peter nesteruk (home page: contents and index)









Takashi Murukami  






Et in Arcadia ergo



Murukami on exhibition at the Pedder Building. Pedder St, Hong Kong (January, 2013). A key (and perhaps the most intelligent and talented) exemplar of the important trend of (neo) pop art, predominantly occurring in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, but also in China and other countries of the region, Murukami rides the new wave of popular culture (this time of eastern rather than western origin) as it enters ‘high art’ or art culture through the portal of graphic art and its influence on design in advertising, popular iconology and fashion. Perhaps most importantly extending the legacy of the design styles associated with the Manga cartoon into the world of the gallery system and art market (as well as drawing on prior traditions of Japanese art). Stylization is the key (first the simplification of the image to cartoon or logo status, and then the addition of complexity, with repetition-variation, as with Minimalism). Repetition, as well as providing the means of interior decoration, industrial style for mass reproduction - but now designed on a computer (see the backgrounds of the more complex images), now appears as the means of organization of the topic or presiding icon (with variation to be sure); just as in original wave of ‘Pop Art’ (Warhol, Rosenquist, etc) which also used mass cultural reference points. This use of popular cultural content includes both ‘found’ images and imitations of styles of image design; a mimetic response that includes reflection on serious issues through the medium of popular imagery, of the popular imaginary. Otherwise put; a continuance of the tradition of pastiche or appropriation, where the form, content and means of expression of an image is made ironic, self-aware, if you like, and yoked to larger, even meta-physical concerns. Formal antecedents whilst including Pop Art itself, features the 70s and 80s uses of post-Pop, post-Abstract Expressionist texture; the effect of collage and manipulation of multiple textures, producing a similar effect of textual jouissance - an overwhelming or chaotic joy based upon colour and texture. A riot of contrasts working together to produce a plural, variegated, even exorbitant manifold. Such textures may be found in the collage-like paintings of Bernard Cohen and the Frank Stella.


Yet if the means of expression owe much to the playfulness of popular culture, the content is religious and insists on the question of mortality. In this respect resembling the role of the ‘Day of the Dead’ in Catholic cultures (most notably that of Mexico), and, historically, the image genre of the ‘Dance of the Dead’, from European feudal or medieval culture. The fusion of the death’s head motif, the skull, memento mori and other skeletal images – with other mythological elements (in the figurative works), offers an up-to-date means of dealing with death… with its place in modern culture. Much depends upon the reader and the questions they are prepared to ask… either way ‘death’ arrives at, or is returned to, the metaphysical level, after being used for popular entertainment in the genres of popular culture (cartoon and other screen violence including the video and computer games). As with Pop Art before it, such an art reinforces the sense of a mass-produced culture as an aspect of life in a mass society; the innumerable presence of beings, of points of experience… and of the accretion of skulls as representing their terminus. Et in Arcadia Ergo.


Memento mori… In the ‘Flower and Skulls’ sequence, the juxtaposition (and its means of presentation) is, of course, deeply ironic: both elements are held in tension, modifying or calling into question the direct meaning of the other, with the means of presentation further undermining, or resituating the meanings associated with these images. Yet ‘Flowers and Skulls’ also refers to the contrast of birth and death (Spring and Winter), a comment on the beginning and end of human life and its place in our imaginations; which contrast can also be read as the succession of death and renewal, that is the human imagination’s ritualised understanding of mortality in the context of the succession of generations and the continuance of life. So Winter is followed by Spring – now we are indeed back in the traditional folk understanding of the seasons as an allegory of human reproduction. …Or memento merry.


If we can see Murukami’s art works as part of the latest of one of such waves (popular cultural, technological)… then it is also the precursor of many more such to come… Other elements of the popular appropriation of communication technology already included in art practice have been mobile-phone photo-shots… material from web sites, ‘blogs’ and twitter excerpts and the (often live) recordings or transmissions of participatory works-in-progress or ‘happening’ type events (their documentation). All the above, it is perhaps needless of point out, are linked to the evolution of modern communications technology and its fusion with mass society, with a mass market. The penetration of ‘com-tech’ into everyday life is, as with the spread of technology in general, a largely quantitative affair, permitting speed, the making or doing or sending of more, more quickly – whether the impact on people’s life-style in general is cumulatively qualitative, or again just quantitative, allowing us to squeeze more into less time, is a matter for debate. Initially occurring as a means of spreading information, as a means of recording information and experience, so rendering such material, in turn, re-spreadable as information… and re-presentable (given the right institutional… or attitudinal, frame) as Art.





Copyright Peter Nesteruk, 2013