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Morimura Essay

By Angela
Explai n why and how Morimura uses appropri ati on and recontexualisation
when maki ng art. In your answer, refer to a range of examples.
Japanese Post-modern performance artist Yasumasa Morimura (1951-) favours
using digital technology to appropriate or recontextualise western artworks. He
works mainly from the cultural and postmodern frame by integrating Japanese
elements with well-known western paintings. The cultural frame is the cultural and
social meaning of the picture such as gender, cultural and global identity. The
postmodern frame refers to the ideas that criticise or challenge mainstream
conventions, for example, artificial stereotypes, materialism increasing reliance on
technology. His artworks, Blinded by Light (1991), Daughter of Art History
Theater(1951) and Futago (1988) utilises symbolism, juxtaposition to
demonstrate, to some degree, the struggle with identity.
In the last 130 years, Japan has increased exchange and activity with the global
communities. During1868-1912, the Meiji Era began and saw the end to long periods
of isolation and then the establishment of trade with the west. The Japanese desired
to be culturally, economically and technologically advanced and thus came a period
of massive economic growth and internationalism after World War II. As Japan head
towards becoming a major partner of the global economy, demand and
consumption for all things western rocketed. In the 21st Century, Japan has become
a powerful global partner and a technologically modern country with constant
exchange across national borders of commodities, money, technologies and people.
Born and living in the digital age, Morimura tries to convey a sense of the
increasing reliance on technology through his medium-digital photography. He
shows this through his use of media-colour photograph with surface varnish, a clear
material scraped across the surface of the photograph to mimics brushstrokes. This
produces an illusion of perfection in painting techniques, but what is actually a
product of Photoshop . There is a sense that convenience and speed of technology
may overrun the old masters beautiful techniques and painstaking efforts.
Blinded by Light is an appropriation of The Parable of the Blind by Breugel.
Appropriation is taking a well-known artwork and changing the artwork to give new
meaning. The painting depicts a line of blind men following the leader and falling
into the pit.
Morimura changed the picture with a satirical twist and at the same time
incorporated symbols of popular western culture. The characters wear interesting
costumes and have their eyes blinded by one thing or another. The baby wears
clothes with lace and is hugging a teddy bear and follows the artist; the artist has
paint brushes in his eyes and he holds a palette streaked with oil paint; the hunter is
draped with bullets and grenades are stuck to his eyes; the shopping lady is laden
with pearl necklaces and beads and she grasps a bunch of shopping bags with
famous logos; the woman about to fall down is dressed in fur and adorned with
jewelry. These people from different walks of life illustrate how technology,
consumerism and globalization influences Japan. It pointedly criticizes the way
Japanese people have thrown away their traditional culture in pursuit of the
Western way of life and suggests that the burst of consumerism will fade and fall.
Futago is another digital montage and it appropriates the notorious artwork
Olympia. Olympia is by Manet and the work shows an interest in the
modernisation of nude. The servant girl brings in a bouquet of flowers from an
admirer and Olympia picks her head off the pillow as if her next customer has come
in, and she directs her piercing gaze upon the audience. The velvet curtains divide
the picture down the middle and to where Olympias hand covers herself, the black
cat in the corner symbolises prostitution. The bracelet, slipper and Japanese prints
are signs of wealth. It is the first sign of individualism and cause controversy in the
19
th
century.
As a contemporary Japanese artist experiencing the post-war effect and the
frenzy for western products in Japan, Morimura has cultivated sensitivity to cultural
and gender perceptions. Futago can be viewed from the post-modern and cultural
framework because it features the juxtaposition of Western and Asian cultures. In
this photograph two Asian, including the artist himself, dress up: one as a European
courtesan, the other as an African servant. As a homosexual artist, Morimura
struggles with his own identity, as he is constantly labelled as female and a weak link
in society and he shows this through cross-dressing. He lies on the bed, attempting
to portray a female and he is adorned with little trinkets that enforce feminism- the
slipper and the choker-however, the lack of breasts and jagged lines of her body
questions the effeminate stereotypes of gay people. The artist disapproves the way
the Japanese have embraced the western ideals wholeheartedly and resents the
western stereotypes about Asian men being effeminate. Japanese symbols are
inserted in the artwork such as the Japanese prints and the porcelain black cat
serves as an ominous reminder of the womans status. Furthermore, the fact that
the two Japanese in the picture obviously strike a discord with the western setting
shows even signs of the incompatibility of the two cultures, and hints to the decline
of traditional culture.
Daughter of Art History Theatre is a recontextualised work of A Bar at the
Folies-Bergere. Recontextualisation is the act of putting a familiar or pre-existing
image into a new context to change its meaning. The original artwork is a painting by
Manet and shows the interior of a fashionable caf in Paris and a girl serving a
gentleman at a counter. Behind her a wide mirror reflects all the splendour of the
caf she is in, and her reflection is placed to the paintings right to avoid being
symmetrical. Her gaze is detached and weary and that of an unhappy modern
woman.
Morimura featured, instead of Parisians, Japanese that are in the French caf.
The girl in the montaged photograph is, again, not amused. The choker, the
pendant, the roses, fine lace and bracelet remain and are symbols of femininity.
However, there are two strong arms reaching out from the collar of the velvet dress
and crossing together, the universal gesture no. New meaning is created, and it is
that a contemporary woman has the right to deny the gentleman, or rather the
audience, his pleasures. It makes a statement about how women are treated and
challenges the view that women are subservient to men. Furthermore, Morimura
has made this artwork a comment on a global scale because of the merging of two
cultures.
Morimura is an artist with deep insights into the cultural economy of the west
that influenced and made a particular culture-Japan. Through skilful appropriation
and recontextualisation he renews meaning of original western artworks and
outlines many social and different cultural perceptions in both countries, using the
struggle with identity as the main theme in his exploration of post-modern and
cultural frameworks.