Exhibition explores the multifaceted and eccentric universe that is Takashi Murakami's Superflat

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Exhibition explores the multifaceted and eccentric universe that is Takashi Murakami's Superflat
Installation view. Courtesy of the artists, Kaikai Kiki and Perrotin.

SEOUL.- Perrotin Seoul is presenting Healing, an exhibition of works –old and new– by Kaikai Kiki artists Takashi Murakami, Mr., MADSAKI, TENGAone, Kasing Lung, Aya Takano, Chiho Aoshima, Emi Kuraya, ob, Otani Workshop, Yuji Ueda and Shin Murata.

The exhibition explores the multifaceted and eccentric universe that is Takashi Murakami’s Superflat and the far-reaching and deep influence of Japanese ceramic arts in the context of Bubblewrap 1. Where in the West art is predicated on the differences between ‘highbrow’ and ‘lowbrow’ culture, ‘original’ and ‘derivative,’ ‘art’ and ‘commodity,’ Superflat establishes itself as an independent lineage of Japanese contemporary art that roots itself in anime and manga.

Takashi Murakami first coined the term in his examination of postwar Japanese society, where the boundary between traditional and contemporary culture was perceived to be ‘flat’. Past and present, original and derivative, highbrow culture and lowbrow culture merge as one in Superflat, subverting the discourse of Western conventional divisions and challenging their legacy in the contemporary art landscape with an idiosyncratic Japanese sensibility.

The radical affiliation and lack of distinction between post-war Japan’s fine arts and popular arts is strongly linked to otaku 2 culture. In its infantile and marginal existence, the world of otaku could be seen as similar to post-war Japanese society. This isolated world establishes one of fantasy, rooted in the need to overcome reality – a reality where otaku (as social outcasts) are excluded from mainstream society and its value systems.

The theme of alienation and/or disconnect is prevalent in the works of MADSAKI and TENGAone, although not themselves otaku. Both artists are heavily influenced by graffiti and use the medium to express the frustration and feeling of estrangement brought about by their bicultural identities.

In a Superflat world, the otaku becomes the true driver of contemporary culture by externalising his inner world. Mr. built his career on anime and videogame-like renditions of everyday Japanese girls. A true otaku, and the first of his kind, Mr. singlehandedly undid the stigma of producing artworks in an anime style: “For me, [my identification with otaku] was a matter of making anime and manga into art—this has not been done historically.”

Inheriting from Mr.’s legacy and as part of the new generation of artists who grew up in an environment where video games and social media have always been part of daily life, also known as Japan’s SNS generation, Emi Kuraya and ob, explore the dreamy filter of the feminine psyche through kawaii elements: sweet, saturated colour; cartoon-like forms; and overscaled heads with wide eyes and baby faces.

This intersection of reality and fantasy is an important dimension of Superflat that is perhaps best illustrated in the works of Chiho Aoshima and Aya Takano. Both artists present the viewer with fantastical worlds of a utopian nature. Aoshima’s liminal spaces are populated by female characters who are transformed into mountains and rivers, disguised as fairies or represented as living creatures in the natural world. This breakdown of the boundaries between humans and animals or plants, and between organic creatures and inanimate objects is echoed in Aya Takano’s oeuvre. The latter’s floating figures, unphased by the restrictions of gravity, are at one with the universe, conversing with other-worldly animals and plants. There is no hierarchy in either Aoshima or Takano’s work, all cohabitate in perfect harmony, all are equal, much like Superflat itself.

A new generation of Japanese ceramicists that Murakami dubs “radical artists”: Shin Murata, Yuji Ueda and Otani Workshop shed the principle of artisanal technique and adopt the posture of artists, pushing the boundary between ceramics and sculpture (or as Superflat would have it, between ‘commodity’ and ‘art’). Their unique pottery methods merge a respect for tradition and lineage with improvisation and experimentation, in a body of work informed by their love of nature and sustainable lifestyle.

Superflat focuses not only on contemporary art, but extends itself to contemporary ceramics. However, it is Bubblewrap, a term humorously coined 3 by Takashi Murakami to describe the interim period between Mono-ha and Superflat overlapping with Japan’s bubble economy, that best reflects the modern realm of ceramics. Indeed, the rise and maturation of ceramic art is juxtaposed with Japan’s Bubble Economy era. It is at this time that the “ceramics of modern life” appear. These ceramics represent a shift and new phase in the history of ceramics: their popularization. Ceramics thus become, like manga and anime, another popular art of post-war Japanese culture.

Healing illustrates the undeniable importance of Superflat and Bubblewrap in the contemporary art scene, disrupting the symbolic order of Western Art History. Incessantly moving between past, present and future, while mixing high culture and popular culture indiscriminately, is a “superflat” group of works devoid of prejudice or boundaries: a truly free expression of creativity.

1. “After Mono-ha, the next established art movement is Superflat, but that means the interim period overlapping the years of Japan’s economic bubble has yet to be named, and I think calling it “Bubblewrap” suits it well. It especially makes sense if you incorporate the realm of ceramics.” — Takashi Murakami

2. Otaku is a Japanese term for people with consuming interests, particularly in anime and manga. The otaku subculture began in the 1980s and continued to grow with the resignation of such individuals to become social outcasts and the expansion of the internet.

3. Bubblewrap is a word play on ‘bubble economy’ and ‘bubble wrap,’ the material used to wrap and protect ceramics. Takashi Murakami is suggesting bubble wrap is reflective of the Japanese aesthetic of appreciation of fragility and honorable poverty.

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