life of a man, and Utena was living the role of a prince (though to be honest I think she identifies as female. Utena is set in damned near an alternate universe so the rules are a bit hazy.) Growing up, I thought that female animé characters dressed in male clothes was freaking awesome, but I don't intend to just wear male clothes in my pieces, I plan to play the male. And for that Haruka is pretty much the best inspiration ever.

Top, Haruka Tenoh ; middle, Anthy and Utena ; Michiru and Haruka.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Super Sentai And His Children

Animé has a history of color coded teams. Voltron. Sailor Moon. Rayearth. Some may immediatly recognize the origins as "Super Sentai Series."

Short definition: Power Rangers.

Long Definition:
Super Sentai was a series of tokusatsu shows. Tokusatsu, meaning "special effects" applies to the genre of Japanese films including the monster movies like Godzilla and the hero movies such as Kamen Rider and Ultraman. Scale models, pyrotechnics, outrageous costumes, and transformation sequences all constitute the genre. Super Sentai is the "team" type series that we are most familiar with through Bandai/Saban's Power Rangers. Approximately five recurring characters, each assigned a color, and sometimes also an element, a specific type of power or prowess, and of course, a part of a Zord. I mean, giant robot mech. Silly me.

I want to talk about the appeal of Sentai genre. Primarily: market brilliance. I'm going to use Sailor Moon as my case study because I know more about it than Voltron.

In a single-hero story, your hero has a hair color, body type, and disposition. Often a characteristic that makes him a hero: often physical strength, possibly for some kind of magic, perhaps an important destiny. What if you had a choice?

Thats what Sentai gives you. Sailor Moon is the kindhearted klutz. If the show was just about a kindhearted klutz that fights for love and justice... yeah, that would be great, and its certainly been done. But instead, you get five heroines. A klutz, a brain, a toughie, an idol, and a priestess. Two long-haired blondes, a short and long brunette, and a long black haired one. A Pisces, a Leo, a Virgo... the point is that now there are numerous routes of sympathization. I happened to be an Aquarian questioning my sexuality and my gender role. Woh, so was Sailor Uranus.

"That character is just like me," she says. More types, more options, more chances to find a story about you.

The "team" theme is much more diluted now, but its fair to say its an animé staple. Fushigi Yuugi is an example of a team that isn't so Sentai. No colors or robots, but distinct roles and personalities. Consider harem anime/game: will you choose the girl next store, the lolita, the kemonomimi, the glasses-type, or your sister? Oi.

My current work references Animé openings that flash a sequence of characters or personas on screen, as in the beginning of New Cutey Honey, or later in Neon Genesis Evangelion (skip to 1:11), and especially in Sailor Moon (2nd R opening here, try skipping to 34 seconds in.)

Sigh. If I may, I remember being excited that in Sailor Moon S Series, there were two opening theme animations. The first not including Sailor Uranus and Neptune because they hadn't been identified in teh series yet, and then they appeared in the seconds version of the opening once they were introduced. Neat.

Originally the piece was focused more on The Cutey Honey/Transformation Pen aspect: you can have lots of costumes and skills. But I'd be lying if this work isn't a little about Super Sentai.

I wonder if I should or should not mention Bokutachi Wa Yami Ja Nai here, but an ongoing side project with the fine folks at Neko-Jin Designs is an attempt to force as many animé character stereotypes into a BL type comic of that title. It has three main characters that eventually allude to a group of five, represented by each element. So there you go. Its an on-again, off again project, not on the front burner right now, but shows up once and a while (like in the last post.)

See my "Animé opening" animation here. (Links to a MOV file.)

Animé Style and the Disgruntled Affected

An associate of mine recently blogged about how much she hated being told that she drew "manga" or "animé." She's much like me in that she is an American and that her illustrations are highly influenced by Japanese animation and comic book styles.

This got me thinking on it means when they say: "You draw animé."

Knowing the Japanese etymology of "animé" myself, saying that someone draws "animé" doesn't make any sense. "Animé" is just a shortened version of "Animation" (in Japan pron. Ahn-EE-may-shun), which, as you can probably tell, is an appropriated English word. In Japan, "Animé" refers to any animation, regardless of national origin.

But I think it's safe to say that the word "animé" has not just a different connotation, but an entirely different definition in English. Animé, as an English term, refers to any illustrated work with visible influence by the culturally Japanese animation style.

And before I get the "But Japanese comics come in LOTS of styles, look at XXX, or XXX!" I'd like to point out that this assertion is valid because the style is distinguishable. Even in those of us who try to make art "not look like animé anymore." Non-animé fans can look at a drawing and tell it was influenced by animé, even if the artist is both American and highly respected, IE Tech Jacket by E.J. Su or anything and eveything by Adam Warren.

Young, naïve Americans have created "portflios" of copied batman drawings just as they copy Japanese manga drawings today. The reason all manga influenced styles are lumped together is becuase most Americans do not have a cultural connect to it, therefore, don't know how to access it except as one style type.

If animé was accepted in American culture as a proper, intelligent discourse, in which we distingush the Japanese "animé" and the english "animé", this "You draw animé" thing would be invalid as saying "You draw Marvel." Am I wrong?

The problem, beyond the cultural disconnect to the style, is the iconography. Among the "Animé art" community, theres a pervasiveness of use of Japanese symbols and words. The "sweat drops", "tension knots", "bleeding noses" and "sigh clouds" are symbols that are completely recognizable in Japan and to American animé fans, but not part of the American iconography. As such, they are dead giveaways of the animé style influence. See Blue Monday by Chynna Clugston-Major. She's also guilty of slipping a few Japanese words in there, such as "baka," which will confuse the hell out of any American who doesn't know the otaku lexicon. These references speak only to the American otaku audience, not to the rest. So there you are.

Well, this article has spiraled out of control. But the point is, I think animé is on the verge of becoming a valid member of american culture. The Comics Journal articles mention animé on a regular basis, because it pervades in comic culture. Also a part of fine art culture now, and possible the rest to follow, will we have to worry about who draws "animé art" anymore? Or will we finally have to consider who draws "good animé art" and "bad animé art" instead?

I think Space Coyote understands. And the world understands Space Coyote. Actually identified as Nina Matsumoto, illustrator, she created the internet phenomenon at the top of this article, the "Simpsonzu." If anyone can be accused of making "Animé art" AND being damned successful at it, it is her. Check her out at http://www.spacecoyote.com/

Top: "Simpsonzu" by Nina Matsumoto. How animé style is commercially successful in America when the connotations are fully comprehended.
Right: Illustration for "Bokutachi wa Yami Ja Nai" by Kori Michele Handwerker. Yes, they have nostrils, but don't I know its animé styled? I sure do.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

(C)Murakami: I'm a little scared

So I'm chomping at the bit here, anxiously awaiting the moment I'm free enough from this graduating thing to go to Brooklyn to see (c) Murakami. While in New England these four years, I've only been privileged to see one of his works, a Vuitton x Murakami wallpaper-painting that was, in fact, exquisite and poignent. Naturally, I'm obsessed with his work because it speaks to "Otaku" as a cultural asset and defining force of Japanese culture. I also think that hes very important to American art because he showing us the force that Otaku culture holds, as well as the threat it implies.

But as his work and his exhibitions develop, I'm getting a wave of dread... something I'm not confident to confirm or deny until I've seen the exhibition. The Louis Vuitton shop in the middle of the show? Are you trying to validate, or elevate Otaku Phenomenon? If that attempt doesn't crash into failure, should we be worried? Could it be that this phenomenon is actually going to amount to vengeance for the atomic bomb atrocities? Gah, what does it mean!?

I'm only scribbling now in between writing papers, so please excuse the speculations. But backing down now...

I hope My Lonesome Cowboy (see right) will be there, but I fear not since the Museum page only lists Hiropon. I can't wait to see the big red DOB too. But My Lonesome Cowboy is pure genius, and I think the most important piece he's ever done. It speaks to the idea that the animé we know now is about Japan reasserting it's strength (read: manhood) in the face of demilitarization by America.

(c) Murakami will be running April 5–July 13, 2008 at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in Morris A. and Meyer Schapiro Wing and Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Gallery, 4th and 5th Floors.

I suggest art students interested in the show take a look at the great slideshow of installation shots on the Museum Website:

Essays on Animé

While my blogging hiatus grows on account of my preparation for graduation, I've been doing a little reading in between the writing, photgraphing, and installing. Japanese Visual Culture: Explorations in the World of Manga and Animé is a collection of essays about the relation of animé to culture. Its a good read, and convenient when you have little precious moments to keep a book on your lap.

Heres a couple of sentences from "Opening the Closed World of Shoujo Manga" by Mizuki Takahashi about what "shoujo" means. It was shocking to me but makes the genre so much more sensical:

"Usually glossed with the English word "girl," the term shoujo specifically indicates a young woman who is not allows to express her sexuality. While a shoujo may be sexually mature physically, she is socially considered sexually immature and is therefore identifiable as neither male nor female."

That shoujo refers to a sexually immature condition, rather than an age or gender, makes a lot of sense.

The history that follows this passage is amazing and quite scary. I reccommend anyone interested in the history of the genre read this essay.

An exciting exhibition came and went in the past couple of years called Shoujo Manga: Girl Power! That is worth investigating if you're interested in the art related to the genre.

Another week or so and I'll be back in action. Thanks for reading!

Monday, March 31, 2008

Yuri: Girls Love and Identity

There are a number of theories people have to explain what we paint. A professor told me she heard that "We all paint what we think are the conditions during the big bang." Another artist said "We paint to replace all the things we hate in the world." But here's what I've been contemplating: What if all the work we do is really about our first love?

It would be an eerily accurate theory in the case of the work I do.

First, a briefing about "Yuri."

Yuri (or shoujo-ai) refers to any variation of girl's relationships in manga or animé. It can be sisterly love, romantic love, or sexual love. Often many of the above.

Yuri is literature with content about females, created by females for females to enjoy (in contrast to its more popular sibling, Yaoi, which is content about males, but also created by females for females to enjoy.) The content's relationship to the author and viewer is different. Nowadays, there's a lot of Yuri created by males for males (its only a natural progression) but that's not the Yuri we're going to talk about.

That said, this is going to be a wierd Freudian post about my past relationships and how they stuck with me. And animé. Just so you know.

My first love was a girl. She was my best friend from grade 2 until grade 9, and I thought we would be together forever. A cliché "ha, why would we ever get married? We have each other!"
But she had some emotional problems, which I tended to blame on her family, that ended our relationship in a messy separation. Said separation affected me for the rest of my life. Did I mention that this girl introduced me to animé? Yeah, that.

I felt an extraordinary guilt throughout my high school years because part of me thought I had failed her. I hadn't been able to fix her emotional problems, so the logical step was to keep trying to fix the emotional shortcomings of every girl I could get close to. My repeated attachments to needy girls led to my assumption that I was a lesbian, which proved untrue after I got to college. It also led to repeated heartache and stress.

Animé is jam-packed with both the lesbian role models that I desired in high school, as well as the innocent and unreserved grade-school female relationships that resonated with my middle school days. I have an eternal allegiance to Haruka Tenoh, also known as Sailor Uranus, from the Sailor Moon series. She is a transvestite, with a female partner. She is tough, with a low voice, and does the things that boys do. Revolutionary Girl Utena took over where Uranus left off, adding multiple layers to the "girl acting out the male role," by overlapping the insecurities, changes in adolescence, and layers of sexuality to the main character. Also loss, deciet, obsession, and confusion. Utena was more than an icon, she was a biography.

The other half of it is the stuff that isn't so heavy: The school age love between little girls who are best friends. The younger ones may see this in Cardcaptor Sakura, which is genius, I think, because it also addresses loss (the friend in love looks on quietly as the other moves on to have a boyfriend.) But the roots are in Shiroi Heya no Futari and later expanded on in the genre-stronghold Maria Sama ga Miteru.

What brought Yuri in to my studio as a considerable topic was a show I recently started watching called Gakuen Alice. The main characters are, in fact, elementary-grade girls who have an unbreakable bond of friendship. Yuri isn't the main content: it's about a magic school of sorts, and conspiracy, and angst, but the handling of the Yuri content is so refreshing because it isn't your standard "come to terms with your feelings, confess, yay now we're gay," story. It is assumed already that they're bonded for life, and then the rest of the story goes on after that. The same goes for two young boys in the series, who are shown to have a "dream" regarding them living happily ever after on a farm far away from everyone. Sigh.

I'm happily taken by a male now (It was harder to tell my parents I wasn't actually a lesbian than it was coming out in the first place) but that whole experience is still a part of me. The stories that move me the most are of girls who are best friends who have to separate. There is something very special about it. About realities. Heartache. Growing up. Very much a part of my identity.

The "girl team" has always popped in and out of my work. It manifests itself in a number of ways and comes down to this: there is something uniquely beautiful about two women or girls who can love and rely on one another unconditionally. I know it.

After The identity series, I'm considering doing a body of work about pairs of young girls and animé. I've been looking into Takashi Murakami's studio, Kai Kai Kiki Co., and how those artist's personal histories are informing their animé-themed work. The trick for me is, their work is informed by animé in Japanese culture; my work will be informed by animé in American culture. Very different.

Question: I've always wondered. Does Yuri, as a medium, affect Japanese Society? Do these great stories about butch, tough, or even simply audible women inspire anyone? Has Yuri effected your identity as a woman or girl?

Visit Okazu: Here
A great source for terminology, history, and literature about Yuri and Yuri awareness in America.

Top: Mikan and Hotaru from Gakuen Alice (Magazine scan)
Bottom: Kori Michele, photo from "A Storyboard?" Installation

Animé's Multiple Personality Disorder

I love animé. It was my adolescent companion. That thing I enjoyed with my middle school friends. When I'm asked, "how did you get into animé?" I'm inclined to reply, "Well, how did you get into watching football?" It's no mystery. It's entertainment.
The truth is, it started with Pokémon. I was in middle school, so that was okay. It was first a game boy video game, and I found that there was a corresponding TV show. The storytelling is nothing earth shattering— it's an episodic cartoon, this I know. But at age, what, 13? Every episode was "to be continued," the characters developed and changed. And I'm not gonna lie: "GOTTA CATCH 'EM ALL." Enough said. What young teenager can resit the allure of collecting?
I was hooked. With animé, you don't have a single protagonist to identify with. You get a slew of personalities, many times in teams, each possessing a different skill set or disposition. The smart viewer could identify with the brainy character. The brawny kid with the muscly character, and so on. Sailor Moon bashes this archetype into our skulls, Power Rangers may be the most recognized example of this phenomenon. I claim to real knowledge into how this system got started, perhaps that's for another day.
Back to Pokémon, factor two was the internet. Pokémon was my springboard into the heart of the animerican animé culture: the world wide web. I found forums, fanfiction, image galleries. Instant community, instant common interest. On top of that, my talent was drawing. Here on this magical web, I could draw animé characters and be instantly gratified by praise from people who like the style. Whats not to love?
Animé gets a bad rep for a lot of reasons. What they are exactly, I couldn't tell you, maybe I'm too in love to see it totally objectively, but people sneer when you say you like animé. No Lie. But is animé any different than any other mass media? Movies: They can be good, bad, and terrible. Know it all fans. Fanfiction. Forums. Idiots. Same for comic books. Bollywood. You name it, theres a culture of addicts and the good, bad and ugly. Yes, some animé is bad. You know what, lots of animé is bad. Cause you know why? Lots of things are bad too.

Now, I did the "anime art" thing, and I won't knock it. I love drawing fanart, and animé style comics. But I feel like I'm just owning my childhood. Have you rewatched the Little Mermaid, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles lately? Played Super Mario on the SNES or Sonic the Hedgehog on the Genesis? If so, don't be a jerk to animé fans. If not, why not?

Is this nostalgia? Is nostalgia okay to make art about? Is nostalgia "just" nostalgia? I don't know.

So I did the animé art thing. Right? Right. No shame. But art school taught me, right away, that "animé art" is bad and has no place in the fine art world (this was 2004, Little Boy would not come to New York for another year.) This was fair, I thought, as I was starting to realize the implications of "animé art": Instant gratification, and in a group with a specific interest. The animé world is a microcosm, where you can be good at "animé art" but step outside of it and no one knows what you're on about. You're not Japanese. What are you doing?

I had hoped to find a way to reconcile animé and "fine art," but having no luck early on, I went about the fine art training per normal, weaning myself off "animé style" along the way. I went three years systematically denying animé in my studio, with the occasional pang of guilt.
But sure enough, my answers are slowly coming to me. By now, there are others in the field who are using animé intelligently in the fine arts. They are making the connections. My big tip offs were Pierre Huyghe and Takashi Murakami. Instead of approaching animé as a fan, they approach it as members of the society animé affects. Tru fax.
This is my tactic. Animé is slowly coming back to my studio in a new form. Not in style, but in content. I'm stoked.

Image: Pierre Huyghe, poster from "No Ghost Just a Shell"

Question: What animé was your springboard into the internet animé culture? And how old are you? Come on, you remember your first message board. Fanfic? You know.

Identity II: The Transformation Pen

So there's this phenomenon in animé where the heroine has the ability to "transform" into different roles. Sailor Moon(1992) had the Transformation Pen (Henshou Pen). Depending on what the situation called for, she could become a university student, waitress, doctor, etc. Whatever was necessary for her to complete her "mission." It was pretty cool, she would get a uniform, new hair, and whatever equipment she needed to be convincing. Another well known transformer is Cutey Honey/Flash(1973 +). Wicked sex object (with apt title considering she "flashes" the entire audience by stripping naked to transform), Honey becomes a biker, photographer, singer, and other things that, at first consideration, leaves you wondering what the practicality of those forms could possibly be.
In my studio, "Identity" has been a big word. I have lots of wigs, costumes, and accessories that pop up in my portraits, leading to the comparison to Cindy Sherman, a relationship I won't deny. Sherman is well known for her "Film Stills": photographs in which she assumes female movie stereotypes with shocking poignancy. The word "disguise" comes up, and that is a word that I battle. "Disguise" sounds so treacherous . And I am no way in the business of deceit or lies. Honesty is a huge proponent of my studio and lifestyle, so how does one mix costumes that are apparently "disguises" with the mission of "honesty?"

When the concept of the transformation pen popped up (While Watching Re: Cutie Honey, an amazing remake by studio Gainex) things made some sense. Maybe I'm not pretending to be different characters. Maybe I'm just dressing up. Maybe I'm the same character in different outfits, not trying to fool anyone into thinking I'm actually a cowboy or a superhero. They become many aspects of ONE identity, rather than separate identities. I'm one character in many costumes, not many characters! Painting is my transformation pen, giving me access to different aspects of my media heritage. It sounds cheesy, I know, but let's roll with it. These are pictures of Kori playing dress up, not of an alter-ego.

I'd like to think I'm owning these roles. But from what angle? I'm a far cry from Cindy Sherman, but maybe we've got more in common than I thought.

Question: Help me out, what are some more animés that include a phenomenon like the "Transformation Pen?"

Image Top: Naoko Takeuchi, Sailor Moon Transformation Pen. Bottom: Kori Michele, Drawing with Blue Wig 2
Image Credit:http://kira.dyndns.dk/SailorMoon/SM_NQS_Item_Manga.htm

Tranformation3 of 4: The Ninja

My latest body of work consists of four Identity Aspects. Here's number 3.

This is a post about Ninjas. Not real "Historical" ninjas, but the fake ones. The ones in all black that we know.

Pretty much anyone who thinks ninjas are cool knows that "real" ninjas didn't look like the pop culture ninja we know today. What you may not know is how or why the ninja became so different. Or that it wasn't the Americans who were responsible for the change, it was the Japanese. So there. Not our fault this time.

Back in the feudal days, there was some indication that stealthy mercenaries were being hired for assassinations. But the actual involvement of "ninja" is hazy. There is no indication that any important figure was actually successfully killed by a ninja, and if fact, there is little period documentation referring to the ninja at all. Ninja became popular much later and were inserted into history in post. Ninja, even as a term, was an Edo-era invention. Legendary figures with any period unaccounted for turned into "Oh, they must have been a ninja." But that still doesn't explain their current image.
The truth seems to be that an all black getup is completely conspicuous, and there are better ways to camoflage at night. So there is zero practicality is dressing in all black. The deal? Kabuki theater. As ninja tales became more popular, they because showing up in Kabuki. But the puzzle was in how to incorporate a character that was supposed to be invisible. Simple: the already available prop handlers. Stage hands, even in the west, wear all black on stage to signify that they are invisible to the audience. So what a surprise for them when one of those "invisible" stage hands breaks out and assassinates a participating character? Genius stuff! Apparently, the all-black image stuck, and Real Ultimate Power did the rest.

What does it have to do with me? This is a "cool" character again, that's the first allure. Stealthy, wild, rogue, skilled. Theres an aspect of the ninja thats been ingrained in animé, that the ninja are some kind of noble, live-by-your-own-standards-and-strength kinda people. But my claim is not to the stereotype, it's to the existence of the stereotype. The process of morphing the "real" ninja into its current form. That's the artist aspect of my identity.

Better information about Ninja reality: http://www.illuminatedlantern.com/cinema/archives/ninja.php

Image: Kori Michele, Ninja or Kabuki Stagehand, process photo.

Tranformation 2 of 4: Onmyoji

My latest body of work consists of four Identity Aspects. Here's number 2.

The time: the Heian Period of Japan, where man's emotions are believed to manifest as real demons. Onmyoji are practicioners of Onmyodo, or "Yin-Yang Magic," who temper them. They are distinguished figures from the Heian Era, like Arthurian court wizards. They were diviners of futures, star readers, consults, and exorcisers. They summoned spirits, slayed spirits, enacted helpful seals and dreadful curses. You can't tell me that they don't sound wicked cool!
They had a system of training, distinct costumes and accessories, and were trained to serve the Emporer in Kyoto. A particular figure, named Abe no Seimei (921-1005 AD), went down in history as the most famous Onmyoji. Son of fox Spirit Kuzu no Ha, he was said to see spirits at a young age, and the rest of his career is as shrouded in mystery and lengend as his mystical birth. This is Japan's Merlin.

My knowledge of Onmyoji comes from three places: the films, animé, and wikipedia. This is highly embarrassing, but the best I can do. What I do know about them thrills me.

But this— Heien era: a time when man's emotions are believed to manifest as real demons— is the important part. Real demons that need to be really exorcised. Taking ownership of ill feelings, and conquering them hypothetically in order to exorcise them actually. I love this concept. A woman is ditched by a man, and her jealousy consumes her and turns her into a demon. This demon assaults the man in question. Onmyoji gets to the bottom of this, exorcises the demon, woman turns to normal. The demon is the mode of communication.

Here's the scary part, the demon is still used as a mode of communication. People still kill, torture, and intimidate, but the demon is now hypothetical insead of seen as real. My impression is that the Heian Japanese did believe all this literally, and I'd be cool if we still did. The Onmyoji act as emotional doctors the relive the effects of painful feelings.

Maybe that's all a bit much, but this is the spiritual aspect of my identity. Still a little fuzzy, I'm going to sum it up with this, a quote from the film Onmyoji 1 starring Mansai Nomura as Abe no Seimei: "A spell is anything that binds someone, or their heart. The simplest form of a spell is a name. You are bound by the name "Minamoto no Hiromasa," just as you are bound by love." This is about seeing things as they really are: Words and emotions, things you can own and solve with your OWN strength.

Onmyoji are common folklore in Japan, and are common in animé. Find them in titles such as Tokyo Babylon, X/1999, Shounen Onmyoji, Abenobashi Magical Shopping Arcade, and a probable appearance in Spirited Away, just to name a few.

Question: Anyone know of any good informational books on Onmyoji?

Top: Frame 7 from Onmyoji animation, Kori Michele. Bottom: Still from film Onmyoji I.
Image Credit: http://www.dharmaflix.com/wiki/Onmyoji