I’m really interested in this kind of pendulum swing; this kind of desire to be able to feel and touch and smell materials – and then the other end of the pendulum being the reality that we have a distance from materials and we have so much time with images.
Sarah Sze, “How We See the World”, art21
Where is the line between image and object? When does something become a visual representation of intangible virtuality, and when does it become tangible materiality? There exists a very interesting dialogue yet tension between the images that we consume and the objects through which we consume them – not least in today’s digital age. Take a regular cellphone for example. Looking at the screen of the phone, one’s eyes may be directed at the displayer, but what one looks at is the content that is being displayed. As one is immersed into the represented content, the material form is ignored. Yet in order to reach the former at all, the latter is necessary. One typically must grab and hold the phone in one’s hand, and then touch the displayer in order to get to and navigate through the content. Moreover, the phone contains a myriad of materials such as cards and circuits, without which its image-displaying function would be impossible. Image is vitally dependent on object – yet their phenomenological dimensions are kept separate.
Bodies are not treated with much grace in the world of Alita: Battle Angel. As much in the film as in the manga and OVA that it is based on, the approach to the cyborg body is extremely physical. Mechanized and commodified in an utmost cyberpunk “high tech low life”-manner, it is graphically enhanced, attached and detached, bought, sold, traded and stolen. Death continually occurs by bodies being smashed or cut into pieces, while survival occurs by the simple replacement of the destroyed body. As it is treated as a mere tool, the body’s ontological attachment to the self appears to have been abandoned long ago. But while this technological split in the bodily self is present in the franchise at large, what’s peculiar about Robert Rodriguez’s film adaptation is its depiction of the split through its own technological medium-materiality.
In bunraku, the most recent and most developed edition to the history of Japanese puppet theater, the puppets at play come to life through the cooperation of a number of performers. Each major character is controlled by three puppeteers; one for the lower body, one for the head – including facial details in some cases – and the right arm, and one for the left arm (Bolton, 2002: 741; “Bunraku Performers: Puppeteers”). Meanwhile a single chanter performs the voices of all characters while accompanied by a shamisen player (Bolton, 2002: 739, 748; “Bunraku Performers: Narrators”; “Bunraku Performers: Musicians”). Having personally seen such an operation in action, I was particularly struck by its mimetic dissonance. Presented in front of me were meticulously crafted puppets that in detailed motion immersively acted out the play’s story. Yet just behind them were the black-clothed faceless figures pulling the strings, imbuing the puppets and their story with life by moving their bodies with technical proficiency. While “hidden” behind neutrality, the performers’ no less visible presence formed a rupture in the play’s mimetic consistency, subtly revealing its ultimate condition as fiction and the puppets’ ultimate conditions as inanimate objects. To draw a comparison to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave: the shadow reflections (the puppets) and their activities inside the cave (the story) was the main point of attention – yet the figures producing the reflections (the puppeteers) were hauntingly present in the metaphysical background.
One of the main challenges for an art curator is giving works of art an as unbiased presentation as possible. Total neutrality and objectivity can never be achieved; one always has to select some artworks over others for a collection, and these selections will inevitably be motivated by categorization based on chronology, theme, individual artist, culture, gender, race, or some other factor. Hence, whether explicitly or implicitly, intentionally or unintentionally, a collection always tells a narrative. And as with all forms of narrative, it runs the risk of framing its content in a lackluster or even problematic way. One only needs to look at the controversial 1984 MoMA exhibition “‘Primitivism’ in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern” for an illustrative example. As “tribal” objects were presented side by side with the works of modernists such as Picasso and the like, the narrative was of an “affinity” between the two that romantically suggested human artistic qualities transcendent beyond cultural boundaries. However, with cherrypicking and skewed juxtaposition, the exhibition only echoed the colonialist tendency of appropriating non-Western objects onto a Western grand narrative that is framed as universal (Clifford, 1988: 192-196).
Keita Kurosaka is quite an idiosyncratic figure in independent animation. With an educational background in painting, he has since the early 1980s produced animated images of striking evocation through gracious craftsmanship (Hotes, 2011). While he has explored a number of forms throughout his works – such as his early formalist experimentations titled Metamorphose Works, or his stop motion explorations in stuff like Worm Story and Personal City – he is probably most recognized for his grotesque yet painterly style of hand-drawn animation. And if there is one of his works where this style truly flourishes with grandeur, it is his 2010 55-minute* magnum opus Midori-ko. This film was a real passion project of Kurosaka’s. Parallel to working as a professor at Musashino Art University and producing a few shorts here and there, he spent ten years and over 20,000 images, all hand-drawn in colored pencil, on this tour de force of animation (Mistral Japan; USC Cinematic Arts).
Yoshitaka Amano certainly needs no thorough introduction. With his extensive work on major franchises like Final Fantasy and Vampire Hunter D, among countless other things, he is a legendary visual artist to say the least. But the perhaps less known parts of his long and rich career are the various original projects that he has done over the years. One of these is Fantascope: Tylostoma, a 2006 OVA produced by Toei Animation as part of their Ga-nime project, which was a collaboration with the publishing company Gentosha that featured film works done primarily through still images of various kinds (Press Release, Toei Animation). Amano’s contribution to this collection is an apocalyptic dark fantasy tale told through over 200 ink illustrations, directed by the longtime commercial director Kimura Kusaichi, and featuring the voices of Tetta Sugimoto, Takashi Ukaji, Yumi Aso and Shingo Kuwabara (Ga-nime, Toei Animation).
Shigeru Tamura is a visual artist whose career spans several decades and a variety of mediums. Although he is primarily known in Japan as the author of many picture books (Books from Japan). Some of these books were during the late 1980s and 1990s adapted into anime, including Glassy Ocean (Sevakis, 2009). This is a wonderful little film, whose origination from a children’s book certainly comes through in its imaginative playfulness. At the same time, it has a strong iyashikei-tone to it, depicting the exotically fantastical with idyllic gentleness through its relaxed pacing, simplistic design, pleasing color palette and delightful score by Hiroshi Ogasawara. Its iyashikei quality furthermore includes its narrative and thematic content as well.