Chiho Aoshima

July 22, 2016 – August 18, 2016
GALLERY HOURS :11:00 – 19:00
RECEPTION:July 22, 2016 18:00〜20:00

Little Miss Gravestone of a Metropolis

Takashi Murakami

Chiho Aoshima is the third artist whose career Kaikai Kiki has managed. The first is Mr., the second Aya Takano, and then Chiho Aoshima.

I met these three artists in their capacity as the production assistants in the early days of establishing my Kaikai Kiki studio.

Mr. worked under me for ten years, assisting me in all aspects of my daily life, before becoming independent as an artist. Takano had been handling miscellaneous tasks for a bout a year when she started showing her talent as an artist; I immediately helped her make a debut and assisted her in publishing her art and manga books. Kaikai Kiki had no money at the time and I had to tell my assistants to bring food to work for everyone to share, and yet we somehow managed to squeeze out funds for publishing.

Aoshima used to assist the production of my work by handling the design data. She worked from morning to night, truly with no break. In 2002, when we were working on the design of my then-largest ever painting Gerotan and creating the new monograms for Louis Vuitton at the same time, she had practically no sleep for days. Working sixteen-hour days, six days a week, she made her own artwork once a week on her day off. A literal “Sunday painter,” she kept on producing pieces, believing that even working under such conditions it would be possible to succeed in the field of contemporary art.

Looking back at those days, Aoshima reminisces: “Back then, I really wasn’t sleeping, so whenever there was time to sleep, it was the happiest moment I could imagine. When I got a seat on a commuter train, I was shrouded in joy.”

For me, these three artists formed a project of a kind in the contemporary art industry. I had a theory that, as it is practiced in show business, it should be possible for artists to make their debuts and build their careers with some help from external producers, not depending solely on their own initiative; that once pushed to a certain level, the artists’ own abilities and luck would determine whether they would make it as real deals. I believed in discovering and cultivating an artist’s talent, just as a music producer would discover a musician who writes her own music and lyrics and, by tweaking her music and producing it, perfects it into the work of a professional. The three artists stepped up to the challenge of my theory with their drive and stamina and each gradually went on to establish their own identity.

And so Aoshima made her debut.

She began by exhibiting prints of digitally drawn figures in a group exhibition entitled Tokyo Girls Bravo—and they sold. Large format printers were just coming to the market around that time, so we got Canon to sponsor the production and had her works printed out for free at around 20 x 100cm, which we then hang from the ceiling with clips. These works sold, with each of the three hanging works attracting multiple clients. Perhaps at the time, large-format printouts were unusual in and of themselves, but whatever the case, they sold well. And I believed that being able to sell her work meant that she had acquired the ticket to becoming a professional artist. (Incidentally, Aya Takano’s works also sold well during Tokyo Girls Bravo.)

What I had done as a producer was to introduce Canon to the artist, acquire permission to use the title of a then-popular manga, Tokyo Girls Bravo, for the exhibition title, write an introductory text that went along with the title, and negotiate with the venue. At the time I was not commenting much on Aoshima’s work itself, and so she created as she pleased.

After including her works in a few of my curated exhibitions, I had the opportunity to curate an exhibition called Superflat. It had a structural concept of surveying the cultural situation of Japan after our defeat in the war, while at the same time scrutinizing certain aspects under a microscope; my intention was to provide a narrative that led up to the emergence of otaku. The project involved simultaneously organizing an exhibition and publishing, and we invited manga artists, animators, fashion designers, musicians, and cutting-edge creators from various subcultures, who were active in Tokyo.

When it came to the area of contemporary art, however, there were no artists I could choose to include, both conceptually and politically speaking. By then I was already a nuisance in the field of Japanese contemporary art and was being ignored systematically. Moreover, Japanese contemporary artworks, to a large extent, were following and imitating the forms of European and American art, as though Japan’s defeat in the war had no place in them; in terms of the conceptual context, then, I wasn’t able to choose any of the existing, established artists. And so I included Mr., Aya Takano, Chiho Aoshima, and others I was in the middle of nurturing. I convinced these three artists to believe in, simply and truthfully, reflecting their own lives in their artworks, which meant that they had to utterly ignore the trends in European and American contemporary art. Being truthful, in my mind, meant that they represented accurate samples of those living under the barrage of post-war subculture.

I asked Aoshima to create a work that could be printed out and installed on a large wall measuring 25 x 8m as a wallpaper. Back then, the industry didn’t yet have much experience in printing at such a large scale, so the process was a rocky one with one data bug after another. But as a result, the installation must have looked very fresh for the general audience; it was received extremely well.

Superflat marked the conclusion of the strategic launching stage set by me as a producer, and each artist’s career took off from there. Production of the enormous wallpaper for Superflat had a huge impact on Aoshima, who up to then had been no more than a Sunday painter; subsequently she has had opportunities to hold gallery solo shows at Blum & Poe and Galerie Perrotin, and later was selected for inclusion in the Carnegie International. Her large-scale mural installations have been widely well received, including at one of the Tube stations in London and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. Her work for the 2004 Carnegie International, Magma Spirit Explodes. Tsunami is Dreadful, was an enormous masterpiece, and when an actual tsunami hit Indonesia soon after the work was presented, she was rumored to have witch-like prescience.

Around this time we met Bruce Ferguson, with whom she has worked agin to create her animated work for this show. Ferguson creates animated installations for various events including those by fashion houses, and we met at a Louis Vuitton show in Tokyo. With him, Aoshima went on to create the animated work, City Glow, which defined her image as an artist.

The said animation was based on a printed work of the same title, a work that depicted anthropomorphic buildings with faces in a futuristic metropolis, and was developed into a piece that chaotically mingled the spiritual world of tropical nature and a Japanese graveyard, among other things, with the cityscape. The original City Glow, the printed work, was inspired by the skyscrapers Aoshima saw during her visit to Hong Kong in 2004, as she was attending a design conference. Hong Kong at the time was still rife with a sense of disorder after its return to Chinese sovereignty and the design conference was held amidst such an atmosphere. Awed by the raw passion of Hong Kong youth, Aoshima saw the skyscrapers not just as a cityscape but as something alive and barely containing the stirring of China about to awake. The work embodies such a shamanic conversion in a manner that is extremely pure.

Following the animation project, Aoshima started an exercise that seemed to explore her background as an artist. For a year, she produced one drawing a day that sketched out her own psychological landscape. Through this exercise, however, she became increasingly trapped in the darkness of her heart, entering deep into a maze. For a time, she was no longer able to come up with ideas for her digital drawings or animations.

Then came the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011. The catastrophic natural disaster that had been the theme of her work became a reality in Japan. The enormous energy of nature, which she had up to then interpreted with a somewhat stereotypically spiritual flavor, was now real. This shocked Aoshima; the door to her troubled heart was thus unlocked, and she was given a reason to create again. The result was the animation work, Takaamanohara, which she presented in 2015 at the Seattle Art Museum.

In this exhibition, the said animation will be shown together with the newest, interactive animation, Little Miss Gravestone’s Absent Musings. For both of these works, Aoshima collaborated again with Bruce Ferguson and his studio, Darkroom. Also included are some new, small ceramic works.

So far I have meticulously outlined the environment surrounding the artist, but if asked to describe her work, I would say: “Her style is based on innocent and spiritual ideas sandwiched in the mixture of outsider art context and the cultural complexes of post-war Japan.” This, then, snugly fits into a feminine, spiritual world that is an area of calm air amidst the context-ridden, testosterone-filled worldview of contemporary art.

For her new work, Little Miss Gravestone’s Absent Musings, Aoshima wrote the lyrics to the tune in the style of Japanese traditional epic song, nagauta. It sings of the world in which there is no boundary between this world and the world beyond.

I am a lonely grave
forever awaiting someone’s arrival
under this fruit-bearing quince tree

Yes, I am still lonely,
lonely as could be…

Who might you be?
Please don’t go

It was a surprise
that I should die so early
I really was stunned…

Even those difficult days are dear to me now
as I absently listen
to the sound of passing wind
Somewhere, crows are cawing

What is this place, I wonder?
Why am I here?
Wandering between this world and the one beyond

Where are you?
I wish you were here…

I am a lonely grave
How long have I been here?

Snow covers the ground, cherry blossoms bloom
cicadas are born, and the leaves dance about

It was a surprise
that I should die so early
I really was stunned…

Ah, this is bad, this is it
Those were my very last thoughts

At least the pain is no more
I wish I could be like the insects and flowers…

Sometimes, I sense that you are here
Can you hear my voice?
Wandering between this world and the one beyond

Where are you?
I wish you were here…

Chiho Aoshima’s world floats untethered in this world, disengaged from the context of contemporary art.

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