Thursday, December 29, 2011

Barbie Trashes Her Dreamhouse and Kawaii

Originally written in April 2010, I thought I'd re-share this essay as an artist statement for the series, "Barbie Trashes Her Dreamhouse".

"I've been feeling guilty of late for the photographs I've been taking.  I am like a hobbyist engaged in some time-wasting endeavor that is sure to bring no respect, to say nothing of  either fame or fortune.  The subjects themselves are of questionable taste with respect to a large demographic- tiny, cute, girly miniature toys.

There's that old adage "do what you love and the rest will follow", but at times that rings empty.  I could question the nature of motivation, i.e., how many artists are truly moved by process alone without any regard to criticism and that may describe the average outsider artist, but for most "schooled" artists, we keep our eyes on the prize: a show, a review, a publication, a sale.  We are only as good as our convictions- as long as they have been deemed acceptable by a third party.  Call me crass, but I don't speak no jive.

As ridiculous as it would sound, in light of my many-year obsession with the Japanese culture of the small, Kawaii is a relatively new term to me. At it's core, the word means "childlike", "sweet", and "innocent", with darker connotations such as "vulnerable", "weak" and "socially inexperienced".

Why should this matter?  I've been trying to justify my collection and the time "wasted" setting  up scenes to shoot them.  I make haste to liken this process to one I knew more formally during the time spent photographing room scenes for commercial purposes.  I am doing the same thing, albeit on a smaller (literally!) scale.  But where does the drive stem from? Why miniature?  Why small things associated with my youth? Why now? I have been temped by a growing subculture.

As has been part of  mainstream culture in Japan since the 1970's,  flaunting symbols of childhood is a way to hang onto it and thereby delay those specific aspects of adulthood that are deemed grueling and unsavory- take your pick. To wit, grown men and women drive character cars and fly on airplanes painted with Pokemon painted on the side. I believe the trend has only begun here as a subculture due in large part that adult-marketed toys (no, not those) have not been made available until recently.  I credit adults who were children in the 1980's to start this trend here.  Witness the small, but growing contingency of Japanophiles who delight in the cartoonish offerings of Sanrio.  How about Kidrobot? Frank Kozik's been around for quite some time as a graphic designer, but his followers had to become of age to promulgate his kawaii-like vinyl toys. 

So, why is this a trend now?  Several catalysts (and certainly, just my opinion) stem from the bright, colorful Saturday morning cartoons of the 1980's, the over-marketing of figurines like Rainbow Brite, He-Man, and the Transformers,  florescent clothing with god-awful patterns of the late 80's and early 90's.  You didn't have to like this stuff,- it didn't matter-  it was all-pervasive. It would be remember and referenced in later years, and who doesn't want to fondly recall their youth in some small way?  As a teenager (and I am referring to a select group here) we were all deemed Slackers, a term about as anti-life affirming for a generation as you can get.  A certain restraint was lifted.  It was implied that we had not set very high goals for ourselves, so why not grow up and play with toys?

Why else would this happen in the new millenium? Did children of the 1950's have bastardized 1970's movie remakes  about cartoons they watched as children? No, there was and, for most part, still is a stigma on continuing to reference things used and experienced as children.  It makes one seem defective in a way, like they never grew the fuck up.  There is a percentage of this blight that is being erased, as certain franchises have turn to capitalize on our collection penchant for 80's nostalgia.  Micheal Bay, I'm looking at you!

So, say what you will about my work only serving to keep my reality at an arms length. I won't deny it.
You still might think it's silly, but the Japanese know what's up."