You are viewing imomus

click opera - Micropop, and what it says about Japan
February 2010
 
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
 
 
 
 
 
 
Sat, Jul. 7th, 2007 11:47 am
Micropop, and what it says about Japan

Midori Matsui is Japan's most important art critic. I thought today I'd tell you a little about her concept of Micropop. I think it's an interesting way of framing not just the current generation (mostly people born in the mid-70s) of Japanese artists and the way they feel about art and life, but also a way of framing Japan's sense of where it stands in the world -- though that's changing.



I arrived in Japan this May just a couple of weeks too late to see the big group show Micropop: The Door Into Summer, curated by Midori Matsui at Art Tower Mito. It included the artists Yoshitomo Nara, Tam Ochiai, Chihiro Mori, Masanori Handa, Taro Izumi, Koki Tanaka, Hiroshi Sugito, Kaoru Arima, Ryoko Aoki, Aya Takano, Mahomi Kunikata, Shimabuku, Rika Noguchi, Hiroyuki Oki and "KK", an artist who doesn't wish to reveal his or her identity. Parco published a book by Midori and others called The Age of Micropop to coincide with the show.

So what is it that these artists have in common? According to Matsui, it's "a small-scale avant-garde approach" she compares to Deleuze and Guattari's concept of "minor literature" (explained in their book "Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature"). With Kafka, that was all about making a quietly subversive niche for oneself in between all sorts of major power blocs -- the German and Czech languages, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Jewish and Gentile worlds, the major capitals of Europe and the provinces, capital and labour (don't forget that Kafka was employed at the Workers' Accident Insurance Bureau), and so on.

"Micropop," says Matsui, "attempts to create a new aesthetic consciousness and norms of behavior through the combination of fragments of information gleaned through one's own experience, in an age where history has come to be viewed in relative terms, and in which those spiritual statements that once served as the source or stronghold of various values have lost their authority. That approach can be described as a "small-scale attempt at survival".

Taking a cue from a Matsui article in ArtForum, I described three Japanese artists (two of whom are in the Micropop show) as Supereveryday. I described how these artists "emphasize the trivial, the idiotically comical, the throwaway, the yuck. They mostly make video art, shading into installation and performance. They work without money or ambition, shooting pigeons, balloons, combinis, making what sometimes seem like private jokes for their friends. There's a strategic unshowiness about their work". I also described how this new work was a kind of low-key, deadpan reaction to the pomp and hype of Takashi Murakami's 90s generation. The Micropoppers are closer to Cute Formalism than Superflat.

Let's look at some of the words Matsui has been using to describe the Micropop thing. It's peripheral, she says. It's new. It deviates and wanders, rephrases and recodes. It's something that happens at the end of big narratives, something that embraces fluidity and indirection. It's how you live after the dominant, compelling stories are played out -- by exposing your personal fetishes, perhaps, making private jokes. Think of a post-religion Beckett having Molloy rotate sucking-stones between his pockets and his mouth. It's personal and small and trivial, but not un-lyrical, and not without its own weird private rituals. It accepts fragmentation and relativism. It's interstitial and tactical (Matsui drops Certeau's name in her essay, of course) and obliquely, even autistically, defiant. The artists of Micropop have something in common with children, immigrants and consumers.

If these new artists are weeds springing up in the cracks between major power blocs, it's tempting to think of one of the cracked flagstones as Takashi Murakami's Kaikai Kiki organization, somewhat tarnished by overheated sales, over-eager commercialization, and over-hype. While Matsui certainly does have a bit of an attitude towards Kaikai Kiki, she hasn't denounced them. Two of the jimusho's artists appeared in her Art Tower Mito show.

There's also, I think, a parallel and a continuity between the theme of Murakami's Little Boy show at the Japan Society New York in 2005 and what Matsui is telling us about Japan's sense of itself today. Both Murakami and Matsui talk of a Japan infantilized by its post-war dependence on the US, a junior partner stuck in an eternal childhood, perhaps reaching a perverse and orgasmic adolescence but never able to go beyond that into any sort of adulthood. The passive aggressive strategies (the Certeau-style "tactics") of much of the Micropop work just confirm a certain sort of shifty adolescent behaviour.

But we mustn't forget the other elements of the Micropop description: the breakdown of big narratives, and the embrace of flux and flow. Things are changing, and the old power blocs are crumbling. The United States, for instance, has (as we note every time the Pew publishes a Global Attitudes survey) taken a big hit on its credibility over the course of this decade. In response, Japan is now seeking to establish an independent military and start pulling its weight in the world. This is either the "little boy" growing up, or frightening right wing militarism and a reversion to the values of World War II, depending on whether you look at history from the perspective of the last century or this one.

Either way, it looks as though tomorrow's Asian artists will have plenty of new power blocs to push up fragile leaves between.

27CommentReplyShare


(Anonymous)
Sat, Jul. 7th, 2007 10:15 am (UTC)
New skin for the old ceremony

Good post.
I thought Japan's policy tended towards sheltering under the US umbrella rather than development of an independent military. If a national 'defence' policy is being implemented does this in any way dovetail in with Japan's lower house passing legislation requiring the teaching of patriotism as part of compulsory school education? Is neo-nationalism on the rise in Japan according to your perceptions or is there a risk of reading to much into these developments?
Thomas S.


ReplyThread
imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Jul. 7th, 2007 10:27 am (UTC)
Re: New skin for the old ceremony

Have a listen to this Channel 4 Radio documentary. It's reporting things which are really happening, but I think its sensationalistic tone (and the way it puts these developments in the frame of WW2 rather than the current problems with the US, Iraq, the rise of China etc) is pretty typical of many Western commentators -- ironically enough, the same ones who decry Japan's infantilism.


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Sat, Jul. 7th, 2007 06:01 pm (UTC)
Re: New skin for the old ceremony

Thanks for the suggested link. I tend to agree with your sentiments on the programme.
Thomas.


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Sat, Jul. 7th, 2007 10:16 am (UTC)
Nance

I met a man who said he shared a flat with you in the 1990's. He said that all you did was sit around watching telly, and entering competitions on the backs of cereal packets. The art and the peripatetic lifestyle was just a front, he said.


ReplyThread
imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Jul. 7th, 2007 10:24 am (UTC)
Re: Nance

Uh-huh.

I only shared flats with women in the 90s, hardly watched any TV, and have never entered a cereal competition. Tell a lie -- I think I entered a Weetabix contest aged 8.


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Sat, Jul. 7th, 2007 10:44 am (UTC)
Re: Nance

He said that you would say that, and he said that he thinks you believe it yourself now. He said that the only thing you entered in those days was cereal packet comps.


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Jul. 7th, 2007 10:54 am (UTC)
Re: Nance

Well, as parallel worlds go it's a rather boring one, I have to say, but tell your unreliable narrator I said hello, anyway.

I hope he's got a bit better at washing the imaginary dishes. Oh, the rows we didn't use to have!


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Sat, Jul. 7th, 2007 11:09 am (UTC)
Re: Nance

I didn't come here to argue.


ReplyThread Parent
intergalactim
intergalactim
intergalactim
Sun, Jul. 8th, 2007 12:26 am (UTC)
Re: Nance

nah, no way! i've seen proof from my friend V. that you got up to way more...


ReplyThread Parent
ohayo_sakura
ohayo_sakura
sleepy chan
Sat, Jul. 7th, 2007 01:11 pm (UTC)
Re: Nance

and what's wrong with telly and cereal packet competitions?

someone could do that in an artspace and it would be art,.. or why not just at home? then it could be private art :)


ReplyThread Parent
akabe
akabe
alin huma
Sat, Jul. 7th, 2007 10:20 am (UTC)

Nara Yoshitomo's cameo in micropop is as odd as it was in Superflat. as if he's the german-trained Polke-esque or so true artist meant to give credibility to the movement or something.


ReplyThread
imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Jul. 7th, 2007 10:41 am (UTC)

Yeah, you scan down the birthdates of the artists in that show and they're all in the 70s. Then you get Nara: 1959.

But he looks pretty good for his age! And that's not a bad kind of role to have -- a sort of evergreen avant-uncle. Not that I'm speaking from personal experience or anything!


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Sat, Jul. 7th, 2007 12:12 pm (UTC)
R.I.S

Art id Dead, live with it. Out yourself as a lover of corporate wannabees.


ReplyThread
imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Jul. 7th, 2007 12:25 pm (UTC)
Re: R.I.S

Who was the last artist, in your view?


ReplyThread Parent
rodebrecht
Robert
Sat, Jul. 7th, 2007 12:41 pm (UTC)
"Music is dead"

Who was the last musician, in your view?


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Jul. 7th, 2007 01:36 pm (UTC)
Re: "Music is dead"

Clearly I WAS!

I mean, I AM!


ReplyThread Parent
rodebrecht
Robert
Sat, Jul. 7th, 2007 09:26 pm (UTC)
Re: "Music is dead"

That music is dead, as in completely powerless, was proved again today by the Live Earth concerts. I know nobody who gave a shit, and the media thought so, too. Kinda sad, though, as it's a pretty serious topic, this earth saving thing.


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Sat, Jul. 7th, 2007 07:06 pm (UTC)
Re: R.I.S

Picasso you fool. (I know your not such a fool)


ReplyThread Parent
ohayo_sakura
ohayo_sakura
sleepy chan
Sat, Jul. 7th, 2007 01:18 pm (UTC)

Thanks , interesting article there.
I feel as though this kind of movement is happening not only in Japan, but probably anywhere with similar social conditions.

I was thinking about this the other day - about myself and other friends in my age group (20-40). Our parents worked hard in order to provide us, their children with educations and opportunities that they could have never afforded. I feel as though this is the first generation where there HAVE been alternatives to getting married as quickly as possible and raising another brood of humans. We have had the chance to, in effect, extend our "childhoods" - , play, study, travel, ... we are definitely a very playful generation. We still can find enjoyment in small things in a child-like way - because we haven't had to worry about where our next mouthful comes from.

It's a lucky time to live and play, and a great time for art, because it seems to be more about personal expression rather than ego.


ReplyThread
imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Jul. 7th, 2007 01:35 pm (UTC)

Well, I agree with you... but some of the caveats in yesterday's entry on street art apply. Some people are much freer to play than others, and that causes a slightly sinister music to be heard in the background even of the most whimsical and micropoppy art.

It's also not such a big leap from personal expression to ego! After all, there's an argument to be made that standing up in public to say something small, personal and trivial is even more egotistical than standing up in public to say something big, political, and earth-shakingly important!


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Sat, Jul. 7th, 2007 02:09 pm (UTC)

The most disappointing thing about Japanese art is that real excitement for it seems certainly to be in western countries. Your blog has more excitement for the art world of Tokyo then any of gallery openings I've been to in the past 3 months.

And the power structure are hardly falling. The young artists here (Tokyo) have to throw off the boring senpai like Nara and Murakami and just do their own thing.

also, although not connected, Japan's military has been in top-five for expenditure for the past 30 years, thanks to continuous right-wing governments. US and China are just excuses to talk about it.


ReplyThread

(Anonymous)
Sat, Jul. 7th, 2007 02:17 pm (UTC)
In jokes between friends

My friend Don Tempi's (http://www.myspace.com/donaldtempi) concept is that, in a world where street values take precedence, to make the most commercial music one can (brazen commercials) is, conversely, the least commercial approach. This must be framed against the backdrop of, say, the Arctic Monkeys quarter million marketing budget (Domino records reeling from Franz Ferdinand) to help them become a MySpace success story. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy, because it only works, as a concept, if he remains unsuccessful. It's not a 'more people should be like me', it's utterly self-contained. I think the backdrop for the last songs I wrote (http://www.thedogandponyshow.org.uk/dpsmusic.htm) possibly went: on the 'down here' democratised anti-gallery of the internet even the more transcendent or iconic bombast is rendered everyday. One doesn't actually have to be minor. Desire and the howl, as common as kitchen sinks, will join the river too. The ensuing silence is the poetry.


ReplyThread

(Anonymous)
Sun, Jul. 8th, 2007 09:48 am (UTC)
Inverse Money-Guilt Creation between friends

Just to follow on from 'post-minor':

1. My flatmate is writing his second novel.
2. The first, written purely for fun, concerns two young men hungry for fame and fortune via alt.country.
3. The new one, written as part of a commercial contract, concerns anti-capitalists terrorists in Berlin.
4. I wonder if this is an example of Inverse Money-Guilt Creation.
5. The ironic rule of IMGC might be ‘the more we create for the money the greater the likelihood it will require a veneer of the opposite’.

Is this self-consciousness by the backdoor, and is it, like being 'minor', just another way we avoid having a completely free voice (surely the main thing)?


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Mon, Jul. 9th, 2007 10:16 am (UTC)
Re: Inverse Money-Guilt Creation between friends

not necessarily but maybe for dc. wonder how he's doing.


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Sun, Jul. 8th, 2007 10:41 am (UTC)
Re: In jokes between friends

"No more soundscapes, no more whispers, no more balls bouncing around in San Francisco; we want commercial commercials, and we want them now."


ReplyThread Parent
hollowuvula
hollowuvula
denial o'niall
Sat, Jul. 7th, 2007 04:12 pm (UTC)

Interesting post. Keep it up!


ReplyThread

jogs6000
jogs6000
Hozay/Jose/Jogs/JoseLuis/?
Sun, Jul. 8th, 2007 03:10 am (UTC)
Re: Crafting Beauty in Modern Japan

This 'micropop' thing has been happening everywhere, I think. Look at the indie comics boom, artists like paperrad, the kramer's ergot anthologies. I enjoyed the micropop show but the whole 'outsider' art thing is happening everywhere.


ReplyThread Parent