AN INVISIBLE CONTEXT: JAPANESE CONSUMER CULTURE

There are two curious aspects to the works discussed here. One is that “the Western art context” is understood in a stereotypical way by Japanese artists. Another is that the recent discourse of Japanese criticism and curating, which is mainly responsible for supporting the younger generation of artists, is concerned with postmodernism. As the Japanese context seems based in the desire for novelty, it also faces a dangerous acceleration of consumer culture.

Even though it might seem a cliche, the situation is similar to the Japanese commercial system which is controlled by the information industry and influential advertising agencies such as Dentsu or Hakuho-do. Advertising occupies a position in the social context that is different from its North-American counterpart. There are no anti-trust laws, as evidenced by these companies’ exponential growth. Dentsu is the largest advertising agency, with the highest income in the world. Their ability to achieve this derives from a series of alliances and mutual backing with corporations and newspapers, resulting in a kind of journalism that is based on advertising and manipulation of the information-consumer society. This network is for the most part invisible when the image of Japan is exported. Artists’ attitude to success in the international art world follows this method of Japanese corporate commerce.

In the case of Mariko Mori, her works simply evoke a typical image of Japanese high consumerism. Mori studied art in London and New York, then began exhibiting in 1992. Her new work, Miko no Inori (meaning “the shrine maiden’s prayer”), was made in two parts: video and photographs on glass transfer material. By projecting herself as a cybernetic character, Mori uses a method unusual for Japan-based artists. Her image is very much inspired by Japanese television commercials and comic book characters. The uncritical use of stereotyping betrays her perception of Japan as one from the outside. In contrast to other artists who work cynically out of necessity, and who use the methods of advertising strategically, Mori simply uses advertising images and recontextualizes them as art. This practice highlights the problematic aspects of postmodernism – the desire for novelty and the strange – for Japanese culture.

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