Autumn 2023

Bad but good but …

‘Wave: Currents in Japanese Graphic Arts’

Japan House, London, 6 July–22 October 2023

‘Wave: Currents in Japanese Graphic Arts’ is a collection of ‘graphic arts’ with no typography. Tanaami Keiichi’s montages are cut-ups of a comic about a Mowgli-like boy cavorting with tigers (see Shōnen Tiger 02, 2009, right), defeating dinosaurs and evil skulls. Posters swirl with clashing fluorescent colours. Apart from a photo-realist painting of tourists beneath a sunlit castle, there is nothing realistic in this exhibition, just one long dream-nightmare, hallucinatory, irrational, crazed. Every human depicted in this show is troubled, suffocated by plastic tubes, possessed by foxes or sobbing in anguish (as in Untitled, 2000, by Yukishita Mayu, below).

Their eyes sprout orchids. Humanity is not OK. Here and there are traces of Japanese culture: a Noh mask, a hachimaki headband; otherwise, the past has disappeared, replaced by aliens, cyborgs, cut-ups, mashups, amalgams, surreality. Curator Hiro Sugiyama talks about ‘heta-uma’ [‘bad but good’]. This approach seems to have liberated Japanese visual culture, perhaps a bit like Pop Art opened infinite new possibilities in the West, but there is nothing but consummate skill throughout.

‘Wave’ demonstrates that Japanese visual culture is alive, bursting out of any constraints. Style is wide open, content can be whatever. The only limit is how fast you can produce the outpourings of your fevered imagination.

Yukishita Mayu, Untitled, 2000. Top. Tanaami Keiichi, Shōnen Tiger 02, 2009.

Quentin Newark, designer, writer, Atelier Works, London

First published in Eye no. 105 vol. 27, 2023

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