March 12th, 2011
Yayoi Kusama, Pollen, 1984, painted wood box, mixed media, plastic fibers
Anonymous, Bust of Female Figurine, ca. 100-300 BC, final Jōmon period, Earthenware with incised and cord-marked designs
At first it felt pretty ridiculous to post today given what’s happening in Japan. The disaster has stunned & overwhelmed me and posting photos of art I like on a website and writing about them felt like a particularly silly gesture. But letting futility paralyze me felt worse. In the face of calamity, holding on to & celebrating what’s precious about our brief existence on earth — people, animals, mountains, oceans, love, laughter, and art — felt not just permissible or appropriate but outright necessary.
And so with that in mind, I present two works of Japanese art, separated by almost two millennia, in my humble little attempt to honor one of the most noble of our planet’s countries & cultures. Japan, land that has bequeathed us such a rich & varied artistic legacy: the 12th century’s epic illustrated hand-scroll art known as e-maki ; the massive mystical landscape paintings on sliding-doors and screens of the late 16th century Momoya period; and in our time, the exuberance and visual pop of anime and video game art; the edgy childlike flourishes of Murakami; the alien forms, colors and designs of the great Yayoi Kusama.
It’s Kusama (whose work I’ve featured previously here) I want to spotlight first. Her piece above, “Pollen”, astounds me with its intoxicating blending of suggestions: pretty polkadot candybox, migraine-electro-pulse of its exterior, genital Bourgeois-esque cluster of erogenous nubs tucked into pubic tufts, slither & tongue-flick of reptile hatchery, secret fungal cluster, open alien sarcophagus. It’s already so rich with meaning to me in digital-image form… jesus, must be out of this world to see live!
Jumping back 2000 years we have the second piece I’ve selected, an example of Dogū, animal & humanoid clay artworks (often fertility goddesses) made by the first Japanese settlers during what’s known as the Jōmon period. I find so much remarkable about this piece, particularly the insectoid aspect of her massive coffee-bean eyes and tiny oral orifice. Also peculiar to me are her hand-less arm trunks, their inability to grasp and manipulate reducing the figure to pure comforting/embracing/suffocating mass. The breasts are consumed by nipple, pure fertility goddess idealization, but then you have the stolid sentry presence that to me differentiates it from fertility goddesses of other world traditions, giving here more of a steadfastness & power & implacability. I find it particularly fascinating how modern replicas of Dogū (here) have a kind of samurai & Sci-Fi robot presence, what with the optic hubs and armor-like body plates, conflating in the strangest ways different aspects of Japanese culture since the period that first birthed Dogū. So beautiful and haunting how a people’s cultural output renews itself & draws upon itself across time — or perhaps predicts its future development. Maybe in some ways the late cultural outgrowths of a people are implicit in the seeds of its very first settlers’ expressions.
Learn more about Kusama here, and please also check out Kusama’s page at Artsy.net over here.
Learn more about the Jōmon figurine at the metmuseum site here.
Help Japan by donating here at the American Red Cross site.
All writing © copyright C. Way / Snailcrow.com 2011