Video projection mapping is an illusory phenomenon created by digitally projecting a computer-manipulated image or images onto a surface (or many) via light and projection system.
This surface chosen to be projected upon can be a flat object, like a wall, either indoor or out, or any other type of surface, although the type of surface will affect the nature of the image. The projection then changes the nature and meaning of the surface.
Many people might assume this technology might be fairly recent in its invention, dating to the time when cinema originated, but this is not quite so – it goes back much further.
As it happens, this type of visual art, closely related to cinema for obvious reasons, has been known of and practiced for centuries, with a magical effect that has not diminished over time.
Today it is not only alive with the help of new technologies designed to enhance its overall effect on the viewer, whatever that desired may be, but has reached new levels of ambition and power, where it can be used for a variety of purposes, across all strata, from advertising, to art advocating social change.
It could be said that projection mapping is among the largest and most impressive light displays next to fireworks that brings wonderment to people of all ages and beliefs, although it can also challenge beliefs as well.
But let’s go back to when video projection was born, with a creation known as a ‘magic lantern’…
The ‘Magic Lantern’
Before modern technology was created to assist with video projection, a magic lantern was built in 1659 by a Dutch scientist Christian Huygens, 200 years before photography was invented.
This device worked by using a concave mirror to direct light from a lamp onto a glass slide that had the picture (or more like a slide made of paper).
The light passed through the glass slide and projected the image on a screen using focusing lenses. Magic lanterns were one of the first image-projecting devices to gain popularity in the education and entertainment fields.
Here is a short video showing exactly how magic lanterns worked and look.
The First Slide Projectors
Similar devices to the magic lantern were created in later centuries, but the era of projectors, that we know them as now, started around the 1940’s, when the first computers began to be invented.
One of the earliest projectors which became popular during this more modern era was the now well-known slide projectors.
These projectors were used to project transparent photographic slides on the screen.
Light from a source such as an incandescent light bulb or limelight was directed onto the 35mm slides through a condensing lens by using reflectors.
The light passed through the slide onto a focusing lens that projected a large image on the screen. The slides contained family pictures or educational material. Slide projectors became common in educational institutions and private homes.
These days projectors are made to be more high definition. They can show a very high quality of pictures, no matter how large the surface is.
In fact, artists are still often asked to submit their artwork to galleries it the form of slides, so that curators can get a closer look at the finer details of the image, to determine whether it is suitable for a particular gallery’s setting.
Video Projection Mapping Today
Since modern times became the digital age, images and videos began to be very important not just in the art world, but in people‘s daily life as well. Up next, I want to show how successful ideas were developed by using video mapping.
Indoor Projection Projects
When you imagine a video projection, most of the time immediately start to think about a classroom and or some big company‘s meeting room.
Despite how useful it is in those places, today various types of multimedia are used for creating a unique experience in way more different spaces.
Many galleries and museums are using video projections to create a more catchy and mesmerizing look of objects or tell interesting stories.
To make a bigger impression, creators cover the whole indoor space with video projection, including walls, floor, and ceiling. It makes people feel like they are a part of the game and they can feel the project even better.
Powerful Inspiring Illusions
The Mori Building Digital Art Museum – the first digital art museum in the world opened its doors in 2018, in Tokyo, Japan.
This museums provides us with proof of how digital art becomes more and more important in daily life and can be useful for creating attractive and involving content.
Indoor video projection became a great way to tell the story about famous bands or artists. One of those brands is probably the best-known drink in the world – Coca Cola, which created an exhibition to mark its 125th anniversary.
There was a 90 square meter of 270-degree projection system created, in which the company presented a history of the brand and had a great opportunity to promote the brand itself.
The other example shows how new modern technologies can make the art world and paintings alive. A company called “Grande Exhibitions” created an exhibition based on experience, that combines Vincent Van Gogh‘s paintings and special music.
Artworks were projected on huge screens, which created an illusion of being in those artworks. This experience had received a lot of viewers’ attention, visited over 50 cities around the world, and became the most visited multi-sensory experience in the world.
Multimedia and new technologies had created more opportunities to spread various kind words, support, or even critique of the world.
One of the great examples of that is the light show, created by a Swiss artist, during which a video projection of message with the hashtag “hope”, words “thank you” in different languages and flags of many countries were projected on the famous Matterhorn mountain in Switzerland.
This action was spread through the media and social networks, meanwhile, the author said, that he wanted to show solidarity to people and inspire humans around the world, who are living under the complicated Covid-19 situation.
Video projection has been chosen to create an installation of a huge clock on the building where the government of the United Kingdom resides, so it could count how much time was left for the United Kingdom until leaving European Union on January 31, 2020.
Some artists had chosen to create their works by using video mapping and Krzysztof Wodiczko is one of them.
This polish artist was born in 1943 in Warsaw, Poland. In later years, he moved to Toronto and New York, where had created around 80 various video projections in which covered his social, political, and art ideas.
In 1984, when the Cold War was still happening, he projected arms race on the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch, where American and Soviet missiles were connected with a chain and a padlock.
Krzysztof’s idea was to show arms race between both countries, which lasted around four decades since WWII ended.
Next year, in 1985, Wodiczko made a video projection on the South Africa House in London. The event was controversial because the symbol and a flag of Nazis were projected on the building and it caused a diplomatic reaction of the Republic of South Africa because the main idea was to criticize Apartheid‘s policy in this country. With his projects, Krzysztof Wodiczko proved, what a powerful method can be a video projection.
Bigger screens, modern light systems, new computer software – the world is changing very fast, therefore it is exciting what the future of video projection will bring and how the new ideas gonna be realized.
Historically speaking, the word “mob” has been associated with acts of violence, or at the very least, social upheaval.
You’ve probably heard of an “angry mob” before, in reference to a group of angry people toting pitchforks and torches, usually motivated to march based on some socio-political injustice or another, perceived or real.
A “flashmob” is essentially a reclamation of the term “mob” by putting a much more positive spin on it in the form of performance art.
Generally speaking, a “flashmob” is a gathering of a certain number of people that takes place in a public space that happens seemingly mysteriously and lasts for ten minutes or perhaps less, with the intention of surprising, delighting, and sometimes confusing onlookers.
These gatherings came to be popular as the age of social media and smart technology grew, allowing for people to more easily connect, and more easily organize such a spontaneous and exciting event as a flashmob by way of Facebook group, or a flurry of texts.
During flashmobs, people dance, sing or just freeze in place, not moving for a couple of minutes. As such, flash mobs do have some connection to the idea of musical theatre, in their exuberance and choreography.
This gives the general impression to anyone watching that these flash-mobbers showed up out of nowhere, almost like magic, and then disappear without any trace.
Flash mobs can be for artistic sake, for fun, or they can be for the purpose of advertising some event or product. They can even be political.
Generally, however, flashmobs capture the spirit of fun in any populated location and change the whole atmosphere of that place, which may otherwise be mundane, into something exciting and unifying.
Here is an example of a flashmob in action.
Officially, the first known flashmob happened in 2003, when a senior editor of Harper’s Magazine – Bill Wasik – anonymously organized one in Manhattan, New York.
Here is Bill speaking on his idea of what flashmobs are all about.
That first Manhattan flashmob turned out to be a well-executed event, that attracted participants to come before any action occurred to a few different bars, located near the place where the flashmob occurred, where they got more information about what to do just before the start of an event.
Around 130 people spread through the Macy’s store by looking for a “love rug” for their suburban commune.
According to Wasik, he just wanted to create a type of social experiment that lampooned the next “hot new thing”, in a very American way of always looking for the next big event or cultural change.
As a result, flashmobs became a rather powerful for people in the US because the tradition of public space in the country was seeming to be lost, and, if nothing else, flashmobs expressed a way to reclaim public space, if only for a short time. In some ways, this could seen as a “fight the power”, “stick it to the man”, anti-corporate move.
Here is a popular flashmob production that has made the rounds on Youtube – maybe you’ve seen this.
While this flashmob happened outside, and has been inspiring people since it was performed and uploaded, many flashmobs occur indoors.
As you know if you are from an urban area, cities are known for their many shopping malls, where modern consumer people spend their leisure time. To some, this is fine, and acceptable, while others take some issue with the concept of malls in one way or another, with one major reason being that a mall is a “public space” that is not actually public, and very limited in terms of how one might express themselves there. It is typically not a place to be “free”.
For example if you were to try to express yourself in that public space, you would realize very quickly how non-public that space actually is. In fact, it is completely corporate and under strict control.
Yet, at the same time as a mall is a very controlled place, it in and of itself has the perfect characteristics to become a stage for performers to perform in. The only problem is that malls typically do not allow for performances of dancing and music to just suddenly appear. This is where flashmobs come into play.
Back in 2003, Bill Wasik was interested in what you can and can not do in regular public spaces in this day and age. He organized eight flashmobs that summer and what was astonished to find that by the end of that summer, the idea of flashmobs spread not only through the whole country, but abroad too!
Bill Wasik’s initiative evolved into something that he couldn’t control anymore – the cat was out of the bag, so to speak! – and so then transformed him into an observer of subsequent flashmobs.
Flashmobs in Advertising
After that fateful summer of 2003, the idea of flashmobs via the internet has spread throughout the whole world, becoming a true viral sensation.
What began partly as a bit of a prank and partly as a social experiment in New York City had now become part of popular culture, and the idea was being related via the internet and word of mouth, becoming a “thing”, as it were.
From school performances to political protests to advertising and promotional events – flashmobs as a creative way to express people’s ideas have become popular all around the globe.
One of the main reasons why flashmobs become popular around the world is that they are unexpected and catchy. It affects the viewer in a positive way – he becomes not only an observer but also a participant too.
Because of the flashmob’s tendency to be quite memorable due to their surprising nature, they are a great way to promote something in advertising.
T-Mobile, a german communications company supported a flashmob that took place in Liverpool Street Station in 2009.
Suddenly people from the crowd started to dance to popular music hits by involving more and more people. It brought joy for people and was a unique way to promote a company’s brand.
Train stations are also very suitable places for flashmobs because they are spacious and always have an audience. Another huge flashmob was created the same year, 2009, this time in Antwerp, Belgium central station when 200 people danced according to legendary musical “The Sound of Music” song “Do Re Mi”. This performance succeeded and became very popular on the internet.
In 2013 April in a shopping mall of Breda, Netherlands the famous painting of Rembrandt The Night Watch was recreated of a theatrical action of people dressed in 17th-century clothes. The main idea was to announce that Rijksmuseum, a Dutch national museum in Amsterdam is reopening after 10 years of renovation.
What started as a social experiment later become an important tool to express social, political, and cultural ideas, and gave an opportunity to everyone who is interested to participate in this vital global movement.
Flashmob as a political act
Since flash mobs had spread through different countries, various initiatives took the idea and used it for their purposes.
In 2013 Members of the European Parliament together with an activist Eve Ensler initiated a flash mob, which was dedicated to ending violence against women. This particular flashmob encouraged others to organize flash mobs not only in Brussels but in other places too.
Another famous flashmob also appeared in 2015 in Kyiv, when a crowd of Ukrainian people together at the same moment fall down and lay on the ground for one minute.
The idea was to show how many people suffer and died during the Ukraine-Russia conflict. Both countries are still participating in the military actions against each other, so peaceful reflection of those events could send a very powerful message to the world.
In 2019, during the protests in Hong Kong, demonstrators used a flashmob technique – they popped in different locations in small groups because that allowed them to disappear quickly when police came to act against the protesters. They also made flashmobs during which they sang symbolic resistance songs.
Thank you for reading this article about flashmobs. If you have seen or been a part of any flashmobs and you’d like to share your experience, please mention it in the comments below.
Amrita Sher Gil is one of the most impressive and the most gifted Indian artists of the pre-colonial era.
India’s Revolutionary Artist
She is considered as a revolutionary woman artist and pioneer of modern art in India, and often referred to along with Frida Kahlo for aesthetically blending traditional and Western art forms.
She was born on January, 30, 1913 in Budapest, Hungary. Her mother Marie Antoniette Gottesmann was a Hungarian-Jewish opera singer, and her father Umrao Singh Sher-Gil Majithia was a Sikh aristocrat and a Persian and Sanskrit scholar.
She developed an interest towards painting at her early childhood, by the time she was five. In 1921, Amrita’s family shifted from Hungary to the beautiful hill station of Shimla, due to financial problems.
The young Amrita started to learn painting at the age of eight, trained under Major Whitmarsh and Beven Paterman.
A few years later, she joined a famous art school in Florence, Santa Annunziata, where she was exposed to the works of Italian artists, which furthered her interest in painting.
Months later, Amrita and her mother returned to India.
Realizing Potential in Paris
In 1926, Amrita’s nephew Ervin Baktay, an Indologist aware of her amazing potential, played a crucial role in pushing her to pursue an artistic career.
At the age of 16, she went to Paris with her mother and started training under Pierre Vaillend and Lucien Simon at Grande Chaumiere, and received a formal education at the École des Beaux-Arts.
She spent five years in Paris. It was a period of experimentation, and a period of exploring her own hybrid identity. Sher-Gil was fully aware of her exotic beauty, sometimes wearing western clothing, and sometimes wearing a sari.
During the initial stages of her career, her works were profoundly influenced by Western art, reflected academic style in which she was trained. It was the Western European idiom with its naturalism and textured application of paint.
In the early 1930s, many of her pieces included paintings of her Parisian life, still life studies, nude studies, portraits of her friends and fellow students, and the significant corpus of the self portraits, for which she is often considered as narcissistic by many.
The self portraits captured the artists in her many moods-pensive, joyous and obscure, while revealing a narcissistic line in her personality.
Pitiless Eye, Melancholic Soul
In 1932, she created The Young Girls: the two women- Amrita’s sister Indira sits on the left clothed in chic European style and a French friend Denise Proutaux partially undressed figure in the foreground.
The two women, one assured the other awkward with her face buried beneath streaming hair have been as personifying two different side of the artist herself.
Sher-Gil was the youngest and the only Asian artist to be elected as an Associate of the Grand Salon in Paris. The painting was gained wide recognition and was awarded a Gold Medal at the Parisian Grand Salon in 1933.
One of Sher-Gil’s professor predicted that her works would make more sense in the East, judging by the rich colors that she usually used in her painting.
Sher-Gil created self-portraits that represented her grappling with her own identity. These paintings often reflected troubled and introvert woman caught between her Indian and Hungarian existence.
She was profoundly influenced by the simplified and symbolically charged paintings of Paul Gauguin. It became explicit in Self Portrait as Tahitian (1934), where Sher-Gil appear in a three-quarter profile naked to the waist, and looking beyond the frame of the picture.
Her body is depicted in Gauguin’s technique of the female nude with a distant, obscure expression of her face. She self-consciously plays on her status as the exotic other in Paris.
In 1934, Sher-Gil returned to India in order to find a mode of delineation appropriate to her Indian subjects.
Decoding Indian Traditions
A few years later, 1937, in order to decode the traditions of Indian art she began her journey to the south India, a journey that shaped all her future work.
Sher-Gil was deeply moved by the plight of unprivileged people and common villagers; she explored the sadness felt by people, especially women, giving voice and validity to their experience.
It would reflect in her work South Indian Trilogy (Bride’s Toilet, Brahmacharis and South Indian Villagers Going to Market) are much different from the prevalent realist watercolor mode of Indian painting at that time.
Her artistic style and technique was indeed fairly unusual in India. Influenced by the wall painting of the Ajanta Caves, she attempted to fuse their aesthetics with the European oil painting techniques.
She had learnt to incorporate Indian traditions in her work and rediscovered her purpose in painting. Once she even wrote to a friend saying that Europe belongs to the artists such as Cézanne, Picasso and Matisse while India belongs to her.
Her artistic style was in marked contrast to that of her contemporaries in India – Nandalal Bose, Abdur Rahman Chughtai and Abanindranath Tagore, who belonged to the Bengal school, as the first modern movement of Indian art.
She considered the school retrograde and blamed it for the stagnation in Indian painting of that time.
In the following years, her work had a tremendous impact on Indian art. As an exceptional colorist, Sher-Gil was able to achieve special effects with colors that were bold and unbridled, in opposite to the pale hues in vogue among her contemporary colleagues.
Some of the best examples of her work such as Village Scene, Siesta or In the Ladies’ Enclosure represented the poor state of women and other unprivileged people.
The painting Three Girls, from 1935, shows melancholic women wearing passive expressions; their solemn brown faces a contrast to the vibrant reds, ambers and greens of their clothing.
The mood is dispirited – the women are waiting for something they doubt will ever come along. Sher-Gil lived between worlds, between West and East, in searching for a sense of belonging.
So, she understood the emptiness and loneliness of those women, since their moods were a certain reflection of her own.
In 1941, Sher Gil moved to Lahore, an undivided part of India, where the art was appreciated at that time. In this phase of her life, she produced some of her most known painting such as Tahitian, Bride, Hill Scene and The Red Brick House.
Living Free, Dying Young
Amrita Sher-Gil was a free spirit who led a somewhat careless life; she was bisexual and had numerous relationships.
Regarding her sexuality, her biographer Yashodhara Dalmia in Amrita-Sher-Gil: A Life (2006) wrote it was (partly) a result of her broad view of woman as a strong individual, liberated from the social conventions.
She formed an intimate friendship with the painter Marie Louise Chassany who was a fellow student at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. Some art critics believed her painting Two Women reflected their yearning for one another.
Sher-Gil saw marriage as a way to gain independence from her parents. In 1938, she married Dr. Victor Egan, her Hungarian first cousin, revealing afterward that she was pregnant; Dr Egan arranged for an abortion and performed it.
She was a close friend of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India and central figure in Indian politics before and after independence. She never painted Nehru, as she stated he was ‘’too good looking to be painted’’.
In 1941, days before her first solo exhibition in Lahore, she became ill. A few months later, she died at the age of 28.
The real cause of her death was never ascertained. The cause was believed to be complications from a second abortion performed by her husband.Her mother accused Dr Victor Egan, for her demise.
Her unfinished works reveal a move toward abstraction and incorporate richer colors that the colors seen in her previous paintings.
The artwork of Amrita Sher-Gil has been declared as National Art Treasures by the Government of India.
In 1978, India Post released a stamp of her ‘Hill Women’’. The Indian cultural center in Budapest has been named after her. The 100th anniversary of Amrita Sher-Gil’s birth was declared as the international year of Sher-Gil by UNESCO, in 2013.
The complexities of her life made her both, an outsider and insider, as did her ambivalent sexuality and identity-pushed her to constantly reinvent her artistic style and visual language.
She sought to adjust and reconcile her enthusiastic response to traditional art-historical resources with her modern sensibility.
The history of modern art is also the history of the progressive loss of art’s audience. Art has increasingly become the concern of the artist and the bafflement of the public.
When Did Modern Art Begin?
The rise of modern art can be traced to the Industrial Revolution (1760-1860).It was the period of rapid changes in transportation, manufacturing, and technology began around the mid-18th century and lasted through the 19th century.
It was the one of the most crucial turning points in world history. It profoundly affected the economic, social and cultural conditions of life in North America, Western Europe and eventually the world.
Revolutionary forms of transportation, including the stream engine, the large machine-powered factory, the subway, and the railroad profoundly changed the way people lived, traveled and worked, expanding their worldview.
People migrated from the rural areas to the city centers to find work; the center of life from the family and village in the country shifted to the expanding urban metropolises.
In addition, other developments had also influence on arts in this period. In 1841, the American painter John Rand (1801-1873) invented the collapsible paint tube.
The Interpretation of Dreams (1889), a publication of psychologist Sigmund Freud and the idea of a subconscious had a great, epochal influence on arts, literature and philosophy at that time.
The artists began exploring dreams, personal iconography and symbolism as directions for the depiction of their subjective experiences.
The Invention of Photography
“Boulevard du Temple”, a daguerreotype made by Louis Daguerre in 1838, is generally accepted as the earliest photograph to include people.
The invention of photography offered new radical possibilities for interpretation and depiction of the world. Photographic technology advanced, and became increasingly accessible to the public.
Within a few decades, a photograph could reproduce almost any scene with perfect accuracy.
The photography became a serious threat to classical art conventions of representing a subject, as neither painting nor sculpture could capture the same degree of detail as photography.
In regards to photography’s technical precision, artists were obliged to discover new modes of expression, which led to new paradigms in the art world.
The development of photography and its allied photomechanical techniques of reproduction has had an obscure but important influence on the development of modern art, because these techniques deprived manually executed painting and drawing of their main roleso far, as the only means of depicting the visible world accurately.
In earlier periods before 1800, artists were often commissioned to make artworks by institutions or wealthy patrons. The most of the art of those times depicted mythological, religious or historical scenes that told stories intended to instruct the viewer.
From Patronage to Personal
But, during the 19th century, many artists started to create art based in their own personal experience and leaning.
Instead of following the Hierarchy of Genres and being content with academic subject matters, interspersed with ’meaningful’ landscapes and portraits, artists began to create art about everyday things; about the ordinary people,places and ideas.
As a creative response to the rationalist practices and perspectives of the new ideas provided by technological advances of the industrial age, modern art intent to portray a subject as it exists in the world, according to the artist’s unique perspective and is presented by a rejection of traditional values and styles.
In the early 19th century European artists simply began experimenting with the act of observation.
All across the Europe, the artists, such as Henri Fantin-Latour and Gustave Courbet, created works that aimed to depict situations and people objectively, with the all imperfections, rather than creating idealized exposition of the subject.
This new radical approach to art would become known as Realism, a broad school of art and movement.
At the same time, the Romantics started to present landscape as they saw and felt it.
The landscapes painted by J.M.W. Turner are dramatic representations that capture the feeling of the awe-inspiring that hit the artist upon viewing the particular scene in nature.
This representation of a place in conjunction with a particular feeling was a decisive step for creating the modern artist’s unique perspective.
The other artists shifted their focus to emphasize the visual sensation of the observed subject rather than a objective representation and naturalistic depiction.
The Beginning of Abstract Impressionism
It was the beginnings of abstraction in visual art. James McNeil Whistler’s Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket (1874) and Monet’s Boulevard desCapucines (1873) are the key examples.
In the former case, the artists coupled small flacks and large splatters of paint in order to create a depiction of a night sky illuminated by fireworks; it was more atmospheric than representational.
Monet created an aerial view of modern Parisian life. In this scene, he made the pedestrians and cityscape as an ‘impression’, a visual representation of subjective and slightly abstracted perspective.
Some artists connected their work to preceding ideas or movements, but the general goal of each artist in modernism was to advance their practice to a position of a true originality.
Some of them established themselves as independent thinkers risking beyond what constituted acceptable forms of art at the time which were endorsed by traditional academies and the upper-class patrons of the arts. These personas depicted subject matters that many considered controversial or even substantially ugly.
The Rise of the Commoner
In this regard, the first modern artist who stands on his own with his distinctive style was Gustave Courbet.
Courbet scandalized the French art world by his painting Burial at Ornans (1849-50), portraying the funeral of a common man from a peasant village (his father’s uncle).
The French Academy bristled at the depiction of dirty farm workers around open grave; Courbet was ostracized for his work, but he, eventually proved to be tremendously influential to the following generations of modern artists.
The paintings of Gustave Courbet, Edouard Manet and the Impressionists represent a profound rejection of the dominant academic tradition and a quest for a more objective representation of the visual world.
The most commonly cited date that marking the birth of modern art is 1863- the year that Edouard Manet exhibited his painting Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe in the Salon des Refuses/ Salon of the Rejected in Paris.
Despite the fact it was modelled on a Renaissance work by Raphael and Manet’s respect for the French Academy, it was considered to be one of the most scandalous paintings of the period.
Modernism embraces a variety of theories, movements and attitudes whose modernism resides especiallyin a tendencyto reject historical, traditional, or academic conventions and forms in an effort to create an art practice more in keeping with changed economic, social and intellectual conditions.
Art history tends to classify artists into units of historically connected and like-minded individuals. The approach of establishing categories is particularly suitable to well centralized movement with a single objective, such as Impressionism, Cubism, Futurism.
When Claude Monet exhibited his painting Impression, Sunrise at Parisian Salon in 1872, the painting was poorly received. Consequently, Monet and his fellow artists were motivated and united by the criticism; it was a precedent for future independent artists who sought to group together based on the same or similar aesthetic approach.
The practice of grouping artists into schools or movement in not always appropriate. For instance, Paul Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Cézanne are considered the major artists of Post-Impressionism movement.
The movement was named so because the chronological place in history as well as artists’ deviation from Impressionism. However, it did not represent a cohesive group of artists who united under a single ideological frame. In addition, some artists do not fit into any particular category, school or movement.
Despite the inconsistency, the designation of schools and movements allows the broad history of art to be broken down into segments separated by contextual factors.
The Arrival of the Avant-Garde
The progression of Modernism in art led to what is known as the Avant-Garde. The term Avant-Garde derives from the French ‘’vanguard’’, literally means advance guard- the lead division going into battle.
Most of the creative and principal artists were avant-gardes. Their objective was to improve practices and ideas of art and to challenge what constituted acceptable artistic form in order to accurately communicate the artists’ experience of modern era.
From about 1890s and on, a succession of a variety of schools, styles and movements emerged that represent the core of modern art and one of the high points of Western visual culture.
The modern movements includeRealism, Romanticism, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Neo-Impressionism, Symbolism, Fauvism, Cubism, Futurism, Expressionism, Suprematism, Constructivism, Metaphysical painting, De Stijl, Dadaism, Surrealism, Social Realism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop art, Op art, Minimalism and Neo-Expressionism.
Despite the enormous variety, most of them are ‘modern’ in their investigation of the potential inherent within the various medium for expressing an inner, spiritual, response to the changed conditions of life in the 20th century.
These conditions include the expansion of scientific knowledge and understanding, accelerated technological change, irrelevance of traditional source of value and belief and an expanding awareness of non-Western cultures.
Anime and Manga are two different storytelling media. They both originate in Japan, and are closely related, but are ultimately two different things.
Definition of Anime, pronounced AH-knee may, and derived from the English word ‘animation’ is the term used for cartoons in Japan.
Although profoundly influenced by Western models, including the work of Walt Disney, Japanese animation has developed a distinctive visual style and a range- artistic, dramatic, and in subject matter-unparalleled globally.
The first Japanese cartoons were produced in the early twentieth century, but anime only took off as a creative form after World War II, and especially in the 1960s, when animation became a centerpiece in the young medium of television.
Today, anime is widely available in Japan on TV, as feature films, and through OVA (original video animation), productions released directly to DVD and on the Internet.
Although often stereotyped abroad as violent and sexually explicit, anime, like manga, is a diverse genre encompassing humorous children’s fare, sci-fi robot epics, and thoughtful imaginative creations like the Oscar-winning Spirited Away.
Japanese animation has long been exported, with generations of Americans growing up with various series such as Speed Racer, but only over the past twenty years has anime become an international pop culture phenomenon.
Our today’s post is all about Japanese manga and anime. Here is what we are going to cover today:
Plenty of interesting stuff, right!? Stay with us as we plunge into the mysterious world of manga and anime. Let’s start with learning a bit more about manga.
What is Manga?
Definition of Manga, pronounced MAHN-guh, is translated in English as ‘graphic novels’ or ‘comics’, though such words cannot fully capture the richness and diversity of the genre in Japan.
Manga have a long history and their origins stretch back at least to the Tokugawa period (1600-1868) when illustrated books and the sophisticated graphics of Japan’s woodblock prints attracted both elite and mass audiences.
In the twentieth century, mainly after World War II, manga flourished in Japan, drawing inspiration from American comics, like Superman and Blondie, and draining the creative talents of artists like Tezuka Osamu, the famous creator of Astro Boy.
Today, manga are popular among all age groups in Japan, from young schoolgirls to aging corporate executives, and span a remarkable range of subjects, including action, romance, science fiction, sports, erotica, food, and history.
According to some sources, comics make up over forty percent of the books published in Japan and constitute a $4 billion industry, with numerous weekly and monthly magazines catering to the nation’s manga-loving public.
Here is one of the largest manga collections to date…
Next, we discuss the difference between anime and manga in Japan.
What’s the difference between anime and manga?
Manga and anime are at the center of significant innovations and cultural debates in Japan.
Theyare not identical fields—manga can be defined as Japanese comic books, but anime encompasses the breadth of Japanese animation—they have become synonymouswith a distinct Japanese contemporary aesthetic and visual culture in the eyes of many media, culture scholars and commentators around the world.
Many consider manga to be the origin: the creative spirit and energy that spawned anime, and later video games and merchandising spin-offs.
In many cases manga defined the template for the key genres—shōjo, shōnen, gekiga and so on—which have come to dominate the wider popular culture of Japan today.
While manga established the roots of this style during the postwar period, it was through anime that a broader global audience became aware of complexity of Japanese visual culture.
Academics and critics have connected anime and manga to various aspects of Japan including motherhood, architecture, social life and customs, gender, homosexuality, popular culture, history and religion.
As Douglas McGray observed: “Japan is reinventing superpower-again. Instead of collapsing beneath its widely reported political and economic misfortunes, Japan’s global cultural influence has quietly grown. From pop music to consumer electronics, architecture to fashion, and animation to cuisine, Japan looks more like a cultural superpower today than it did back in the 1980s, when it was economic one’’.
Advocates for Japan’s recent cultural resurgence point to the concept of ‘soft power’ in relation to the popularity of Japan’s visual culture.
This refers to the possibility of a new cultural renaissance of increased artistic freedom for Japan, and a level of respect, interest and admiration in the culture and history of Japan’s visual art both domestically and internationally.
Joseph Nye Jr., who coined the term ‘soft power’, sees manga and anime as ideal soft power products, claiming they are immediately recognized and widely admired everywhere. He notes the global success of anime such as Pokemon or Hello Kitty, which projects a soft and friendly image that appeals to children all over the world.
Next, we discuss what makes anime and manga so popular among both kids and adults.
What makes anime and manga so popular?
Anime and manga have long been at the heart of Japanese culture and tradition, with a steady increase of popularity between the generations. Although anime and manga are most popular in Japan, over the last two decades, the popularity for anime and manga has also grown considerably in the USA and all across Europe.
One of the major reasons why anime and manga have stood the test of time and became so popular all over the world is because of their unique ability to grow with their followers.
One of the most famous anime experts, Takamasa Sakurai, claims that Japanese anime has become widely accepted due its unconventional nature. Sakurai claims that „Japanes anime broke the convention that anime is something that only kids would want to watch“.
International fans of anime claim that they love the intensity and complexity of the anime story-lines with the endings being incredibly difficult to predict. They also say that they enjoy the fact that anime is often targeted at adult audiences instead at kids.
In the UK and USA, many kids watched anime TV series as they were growing up, namely: Dragon Ball Z, Pokemon and Yu Gi Oh. These series have created a soft spot in their hearts for anime.
Nowadays, with the growth of the internet and online streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon, anime has become even more accessible and popular. Now, adults all over the world can relieve their childhoods through more age-appropriate anime series such as Spirited Away and A Place Further than the Universe.
Another reason why anime has become more popular overseas in the last two decades is Japanese shrinking population. Anime producers are now making content more suited to Western tastes, as well as producing anime outside Japan as it is much cheaper. Popular anime producers such as Teyuka now produce and push for their anime to be sold abroad.
Why are manga usually black and white?
Have you ever wondered why most of manga are printed in black and white? There can be several different reasons for that, so let’s try to mention some of them:
It costs less
This one is pretty much obvious! The black ink costs much less than the color. Just compare the prices for black ink cartridges and color cartridges for your printer too see the difference in price. The lower cost of production results in lower prices for the end product – meaning the readers will be more eager to buy manga.
The Japanese manga magazines are mostly phone book-sized weekly magazines. The producers do their best to keep production costs at a minimum so even elementary schoolkids can buy them without breaking their weekly allowances.
The producers use very cheap recycled paper and only one color of ink. This results in producing some 300-500 pages of manga in less than $5.
It is also important mentioning that manga are usually done by one person. That means for most manga, the artist has to draw and ink almost 50 pages of manga in a month all by himself.
Unlike comics in the USA, which generally come out on a monthly basis, a lot of manga comes out weekly. Coloring manga magazines would take a lot of tome and would make it almost impossible to release new chapters in time.
It’s a piece of art
Reading through a black and white manga is just as watching a really well done black and white move. It conveys a certain mood, especially in the use of shadows, much better than color could. Over the last few decades manga artists have developed plenty of excellent techniques of using black-and-white art to make their manga unique pieces of art.
Next, we talk about the origins and evolution of manga…
What are the origins of Manga?
The term ‘manga’ can be traced back as far as the 1770’s, and has been used to describe the woodblock prints of Katsushika Hokusai.
While the term ‘manga’ may have been coined in the past it did not gain widespread, favored usage until the 1930’s for two reasons.
First, the popularity and national circulation of newspaper modelled on Western layouts brought serialized yankoma manga into home and workplaces throughout Japan.
Second, the growing job market for manga-ka (manga authors) fostered a sustainable manga industry.
Much of the literature on manga is framed by the question of its origin—is it located within Japan’s past and therefore a distinctive Japanese aesthetic, or is it a contemporary phenomenon influenced by the West?
Those arguing for manga as a continuation of earlier forms of Japanese graphic and visual art point to stylistic similarities betweenpast and present graphic art, quoting the similar ‘dynamic effect’ that manga and anime share with narrative picture scrolls (emaki-mono) from the 9th century.
Critics of this continuity express two main concerns with this focus on the past.
Firstly, they claim that it sidelines or ignores the very contemporary nature of this form and the important influence of Western artistic style.
Secondly, they argue that it has less to do with art history and more to do with responding to current political and popular concerns of manga’s negative effects on youth and culture—that is, linking manga to the past is a self-justifying argument that hopes to show beyond doubt manga is part of traditional Japanese culture and thus circumvent attempts to censor or ban it as trash culture.
Paving the way for the widespread acceptance of manga in the 1930s was the establishment of two types of comic strips in the 1920s: comic strips for children published in newspapers and journals bought by parents, and short political cartoon strips for adult readers.
This division between mainstream children’s manga and political alternative adult manga would remain a lasting feature of the manga industry.
The industry experienced a downturn in the 1930’s partly triggered by the changing political environment as increased media regulation and censorship narrowed content to conform to national political objectives.
In the early postwar period, manga succeeded as a form of cheap entertainment for an impoverished, war-weary Japan.
During this time, the development of manga felt the impact of US comics, as Japanese translations of well-known titles such as Popeye, Blondie, Mickey Mouse, Superman, and Donald Duck appeared.
Along with Disney animations, these comics came to have a significant impact on the style of manga created for children.
An important reason for their success was that the Japanese people yearned for the rich American lifestyle that was blessed with various material goods and electronic appliances.
In the early postwar period, manga appeared in three main forms: kamishibai-picture card shows, kashihonya-rental manga and yokabon-manga booklets.
1946-48 saw a boom in storytelling and picture card shows performed in theatres and outdoors throughout Japan.
The picture card shows would use cheaply produce picture cards that the storyteller would speak to, performing a miniature theatre play.
Here is a video showing how a Japanese picture card show works.
Next, we talk about different styles of manga…
Another factor that supported the growth of the manga industry was the emergence of the book-rental shops. Artists would write manga for magazines or books that could be rented out.
This trend peaked during the mid-1950s as book-rental outlets appeared at train stations and street corners; there were around 30 000 outlets.
The gekiga (dramatic pictures) style was developed firstly in rental manga.
As opposed to the cuter, anthropomorphic characters that filled many children’s manga, the gekiga style contained more mature, serious drama, depicted in a more realistic and graphic style that portrays the tastes of its older readers during the 1950s.
Gekiga’s major impact lay not in its graphic style, but in its popularity amongst poorly educated young urban workers and, during the 1960s, university student activities, where it became part of the anti-establishment politics of the time.
In this regard, Sanpei Shirato’s Ninja Bugeichō (Secret Martial Arts of the Ninja 1959-1962) was influential.
For many critics this story of peasant uprisings is reflective of student and worker anger over current issues such as the Japan-America Security Treaty.
The third form of manga that flourished in postwar Japan was published in small books (yokabon) sold directly to the public.
They were sold in discount book shops and children’s toy shops with deluxe higher-quality manga albums.
In the Osaka market, small manga books known as akabon( red books), due to the red ink they were printed in, attained wide popularity through the much successful New Treasure Island/Shin Takarajima which sold 400 000 copies from its launch in 1947.
The author of the New Treasure Island, Tezuka Osamu, became one of the most significant figures in manga.
Through the enormous popularity of his work, serialized in children’s manga magazines such as Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion, a dominant ‘cute’ manga style was established.
As opposed to the gritty realism and overt politics of gekiga, Tezuka’s manga founded an archetypical manga style featuring cute characters with large saucer eyes.
This style was influenced by Disney animations and comics from United States which had crowded Japan during the Allied Occupation between 1945 and 1951.
Tezuka also incorporated cinematic techniques inspired by German and French movies.
His manga became epic, often spanning thousands of pages, and popularized a longer, serialized form of manga known as ‘story manga’ which would become a standard format evident in today’s manga industry.
Here is a great documentary about Osamu Tezuka we recommend you watch.
Primarily read by children and regarded as cute, these story manga were an innovative break from the rigid layout and brevity ofthe ‘gag manga’ genre and four-panel (yonkoma) comics popular in weekly-magazines and newspapers of thattime.
The development of the manga industry from picture card shows to rental manga and to the manga magazine industry is reflected in the employment history of significant manga artists such as Shirato Sanpei and Mizuki Shigeru.
These artists both worked their way up through picture cards, rental manga and then the manga magazine industry during the 1950s and 1960s.
The 1950s established manga as a popular and lucrative element of Japanese entertainment through the successof children’s title as Tezuka’s Astro Boy and the first weekly comic magazine for boys Kodansha’s Shōnen Mangajin (1959).
Astro Boy became typical of the trend for original manga to lead to various spin-offs in other media, becoming one of the first children’s TV cartoons in 1963, with various remakes since.
At that time, one of the dominant divisions in the manga market is the split between male and female demographics. Critics have suggested that this division may have become entrenched through the segregated school system in Meiji Japan.
During the 1960s manga broadened its content to include popular genre such as sport. Two important early sports stories that helped establish genre is weekly comic magazines for boys and young adults were the boxing story Ashita no Joe (1968) andthe baseball story Kyojinno Hoshi (1966).
Also, the 1960s saw the steady maturing of the manga market and titles which reflected this expansion beyond the children’s audience.
Young adults who had read mangaas children began demanding more adult and sophisticated material; this included not only stories set in the adult workplace andthe world of leisure, but also avant-garde mangasuch as Garo, an alternative manga magazine (1964-2002).
This magazine serialized the popular peasant revolt story The Legend of Kamui and became an important platform for alternative art manga in Japan.
Moving onto Shojo manga style…
The 1970s were marked by a group of female manga artists who pioneered a new approach to shōjo manga.
Shōjo can be defined as manga aimed at girls less than 18 years of age, but is often more broadly applied to manga aimed at a female readership.
While shōjo includes a variety of genres such as horror, sport, science fiction and historical drama, it is commonly associated with slender elegant male characters and romantic, fantasy based plots.
Some scholars and commentators estimate that today more than half of all Japanese women under the age of 40 and more than three-quarters of teenage girls read manga with some regularity.
While initially dominated by male authors, by the 1970s a group of female artists known as Nijūyonen Gumi /Year Twenty-Four Group pioneered a new approach to shōjo manga introducing new themes and approaches such as homosexual love.
These artists depicted themes such as romantic love between beautiful young boys, for instance, Keiko Takemiya’s Kaze to Ki no Uta / The Sound of The Wind and Trees, 1976; while Yumiko Oshima’s short manga Tanjō/Birth, 1970, depicted teen pregnancy and abortion.
During the 1970s, development in manga’s layout and composition, graphic style, and gender- specific formats had become firmly established.
A further significant innovation was to occur in the 1970s with the popularization of the tankōbon (paperback) format for manga.
Popular manga previously serialized in weekly and monthly magazines were compiled in a higher-quality paperback more portable for commuters and more attractive for collectors.
The tankōbon soon replaced manga magazines as the main revenue stream for manga publishers.
Let’s go back to 1980’s and 90’s. This is the period when some of the most popular manga and anime had been produced…
1980’s and 90’s
By the 1980s and 90s manga had become mainstream and were read by nearly everyone of all ages Kyoyo manga (academic or educational manga) is an example of the mainstream appeal of new forms of manga as they were used to inform and educate readers on a range of topics from history and annual festivals to cooking and other DIY (Do It Yourself) areas.
Manga changed again in the 1990s as editors asserted a stronger role in the creative process of manga production.
Some scholars argue that because most editors were more wealthy and educated than artists, adult manga in particular was reformed around their more privileged tastes and interests.
This move away from the working class, artist-created, counter-culture stories of the 1960s and 1970s can be seen in the more factual and niche-interest manga such as the political and economic series Osaka Way of Finance /Niniwa Kin’yudō, and extensively researched nuclear-submarine story Silent Service/Chinmoku no Kantai.
This period also saw the expansion of the global market for manga; manga began to gain a stronger foothold in the United States, long a niche market for Japanese popular culture.
With the release of Akira (1988) and Ghost in the Shell (1995-world-wide release), both based on original manga, Japanese anime and manga began to attract greater international attention than ever before.
These headings were much more ‘mature’ that the standard animation of the time, and their cyberpunk, dystopian themes came at a time of great interest in the approaching millennium.
In 1988, Ghost in the Shell reached number one on Billboard’s video chart in the United States.
By the early 2000s, the manga industry had broadened beyond the familiar Japanese publisher—Kōdansha, Shūeisha, Shōgakukan to include a smaller number of transnational manga distributors and publishers and achieved a globally dispersed audience.
While there are current concerns that the Japanese manga market is becoming stagnant and its fortunesare declining, the circulation of weekly manga magazines have been in steady decline for the last decade-many of the most successfulanime, videogames and merchandising lines began as manga.
The enormously successful DragonBall franchise began as a manga series in 1984.
The 2000s have been dominated by the growth of globally effectual brands that exist across various media platforms.
Power Rangers adapted from the live-action Japanese TV show was broadcast in the United States in 1993, and by 2007 it had expanded to 15 television seasons, 14 series and two films.
Its success was overshadowed by the greater popularity of Pokemon, produced by the video game company Nintendo and created by Satoshi Tajiri, which became a successful anime, video game and character-related business franchise.
Shogakkan’s Pokemon, the animated version of Nintendo’s portable game software was the first huge success by a Japanese anime overseas; its global success has helped establish the abomination of Japan’s character-related industry, and has maintained Japan’s contribution to the children’s entertainment world-wide.
Manga Online and Games
Manga has also moved into online environments offering online manga content and various downloads that extend the audience’s access to manga in a more interactive online environment.
This move away from print media to digital formats is extended even further by hand-held video devices such as Nintendo DS and Sony’s Play Station Portable which offer a number of titles based upon popular manga or drawing upon the manga style.
Manga’s distribution over varied media platforms reveals shifting relationships between the audience and industry in Japan, but also worldwide.
Recently, manga’s development has been impacted by the rice of OEL (original English-language) manga, which straddles the Western/Japanese divide.
OEL manga involves taking the ‘design engine’ of Japanese manga and using it to tell stories created by non-Japanese artists for non-Japanese audiences.
A canonical ‘manga style’ of cute girls, big eyes, beautiful boys and dynamic action that was used as the engine to create the OEL manga stories and art represents a move to standardize the manga product.
Critics of manga include a range of groups such as parents, women’s associations and PTAs concerned over school children reading vulgar and sexually explicit manga and scholars concerned over the sexism and violence directed towards women in manga.
The most extreme critics of manga and anime claim that both mediums can have a negative effect on society, making people more violent and less informed.
There are three broad areas of concern identified. Firstly, too much information, from driving manuals to business information, is being conveyed through manga—a form of caricature that inevitably distorts, simplifies and exaggerates.
These critics note that the depth or complexity or of an issue cannot be conveyed through manga in the same way as prose, poetry or film documentary can facilitate.
Secondly, critics claim that the increasing popularity of manga as an information tool reflects a broader trend in politics, education and religion where the entertainment value of information is highlighted in order to create appeal.
Additionally, furtherexisting concernsthat information that is too complex to be compressed into manga will be ignored.
Finally, let us answer one commonly asked question about manga…
Can anime and manga cause violent behavior?
A final concern is that sexually explicit and violent manga may cause more violent behavior, especially among younger readers.
This pointcame to public attention after several sensational ‘moral panic’ controversial affairs from the late 1980s where manga readers were presented by the media as either threats to socialorder and stability, or at risk of becoming perverted through their manga consumption.
The case with the highest profile in this regard was the trial of Tsutomu Miazaki in 1989 for the murder of four young girls.
He became known as ‘The Otaku Killer’’ due to large collection of porn videos, including anime, which police found in his apartment.
While incidents of moral panic generated of concerns over manga’s effect on society have achieved great notoriety in Japan, it is usually simplistic and unrealistic to isolate one factor, such as manga, as the sole cause of behavioral problems in an individual.
Other factors may include mental illness, family dysfunction, and poverty or drug addiction while an increasing body of research attempts to broaden the debate beyond an exclusively media- effects framework.
Anime and manga should be understood as exemplar products within Japanese visual culture.
One thing that makes manga culture important in Japan is its penetration into nearly every facet of Japanese life and culture today.
Manga are read in many different private and public settings and consumed by a broad segment of the community. In addition, manga and anime have become increasingly popular around the world.
Networks of Japanese and overseas fans are translating and distributing manga, both commercial and original works.
The manga style provides an engine for various fans to depict their own stories and link to each other through this strange world.
That’s all folks! We hope you’ve enjoyed our post! At the end, we would like to recommend you watching some of the best anime videos we have prepared for you:
The city of Belgrade, the capital and largest city of Serbia, have been in existence since 279 B.C.
Several empires fought for it and ruled it. All of these empires had a certain influence on its culture, people, urbanism, and architecture.
The 20th century brought several wars (Balkan Wars, First World War, Second World War, the civil wars in the 1990s) that left countless consequences.
The town’s leadership was drastically changed and the lifestyle of the people changed. Crowds of people from the countryside came to live in Belgrade after World War II.
Impoverished by wars and conditioned by a large number of people who wanted to live there and needed a home, the city got many buildings (entire settlements) built cheaply and quickly.
These were concrete buildings with no decoration, very simple, in different shades of grey. So, the once vivid and romantic city became concrete – cold and grey.
Bringing Back Life
Luckily, there were people who hated the monotonousness of their city.
These people were painters, professors and students of the faculty of arts who started to paint murals.
The first known murals appeared in 1970s. The greatest project was done in 1977, within the manifestation The Week of Latin America.
A group of Chilean artists painted a wall of Student Cultural Center (SKC). The mural was called “For unity and solidarity with people of Latin America.”
Professors, especially Čedomir Vasić, and students of the Faculty of arts gave the biggest contribution to mural popularizing.
Their campaign started in 1983 when professor Vasić engaged some students to make suggestions on what to do with some of the city walls.
The goal was to repair the city, to do ‘artistic beautifying’ and murals were the fastest and cheapest way to accomplish that.
The peak of the campaign was the year 1988 when City Hall adopted mural painting as a legal way to improve the city – it got official then and was legal for the first time.
There was caution in the beginning, so it was hard to get permission.
Through years, responsible organizations accepted this kind of interventions in their city and came as support.
Despite that, out of ten projects, only one was realized.
Popularization of Murals in Belgrade
Many murals were painted during the 1980’s. Most of them were painted by professor Vasić and his co-workers, mainly his former students who were working on popularizing murals with him from the beginning.
The most interesting mural from this period is the one on the facade of the cinema in the center of Belgrade.
It was painted when the President of France visited Belgrade in 1984 as a gift from France to Belgrade.
It shows six vertical and horizontal interlaced lines – two of them are blue, two are red, and two are white, which symbolize French and Serbian flags and friendship between these two countries.
Today this mural isn’t visible because a building was made in front of it and hide it.
In this period, some other artists were active and many walls, buildings, schools, walls of Belgrade Zoo and even a theatre, were painted and decorated.
The first great act of decorating the city was carried out in 1989, regarding the 9th Summit of Non-Aligned Movement, that was held in Belgrade.
On that occasion, several art projects were produced, including five murals. After that, only a few murals were painted, and all were damaged or destroyed.
After the year 2000, the most significant murals were made within the Belgrade Summer Festival (Beogradski letnji festival – BELEF).
Main characteristics of this wave of painting the city were graffiti popularization and foreign street artists participation in it.
During the BELEF in 2003, artists from Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, and Bosnia and Herzegovina created a graffiti mural in the center of Belgrade, which was one of the first multi-national projects.
An expansion of street art and creating murals happen in the last decade.
Worth mentioning are murals made by Grobari (Gravediggers or Undertakers), organized supporters group of the Serbian football club Partizan Belgrade, one of two major football fan groups in Serbia.
They painted portraits of former Partizan players, its famous fans, and great individuals (Serbian actors, musicians, Nikola Tesla etc.) all over the city.
These murals are all black and white because colors of the club are black and white. An accident occurred earlier this year when someone ruined many of these portraits.
One of the liveliest murals represents the friendship between Serbia and the Netherlands.
The author is TKV (The Kraljica Vila – The Queen Fairy) and is made in cooperation with Netherlands Embassy in Serbia.
The orange color and Deft porcelain are clear connections to the Netherlands and its culture.
Pijanista / A Pianist
The artist who stands out among the others is Pijanista (A Pianist), a professor at Faculty of Architecture in Belgrade.
He is the founder of a campaign named #usracuse that stands against trash in Serbian culture (against bad music, literature, TV shows etc.).
Also, he is the founder of a street art festival called Runaway, that is happening in Belgrade three years now.
The festival is more popular year after year, and many foreign artists take part in it.
Pijanista paints portraits of celebrities who are supporting him in his campaign and who stands against trash by themselves.
He paints walls in his neighborhood, buildings in Belgrade and areas under bridges, as well.
His murals are most numerous and the most vivid murals in the city.
He said that the mural was inspired by his impression of sleepiness of Belgrade that he got in the first few days being there.
The image of a sleepy girl, or a girl who suffers, surrounded by geometric figures, one of the main characteristic of his work, should make the citizens of Belgrade see their country the way he saw it.
He wanted to remind them that its time for waking up, that ruins of past times in the center of the city should make them rise and look into the future, the same way as they inspired him.
Destiny of the Murals
There were more than 50 murals painted in Belgrade over the years.
Unfortunately, many of them are damaged or destroyed. Different factors affected this situation, but probably the most important is the ignorance and the lack of interest of the community.
There is still hope that these new projects and campaigns (such as #usracuse and similar) will change something and bring a brighter future to the Belgrade murals.
It’s hard to understand life, but it’s easy to paint. You only need to start, afterward it goes with ease. When a picture is finished, you see everything in it is vivid as it is in life, and you realize that every truth has two faces. – Ilija Basicevic Bosilj
Nothing is predestined and impossible in the world of art.
So it wasn’t predetermined and was completely possible for someone who didn’t have the intention of becoming an artist to become one in his old age and to be remembered for being an artist more than for anything else he did in his life.
The richness of spirit and imagination is the essential condition for art to arise and so the opus of Ilija Basicevic is unique and undeniable proof of it.
Ilija Basicevic Bosilj (in Serbian – Ilija Bašičević) was a Serbian painter, a classic example of Serbian naive and outsider art. He was born in 1895 in Sid, Serbia (then Austria-Hungary), and died in 1972, also in Sid.
His parents were respected peasants. He was born as the youngest, the ninth child in the family. He finished four grades of primary school (for comparison, nowadays, pupils are required to finish at least eight).
When finished with the education, he started helping his parents in fields and on the farm. He was 19 years old when World War I began. Despite his young age and inexperience, he wanted to go to the army – to see the world (Galicia, Carpathian Mountains etc.).
He tried to switch with his brother who didn’t want to go to war because he had wife and children and didn’t want to leave them. But, it didn’t work for him. He was returned every time, once because of his horses (he wanted the foal to come with him and the mare, but superiors didn’t allow) and twice because of his health.
The war was over and he didn’t go to the army and didn’t see the world. When World War II started, he was married with children. They had to escape to save their lives.
They were in a labor camp near Vienna. There Ilija’s health condition got worse, he got ill of tuberculosis. When the war was over, the authorities took the fields from Basicevic family.
Bad health condition and loss of his fields lead him in a situation where he had a lot of free time that he needed to fulfill somehow. So, he started painting.
The beginnings and The Bosilj Affair
He made his first painting in 1957 when he was 62 years old. He painted an icon of Saints Cosmas and Damian.
His son Dimitrije, respectable art historian and artist himself, later known as Mangelos, didn’t approve his work at first. He even tore up his father’s first paintings.
But it didn’t discourage Ilija. He was persistent and continued to paint. In the beginning he was creating drawings and gouaches and later started painting on different materials (wood, glass, canvas, cardboard etc.).
Dimitrije showed these paintings to his colleagues. Because he wanted an objective opinion, he didn’t tell them whose work was that. They were delighted with a new artist in the world of naive art and decided to invite him to the exhibition.
In order to avoid idle gossip because his son was connected to art, he chose not to publish his name and biography. He was exhibiting under the pseudonym Bosilj.
But, journalists uncovered who stood behind the pseudonym. It was claimed that the author of the paintings was not actually Ilija but Dimitrije and that they did that to make a profit because naive art was then in expansion.
It was named Affair Bosilj and culminated in 1965. In 1965 in Zagreb, he had to paint in front of eminent commission to prove that he is the author of the paintings.
As soon as he began painting, it was clear that they were wrong, that he was unjustly accused. He received apologies from both journalists and respected artists. As a result of this affair, galleries all over Yugoslavia didn’t want to exhibit his works.
But the world recognized this unique artist and appreciated his uniqueness, so his paintings went all around the globe, from Paris, Rome, Milan, Amsterdam, Munich, Dortmund, to New York, Mexico City, and Japan.
Characteristics and motifs
While most naive artists paint social, usually rural life and the environment around them with sublime simplicity, Ilija takes us in his inner world.
Ilija’s opus can be classified in several major thematic units. Most numerous are paintings with motifs from the Bible, mainly from The Old Testament.
Then there is a series of paintings inspired by Serbian folk epic poems, myths and legends. Next comes cycle Iliad (meaning “the world according to Ilija”) that is named after the artist – Ilija, not after Homer’s epic poem with the same name.
It represents his clash with human stupidity, duplicity and hypocrisy. Furthermore, there is a cycle with numerous paintings of animals, especially peacocks, but there are also unreal creatures with human bodies and animal heads, and reverse – with animal bodies and human heads.
In the end comes a cycle connected to flying and astrological creatures.
Complex allegory is the main characteristic of Bosilj’s paintings. This allegory is best represented through two-faced and duplicity of the figures, both animal and human. It represents his understanding of the world and living creatures.
The artist himself used to tell that all creatures created by God have two faces, they show one in front of the outside world, while the second one is being hidden deep inside them.
People who were close to Ilija exactly knew what animal was representing which neighbor. It was possible to know because Ilija was convinced that the nature of that animal and the nature of that man are matching, and people knew that.
When it comes to interpretation of his work, titles that he gave to his paintings are of a huge help, because we’re never sure what is it we are looking at, is it angel or cosmonaut, wild animal or apocalyptic creature.
Rich in age, but poor in health, two years before his death, he donated his painting to his hometown, Sid. In 1970 Museum of Naive Art Ilijanum was founded.
It is still opened and there we can see around 300 Ilija’s paintings as well as some paintings of other naive artists.
His granddaughter is a president of the Ilija & Mangelos Foundation, organization dedicated to preservation and promotion of Ilija Basicevic Bosilj and Dimitrije Basicevic Mangelos.
His work was more appreciated in the world than in his homeland.
In 2007, the magazine Raw Vision included Bosilj into 50 most influential art brut artists of the world. His paintings are spread in galleries all over the world.
It can be seen that embedded in the apparently vivid Superflat works, with their total absence of depth, are a variety of cultural, political, social, and historical contexts concerning the relationships between high art and subculture, between Japan and America, between contemporary art and capitalism. If we place these contexts within brackets and pretend to ignore them, the strength of the high quality, super flat surface is most apparent, but the moment we summon up these contexts, the picture starts to hint at endless meanings. Smoothness and complication, beauty and high-functionality, Murakami imbues his paintings with unparalleled structure, a structure that resembles an incredibly carefully planned, highly-functional cyborg.
Superflat was launched in Tokyo, 2000, through the Superflat exhibition which was designed to travel globally. An elaborate, bilingual catalogue Super Flat was produced to accompany the exhibition which included Murakami’s “A Theory of Super Flat Japanese Art”.
It was the first in a trilogy of exhibitions curated by Murakami. According to the artist, the trilogy of Superflat exhibitions were constructed to provide a cultural and historical context for the new form of Superflat art that he was proposing, and which was specifically exported for Western audiences.
The theory of Super Flat art is a manifesto for Murakami’s concept of a new form of art emerging from the creative expressions produced in Manga (graphic novels), video games, anime (Japanese animation), fashion and graphic design.
In this theory Murakami identifies Superflat as a genealogy of aesthetics tendency in which contemporary Japanese culture has inherited a spirit of artistic innovation and creativity from the Edo period, 1600-1867.
The concept of a Superflat aesthetics lineage draws significantly on Japanese art historian Tsuji Nobuo’s Kisō no Keifu (Lineage of Eccentrics, 1970).
Nobuo identified a common disposition among six Edo artists to ‘the production of eccentric and fantastic images’, and also identified a tendency toward playfulness and eccentricity in contemporary forms of manga and anime.
Murakami extends Nobuo’s argument by presenting Superflat as an aesthetics that reinforces the two-dimensionality on the surface, a featurewhich he also recognizes in the paintings of the Edo Eccentrics (these include Iwasa Matabei, Kanō Sansetsu, Itō Jakuchū, Soga Shohaku, Nagasawa Rosetsu and Utagawa Kuniyoshi) and anime texts such as Galaxy Express 999.
The Superflat planar emphasis is achieved through a composition structure that directs the viewer’s gaze across the surface of the painting, rather than drawing it in through the conventions of Western linear perspective.
In addition, Superflat can also be used to describe the visual style of Murakami’s works.In his own sculptures, paintings and other assorted productions Murakami appropriated the kawaii character icons and two-dimensional aesthetics of manga and anime and combines these with compositions and techniques derived from the traditions of Japanese painting.
Modern Art? No, Modern Edo.
By connecting Edo forms of Japanese painting with the contemporary commercial expressions emerging in manga, anime, fashion, video-games and graphic design, Murakami presents Superflat as a merging of art and popular culture and a questioning of the culturally and sociallyconstructed definition of art, especially in Japan.
In his own work, the artist reinforcesthis merging of art and commercial culture by producing sculptures, paintings, handbags, snack toys, key-chains, t-shirts, buttons, stickers and bandanas which are all based on the same Superflat iconography.
Murakami presents the production of his art as a business strategy and challenges the conventional avenues for the exhibition of art Japan.
Therefore, Superflat theory is also driven by a more politicized commentary on the modern institutions of bijutsu (fine art) in Japan.
Murakami rejects the modern institutions of kindai bijutsu (modern art) which he considers to be an incomplete importation of Western concepts and institutions of art since their adoption in the Meji period (1868-1912) as part of the process of modernization and westernization.
To Murakami, the innovation and originality of contemporary forms of commercial culture represents a continuation of the innovations introduced by the premodern eccentric artists.
Murakami argues that these qualities of creative invention and avant-garde spirit were excluded from the practices and institutions of bijutsu, and that it is the texts and practices of contemporary consumer culture that offer the re-emergence of what he considers to be authentic and original Japanese expression.
The concept of revolutionizing art was drawn from Murakami’s early aim to merge Pop Art with otaku production-consumption practices in order to create a new form of popular art, POKU.
Otaku refers to groups of manga and anime fun communities who are conventionally described as ‘hard-core’ and are prevalent throughout Japan.
While the aim of POKU was to market art in otaku cultural institutions, Murakami declared this project a failure and decided to focus on transforming the consumption of art in Japan and to bring a new form of art in Japan, although one that was still influenced by otaku culture, to Western art world.
Thus POKU was superseded by Superflat’s intention to harness the creative expressions being generated in the production-consumption of commercial culture more generally.
A critical component of this strategy is Murakami’s art studio/factory Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd., formerly known as Hiropon Factory; the studio produces Murakami’s works and associated products which are soldthrough the studio website and stores, but also provides exhibition opportunities for emerging artists.
Western Invasion or Eastern Affirmation?
However, Murakami’s concept of Superflat art, and the artworks that represent it, attracted significant media and gallery attention leading to an important turning point in Murakami’s profile in Western contemporary art worlds.
The subsidiary politic in Superflat is the affirmation of its Japanese identity in an almost recalcitrant swipe at Western art. Murakami presents it as a type of post-Pop, an indigenous expression of Pop Art.
At the same time, Murakami acknowledges the transformations of Superflat expression under the influences of Western culture.
This position is even more complex because Murakami also explicitly emphasizes his strategy to successfully sell work in the United States and European art markets- around 70% of his paintings and sculptures are sold in these markets.
Therefore while a key aspect of his project is to affirm the Japanese identity of Superflat art, it is also self-consciously presented in the codes of Westernart worlds and art markets.
At the same time, Murakami is using Western art markets, and the popular appeal of Japanese consumer culture both in and outside Japan, in order to propose alternatives to the institutions and practices of bijutsu in Japan.
It is this tension and dialogue between the commodification of Superflat and the simultaneous challenge to existing forms of art production-consumption, through the merging of art and commercial culture, which makes the analysis of Superflat complex.
This complexity arises because the meanings of commodity, art and cultural identity are themselves contested concepts in contemporary culture, especially in the context of globalization.
Contemporary culture can be defined by the multidimensional relations that constitute the economic, cultural and political processes of contemporary globalizations.
Art, as a central mode of human ‘expressivity’, defines and shapes culture. As the interaction between social groups has become increasingly globalized, the meaning-making and expressivities associated with art have also become engaged through national and transnational gradients.
Murakami’s work and Superflat theory are significant as they expose the key debates in contemporary culture regarding the relationship between art and commodity which are part of broader debates on the meaning of art in relation to consumer capitalism and the production of art in the processes of contemporary globalization.
The formation of identity and expressive modes within a national genealogy becomes particularly problematic within a globalizing cultural sphere.
The articulation of a particular kind of ‘national identity’ in Murakami’s work problematizes the global-local compound and a cognition which celebrates hybridity and postmodern open identities.
The analysis of the concept and expression of Superflat demonstrates the potential for diverse interpretations which challenge and move away from Murakami’s own presentation and understanding.
Particularly, Murakami’s works and Superflat can be understood as expressions of the complex relations between cultural identity, art and commodity in the contemporary cultural context in which they are produced-consumed.
The Japanese identity of Superflat is pretty complicated. Superflat echoes conventional constructions of a Japan/West binary which obscures the connections and power relation in this structure.
Secondly, while Murakami acknowledges the Western influences on the Superflat aesthetics, his simultaneous transposing of this hybrid identity into a reinforcement of a Japanese identity, characterized by cultural assimilation and hybridization, reinforces a unified national-cultural identity.
This identity is supported by the references between Superflat and already existing discursive constructions of Japanese culture and as flat.
Also, Superflat is part of ongoing trade relations and cross-fertilizations of visual culture forms between Japan and the West since the late nineteenth century.
These complex relationships demonstrate the need to locate Superflat in a global context and to critically interrogate Murakami’s concept and aesthetics.
Murakami’s work and Superflat art can be understood to articulate a postmodern aesthetics and conceptualization of art; the flattening of the distinction between commercial commodities and art and expressing the hybridizing effects of global cultural interactions.
The Superflat is terrain of contestation, making both the absence of hierarchical divisions between art and commercial culture and the presenceof multiple structures demarcating the various social, political, cultural and historical contexts in which Superflat engages as it circulates globally.
This fluidity is often negated by the responses to Murakami’s work illustrated in the introductory quotes, which continue to affirm an art/commodity distinction: Murakami’s work is either defended as an aesthetic critique of the socio-cultural condition of commercial consumption or decried as a celebration of the lack of distinction between commercial production and art.
This simple dualism limits the understanding of Superflat and reveals the persistence, through debates, of the concepts autonomy, authenticity and aesthetic value in relation to definition ofcultural identity and art.
Today I speak with artist Stephi Konstantinou, a painter out of Wolverhampton, England, who originally hails from the island of Cyprus.
Stephi has been creating art from a young age, and, these days, she specializes in a pleasing variety of paintings and artworks.
I’ve heard through the grapevine that as soon as she began to take an interest in art as a precocious youth, teachers and fellow students alike began to take an interest in what she was doing, drawn, as they were, to her for her rare artistic talents.
These various artworks that Stephi has been creating, for many years now, range from ephemeral watercolours of landscapes, which feature romantically rich colour palettes and evoke different moods, to pure abstract works, to representative illustrative works featuring people and animals that show a more whimsical, fun side of life.
Her work is very wide-ranging in terms of style and content, but Stephi is the kind of artist who embraces the freedom within the artistic process, which I feel is evident in her work. To someone who has more self-imposed mental and spiritual shackles, she seems infuriatingly free of such barriers. 🙂
In the art world at large, which is often so serious and snobbish, Stephi is one of the few artists I’ve encountered who seems to draw and paint for the sheer joy of it. She paints what she wants when she wants, and how she wants, yielding some very interesting results.
This is why I was very interested to chat with her, to see what drives such an artist to continue to create. It can’t simply be inspiration and wonder, can it?
In these days of the trying to wring a penny out of every single moment, I was curious to see if behind Stephi’s radiant, smiling countenance was actually the gateway to a blazing furnace of raging ambition.
Here is my little Q&A with Stephi Konstantinou – enjoy!
I read that your dad was a big influence on you artistically.Can you tell me more about him.
My dad was definitely a big influence on my creativity when I was a child. I grew up watching him create stonework and he was also a wood sculptor.
You also mention somewhere that your first art teacher, Marie Constanti, taught you a lot of skills.What would be the most important skills she taught you about art?
Miss Marie Constanti taught me some basic artistic skills, and I progressed from there. The most important thing she taught me, I think, was how to focus, and, most importantly, to create with your heart, rather than with your mind.
You are clearly influenced by nature.What do you think is special about the nature in Cyprus?What is it like there, in terms of geography, and also what is the mood like there around the nature?
I live near a forest, and the trees there bring me great inspiration! In general, Cyprus has very nice greenery everywhere which I find very inspiring.
Also, hearing the birds or the wind blowing while creating is tugs at my creative impulses and leads me on to some new creative journey.
Do you think that politics have any effect on your artwork?Although your art seems to be not about politics that I can tell, I wonder if you feel like some of the political unrest in Cyprus or elsewhere has influenced the way you work at all?Maybe not in style, but perhaps in method?
My artwork is not political, in my opinion. Rather it is simply about letting your imagination see another way to live, and to continue following your dreams.
I would say you have a very romantic style of painting.It comes across in your landscapes and color choices.Would you agree with this label – “romantic”?
Yes, I would say so. I create with my hands moreso than with brushes, as I love the feeling of connecting my hands to the painting directly through the paint itself.
Related question…Are you an idealist?Do you try to see things in a positive way, most of the time?Or are you secretly a nihilist?
I believe through my life experience that I am an idealist. I want to contribute something positive to society and I want to improve the lives of others through my art.
How long have you been in Wolverhampton and how has that affected your artistic style?
I have been in Wolverhampton for 4 years now. The journey there has inspired me and affected my artwork deeply, in both logical and more mysterious ways.
My education as an artist really intensified there. I had my studio in Chapel Ash. Also, I have been participating in different kinds of exhibitions, and even volunteering to work on various murals.
Overall, my artwork has seen a lot of development while I’ve been here.
When it comes to mounting / framing your artwork, how do you do it?
When it comes to framing and mounting my own artwork, I have always done this myself, from chopping the wood for the frames, to stretching the canvases.
Some of your art is in black and white.What materials do you use for that, and why is it some of your art is in black and white?
The black and white work I have done has grown into a sizeable collection by now, and, mainly, it has been inspired by traditional Japanese music.
All of my work has been created using acrylic paints, with some of them having been sold to Japan, while others to private collectors in America and Canada.
Your earlier work seems to have a more cartoon or caricature style.Do you still work in that style?
My earlier work was like this, but it has since changed. I have spent years developing my craft and finding my own style that is a merging of some of the previous incarnations of my art from over the years.
What’s your studio like?Is it organized?Messy?
My studio is tidy sometimes, but it can get a little messy. I am an artist, after all.
Is there an artistic medium you’d like to try sometime which you haven’t tried?
I am always into learning how to use new materials or other new methods, but, at the moment, I’m happy creating with acrylic paints.
When you paint a scene, are you basing it on a picture or just from memory?
Sometimes, I’m basing my work on a particular landscape, or I will mix reality with my imagination, and let the creative moment guide me.
What are your favourite animals?Do you have one particular favourite, and why is that?
My favourite animal? I love all of them, but some I particularly enjoy most are cats, rabbits, and my dog. Honestly, I just have a love for all animals.
Do you see art as having any elements of magic, or are you a hardcore realist who thinks magic and wonder are foolish pastimes?
There are definitely elements of magic in art. Also, I love dancing while creating. I feel like an actress in whatever I do.
You have a way with painting trees.Do you know a lot about trees?For instance, did you know that trees talk to each other?
I tend to paint a lot of trees, as there is something about them make them special to me. Many times I do feel like they are whispering to each other. Sometimes, when I walk amongst them, I feel like I’m going in slow motion and I am filled with a feeling of joy.
How long does it take you to paint a picture, on average?
It can take half an hour, to an hour to finish a work of mine, but there is no set time. It depends on the process and the materials I am using. I like to simply go with the flow.
Do you have a preference between paper or canvas?
Paper is my favourite material at the moment to work on, but you never know when that may change.
“In Japan, the line (between high and low) is less defined, both by the culture and by the post-war economic situation. Japanese people accept that art and commerce will be blended; and in fact, they are surprised by the rigid and pretentious Western hierarchy of ‘’high art’’. In the West, it certainly is dangerous to blend the two because people will throw all sorts of stones. But, that’s okay- I’m ready with my hard hat.” – Takashi Murakami
Murakami’s Early Life and Intro to Okatu
Born in Tokyo, Japan, in 1962, Takashi Murakami grew up in a household that placed a high value on art. His mother, who designed textiles and studies needlepoint, had a huge influence on his interest in the visual arts.
Equally, the omnipresence of devastation and the presence of the United States in Japan after the WWII had a tremendous influence on Murakami’s artistic evolution.
During his childhood, Japan created a national identity that revived traditional Japanese culture, and put huge pressure on its workforce to produce in order to compete with the West, both culturally and economically.
The hybrid emphasis on traditional Japanese culture and Western influences was reflected in Murakami’ childhood activities; he developed an early appreciation of both modern European art and traditional Japanese culture.
Murakami engagement with the Japanese subculture of otaku – a large group of fanatical geeks obsessed with the fantasy worlds depicted in manga, comic books, and in anime, animated cartoons, and the concept of kawaii is pretty evident during his formative ages.
As a young artist Murakami immersed himself in this world and began to draw stylistic inspiration from it and presents to viewers from a distanced and cynical stance.
Early 1980’s to 1990’s Work
In the early 1980s, Murakami enrolled in Nihonga, a nineteenth century style of Japanese paintingthat combines Japanese subject matter with European painting technique at Tokyo National University of Fine Art and Music, where he stayed for master’s and doctoral degree (1988,1993).
Murakami’s early works reflect the realities with which he had grown up, exploring the post-war relationship between United States and Japan (Polyrhythm, 1991, Sea Breeze. 1992.)
These works demonstrate his early development of a playful and seemingly light style that refers to a more cynical stance.
In 1994, Takashi Murakami traveled to New York to participate in P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center’s International Studio Program on a fellowship from the ACC (Asian Cultural Council).
In New York, he was surrounded by the pressures of the gallery system and American art market.
In order to succeed in this world, he realized that he had to abandon his overly-intellectual Japanese preoccupations and to present a more simplified brand of himself and his art as typical Japanese. This was a radical breaking point for his career.
In this regard, he decided to re-engage with his Japanese identity and strengthen his work’s engagement with both the pop culture forms of manga and anime and the high art form of nihonga.
The Arrival of Mr. DOB
At that time, Murakami came up with the figure of Mr. DOB, a mouse-like creature with a round head and large, circular ears, based on a cartoon character originally created in Hong Kong.
Mr. DOB would go on to become the artist’s signature character across his diverse array of artistic media.
In the center of the triptych named 727 (1996) is Murakami’s avatar Mr DOB.
The maniacal smile of Mr DOB can be seen as Murakami’s laughing stance towards the art world, but also toward the West.
The title 727 is a reference to the Boeing American airplanes that flew over his childhood home, as a direct reference to the U.S. presence in post-war Japan; Murakami is so keen to both critique and explore in his art.
The stylized wave upon which Mr DOB sits is a reference to the 19th-century Japanese woodblock artist Hokusai, who was influential for future Japanese artists and manga comics alike due to his flattened compositions and bold colors.
The abstract background is reminiscent of a Japanese folding screen done in the nihonga style.
Beginning in the mid-1990s, Murakami’s works were featured in solo exhibit at museums, galleries throughout Japan, United States and Europe.
Art critics were unsure what to make of these unusual creations; they are highly original, beautifully executed, visually appealing- but can they be considered fine art?
Some dismissed Murakami’s work, suggesting that they are lovely, but lack substance, but many others have applaudedMurakami’s adventurous approach, especially his ability to bridge the worlds of high and low art and to create works that appeal to a broader audience than most fine art.
In 1996, in order to produce his otaku– inspired sculpture, Murakami founded the Hiropon Factory, modelled on both Andy Warhol’s Factory, as well as on traditional Japanese art workshops- such as the ones that produced the woodblock prints from the Edo period.
At Hiropon Factory assistants trained in various areas of expertise collaborate under the artist’s supervision for large-scale, mass-market projects. In this period, the artist went on design a series of major sculptures inspired by otaku subculture including Miss ko² (1996-1997), Hiropon (1997), and My Lonesome Cowboy (1998).
Hiropon (1997) is a part of Murakami’s anime-inspired characters, which also include a masturbating sculpture of boy named My Lonesome Cowboy.
The title itself alludes to the darker aspects of Japanese culture- hiropon is Japanese slang for the narcotic-crystal methamphetamine. This literal connection to the drug culture reveals artist’s examination of otaku subculture as an illicit form of entertainment.
This sexualized sculpture, with voluminous pink pig-tails and her tiny waist, has breasts that are so large that they burst out of her bikini top to spray a jet-stream of milk that encircles her figure.
Combining a shocking perversion and feminine cuteness this sculpture reflects Murakami’s deep engagement with otaku subculture and its pornographic underbelly known as ‘loli-com’, Lolita Complex, in which girlhood and innocence are paradoxically prized, as well as fetishized.
Kaikai Kiki Co.
In 2001, the Hiropon Factory evolved into Kaikai Kiki Co., a highly organized corporation settled in Tokyo and New York. Besides marketing and producing Murakami’s work, the corporation promotes new artists, organizes collaborative projects with individuals and companies in music, fashion and entertainment, operates art fairs, and develops animated films and videos.
The company represents a shift in the production of modern artwork where fine art and commerce are integrated, and where the artist’s physical hand in the making of the artwork no longer determines the financial value, but rather the symbolic value is created through the artist’s association with the art-commodities produced in his business-oriented factory.
In 2000, Murakami presented the theory of Superflat. The name refers both to the merging of art and commerce and the flattened compositions that lacked one point perspective of historical Japanese artistic movements, Nihonga, for instance.
In his historic essay ‘A Theory of Super Flat Japanese Art’ he articulates desire to produce a uniquely Japanese art form that is directly related to the shadow cast by Japan’s trauma after the humiliating defeat of WWII.
Murakami explains the concept of superflatness as an original concept of Japanese, which has been completely westernized.
This theory swept across the contemporary art world, becoming a landmark movement in contemporary Japanese art, the latest major style to reach international recognition in the art-world, since the 1950s Japanese Gutai group.
Despite his art-historical and culturally-rich referents in his manifestos, art, essays, people are often immediately drawn to his work for its seeming superficiality and dazzling explosion of colors and characters.
Takashi Murakami’s projects have explored unconventional artistic media including music, fashion, public installations, films, animation. The shift between roles and disciplines reveals his ambition of redefining what a postmodern artist can be.
In the fall of 2003, Murakami installed a public art display called Reversed Double Helix at the Rockefeller Center plaza in Midtown Manhattan.
The display featured two thirty-three-foot balloons, a number of jewel-colored mushroom sculptures that doubled as seats for visitors, and a twenty-three-foot tall sculpture of Murakami’s character Mr Pointy.
Sporting a large round head that comes to a point, multiple arms, and a brightly colored body, Mr. Pointy was described as the whimsical love child of Hello Kitty, a Buddha, and a portabello mushroom.
Two years earlier Murakami had startled and delighted commuters in Vanderbilt Hall, part of New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, with Wink (2001), a display of mushroom sculptures and huge helium-filled balloons hovering thirty feet off the floor- all of which were decorated with brightly colored eyes of all shapes and sizes as well as spirals and other designs.
This installation creates a paradoxical and ironic co-existence of the Japanese Neo-Pop and the formal elegance of the classical Beaux-Arts architecture of Grand Central Terminal.
Roberta Smith, an art critic, argues against this public project, suggesting that it was compromised by its inappropriate setting, a vast former waiting room bereft of its wood benches, which felt all wrong for contemporary art. Anyway, this strange cultural mash-up is exactly what Murakami intends.
Luis Vuitton Collaboration
In 2002, the artist began his long-term collaboration with the Luis Vuitton, the elite fashion brand. This collaboration made Murakami widely known for further blurring commercial boundaries, elevated his status to celebrity and raised economic value of his art to one that is highly prized among Western collectors.
One of Murakami’s design features The LV signature monogram in 97 different colors with his own signature jellyfish eyes repeated on white or black background.
Shortly following the launch of his line at Louis Vuitton, Murakami re-appropriated the same images printed onto bags into paintings meant for prestigious art institutions and collectors, blurringthe distinction between commodity and art (Eye Love Superflat , 2006)
In Blue Flowers & Skulls, 2012, youth and death collide as smiling daisies and large-eyed skulls overwhelm the picture plane and bland together with the aid of the work’s blue color scheme.
The mix of cuteness and death are the artist’s way of engaging with the Japanese obsession with Kawaii, but also his way of critiquing it.
Everything is Transient
According to Murakami, Kawaii culture has become a living entity that pervades everything. With a population heedless of the cost of embracing immaturity, the nation is in the throes of a dilemma: a preoccupation with anti-aging may conquer not only the human heart, but also the body.
In that sense, the artist reveals a darker engagement with these juvenile flowers that takes its aim directly at contemporary society.
Throughout Western art history, the role of the skull has functioned as a memento mori, a reminder of one’s own eventual death; the Japanese Buddhist conception of Shogyo mujo isroughly translated as ‘everything is transient’.
Blue Flowers & Skulls is reflective of many of Murakami’s installations, paintings and sculptures in which smiling daisies and skulls repeat across his large oeuvre; in the obsessive repetition of these motifs his darker and more subversive themes are expanded and re-contextualized over and over to the point of visual exhaustion.
Murakami’s astronomical rise to fame in the contemporary art world has been met with both criticism and celebration.
He brings together Japanese pop culture referents with the Japan’s rich artistic legacy, effectively wiping out any distinction between high art and commodity.
Critics have mocked him as a sell-out and as playing into the art market’s increasing demands for trivial, easily consumable art from Japan.
Post-Nuclear : What Did You Expect Would Happen?
Murakami’s work must be understood as deeply critical to Western intervention.
He grew up in Japan that then faced heavy sanctions and a permanent U.S. military presence, and also was raised by parents who experienced the devastating nuclear bombings.
In his writings (differ wildly from his essays written in English) he reveals a deep cynicism toward the West, considering Japan’s contemporary obsession with youthful innocence, cuteness, violence and fetish are the product of U.S. intervention that began with the bomb.
In that sense, many believe that Murakami considers his thrusting of this art concept onto the U.S. through his elevation of it as high art as a form of some revenge.