Consuming Bodies: Sex and Contemporary Japanese Art
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Sex and consumerism in art are inextricably linked to issues of power, gender, class and race, and move beyond the gallery into private and public realms, where the complex relationships surrounding sexuality and commerce are directly encountered in both the fast-changing marketplace and in the dominant ideologies within Japanese society.
With over 150 intriguing illustrations, Consuming Bodies provides a wide-ranging perspective on an under-researched area of contemporary Japanese art practice and the critical issues it uncovers.
simultaneously exploring how such images intervene in the cultural and economic systems that have long sustained Japanese national identity. The impetus for this book was a major touring exhibition that presented the work of eight artists, all of whom are discussed here (throughout, Japanese names follow the Western convention of forenames preceding surnames).1 During research on their work, it became apparent that concerns with sex and consumerism in Japan are part of the complexities of a
Moronobu and Sukenobu, nearly all ukiyo-e artists produced some pornography. Hokusai (1760–1849), for one, was famous for painting just about everything. His subject matter was naturalistic or historical, mythological, ghostly and – since such themes constituted a subject just like anything else – pornographic. Utamaro (1750–1806) was the past master at painting all aspects of life in the Yoshiwara brothels: from beautiful portraits of courtesans and geisha, through genre scenes, to shunga
skirts and loose socks with the more traditional image of a delicately drawn bonsai tree (illus. 45). Conscious of the overtones of careful nurturing and cultivation associated with the art of growing bonsai,15 Masuyama’s depictions of the eroticized images of young girls, placed on the same level and occupying the same indeterminate space on the canvas, present the spectator with two contradictory and conflicting images which embody the different values and cultural sensibilities of past and
Tea Ceremony 3 (illus. 93) where, wearing the uniform of an ‘office lady’ and a space helmet with antennas, Mori transforms herself into a woman from outer space and stands in front of an office building cheerfully serving Japanese tea. What makes this coexistence possible is Mori’s smiling face, which is completely in tune with the act of serving. However, in her subsequent work the fantasy element branches off into two directions. With silver hair and wearing pale green contact lenses, Mori
area of exploration for visual and performance art, whether it intends to celebrate, ironize, oppose or place itself in an oblivious rapport with Tokyo’s sexual culture. All such rapports are intimate ones. In the French artist Chris Marker’s seminal film Sunless (1982), which presciently anticipated the subsequent twenty years of visual transformation and digital culture in Tokyo, the city is one stop on a long journey of memory which also encompasses the volcanic terrain of Iceland, the