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.