Sunday, December 1, 2013

Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination.

Written by Anne Allison 2006.
This is where the term Techno-animism was coined. Allison discusses Japanese toy production, especially after WW2. After the war Japan needed to rebuild itself as a nation and toys and technology were two areas of strength. Allison also discusses Japan's history of animism stemming from the spiritual belief in Shinto that all things possess a spirit or soul with the added influence from Zen Buddhism. Somewhat inherent in their culture, even new technology could hold spiritual powers. An example that she discussed in depth was the manga character Astro Boy ( “Mighty Atom”)manga created by Osamu Tezuka. He was half boy, half robot and a very popular character. Unlike the west where robots were depicted as untrustworthy and usually feared if portrayed in movies.

This is mecha animated by Shinto, Japan’s religion of animism in which everything is endowed with a spirit and spirituality imbues the whole universe from boulders to ants. Not particular to the main character, roboticization has seeped into the very fabric of life itself here, expressed as a universal principle where the fusing of the natural and mechanic is akin to a spiritual truth. Pg 63

Not only is boundary-crossing promiscuity rampant here, in the sense that there seems no limit to what can be conjoined and cross-pollinated with something else, but also technology (mecha) is a key component to the way life of all kinds is constituted—a priority the Japanese state placed on technology as well in its reconstruction efforts following the war. Taking account of the centrality of mecha in Japanese play goods throughout the postwar period to the present, I call this aesthetic techno-animism. Pg 13

Monday, October 28, 2013

Techno-animism in Japan: Shinto Cosmograms, Actor-network Theory, and the Enabling Powers of Non-human Agencies

Techno-animism in Japan: Shinto Cosmograms, Actor-network Theory, and the Enabling Powers of Non-human Agencies Casper Bruun Jensen and Anders Blok Theory Culture Society 2013 30: 84

Jenson and Blok produce a rather lengthy article that discusses the influence on Shinto and Buddhism on Japanese culture, especially technology. They discuss how Shinto can be interpreted as a form of animism, where spiritual qualities or souls are projected onto inanimate natural objects.  But how can this idea be transferred onto modern technology?  They suggested Shinto helps us rethink the modern world. (97) How can such a spiritual belief fit in with modern technology?

They discuss medical researchers, conservationists, animator Miyazaki Hayao and robotics as modern examples of Shinto influence.  The Japanese see no distinction between non-human in nature and non-human in technology. In Shinto everything is capable of holding spirit.

They suggest the new interest in ecology and the preservation not just of humans but of the whole environment, including non-humans hints at a relinking with religion.

Aesthetically pleasing landscapes may inspire a sense of awe in humans; as may, indeed, the surprise encounter with an attractively strange and playful robotic creature like the AIBO-the-dog. Pg 105

They talk about Japanese Anime ability to move from human to non- human to robotic to spirits to animals or polymorphous perversity.  Traditionally Japan has a more generous spirit towards robots and cyborgs. He introduces the term techno-animisim as coined by Anne Allison in Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination.

He mentions how it is very difficult to trace back the history of Shintoism and also it's relationship with Buddhism.

Aesthetically pleasing landscapes may inspire a sense of awe in humans; as may, indeed, the surprise encounter with an attractively strange and playful robotic creature like AIBO-the-dog. Pg 105

Six Names of Beauty CRISPIN SARTWELL

Six Names of Beauty  CRISPIN SARTWELL

Seeing as Wabi Sabi is a difficult term to understand, I thought including as many different interpretations as I could will add to my understanding. I quite like Sartwell's as listed below.

But let’s focus on two other terms: “wabi” and “sabi.” These merge into a single aesthetic or kind of beauty—wabi-sabi—that is related both to shibusa and to yugen, but which has a different emotional tone. Wabi is most directly translated as “poverty,” and initially in its history had all the negative connotations of that state. The life of the peasant—hard, humble, and bare—is wabi. Wabi as an aesthetic term refers to the sort of roughness that one might find in a peasant hut: to everyday, inexpensive wares, to things still in use long after they are worn and cracked. Wood for the fire is wabi, as are the stone hearth and the fire itself. Wabi as beauty is humility, asymmetry, and imperfection, a beauty of disintegration, of soil, autumn leaves, grass in drought, crow feathers. For such reasons, an appreciation of wabi is an affirmation of the world and a certain sort of refusal of its transformation for delectation. Wabi as an aesthetic is a connection to the world in its imperfection, a way of seeing imperfection as itself embodying beauty.
      Sabi means “loneliness,” again originating in a word that is largely negative. In part, one might think of sabi as the subjective state that is appropriate to the experience of wabi: a kind of desolation or meditative depression that can be sweet. But it also refers to solitude both as a state of aloneness in persons and as a spareness of objects. Japanese flower arrangements (ikebana), for example, can have a sabi quality in comparison with Western styles, because they deploy extreme economy of means, perhaps only a few stems, with as much emphasis on a branch or leaf as on a blossom. Sabi is a quality of stillness and solitude, a melancholy that is one of the basic human responses to and sources of beauty. Loneliness arouses a yearning for companionship, but it is also something that can be relaxed into or, perversely, continued in the face of opportunities for its relief. Pg 102

His interpretation gets quite deep when he defines it as transcending the meaning of beauty and ugliness and of ordinary and extraordinary. That beauty can be seen in ugly objects and that something quite everyday can be extraordinary. It takes a certain kind of shift in our thinking to recognise these qualities, especially if we have grown up in a society that values perfection, straight lines and man made materials. He talks about making peace with ugliness. I liken it to falling in love. At first you may find someone unattractive but once their inner beauty has swayed you, they start to become more physically attractive. Likewise a beautiful person can become quite ugly if they have a unattractive personality. How can we make the inner beauty of an ugly object come out for all to see and appreciate?

On further reading I was interested in the discussion about Japanese gardens and ikebana. I have always enjoyed including plants into my artwork whether they were deliberately designed as a planter or if they included plants to enhance the artwork. I plants ans nature as another element to the work. Finding the right plant was a process that could take some time. Like looking for the right colour paint or cutting a piece of wood to size.

The same is true of Japanese gardens, and of ikebana, the art of flower arrangement. Rikka, the most ancient of the styles of ikebana, is designed to capture a landscape in a vase. The vase represents the source of life in earth, and is itself made of earth. The surface of the water represents the earth’s surface. Pebbles and foliage systematically correspond to landscape elements, and are designed to create a perception of indefinite depth.  Pg 108

THE JAPANESE MIND Understanding Contemporary Japanese Culture

THE JAPANESE MIND Understanding Contemporary Japanese Culture Edited by Roger J. Davies & Osamu Ikeno TUTTLE Publishing Tokyo   Rutland, Vermont   Singapore

In the text there was an interesting discussion about the how the modernisation of Japan has had an effect on Japanese thinking. The Wabi Sabi term stemmed from poor Japanese monks exploring the arts with humble, simple, cheap, natural materials. The whole process had a connection with Zen Buddhism and meditative discipline of mind.

Japanese culture today is highly industrialized and is quite affluent, especially compared to earlier times. Modern life and technology may contribute to the misunderstanding or ignorance about traditional cultures, religion and art forms.

I recently spent some time with my Japanese friend Maki and we discussed the idea of Wabi Sabi. For one thing there is no direct translation for English. Then she agreed that there was a whole history and nuance that was hard for her as a modern Japanese person to understand as well.

A materialistic society is perhaps opposite of what Wabi Sabi stands for. In the text they discuss that Wabi Sabi goes deeper than just surface value.

Originally, wabi and sabi were used to express the dissatisfaction of people with the difficulties of their lives; however, attitudes toward such unfavorable conditions changed under the influence of Zen. Such feelings were transformed as people began to contemplate what exists beyond manifest existence, and wabi-sabi began to play an important role in the arts as an ideal sense of beauty. Wabi-sabi is not “apparent beauty” or “atmosphere”—people can recognize these qualities only through inner contemplation which is felt unconsciously in the heart. People used to live simple lives free from materialism and had the opportunity to cultivate a sense of unity with nature. The modern Japanese lead more luxurious lives but need to realize that these lifestyles were built on other values that should not be forgotten. 229

It is interesting that out modern lives with more technology and materialism but with less nature can make us lose understanding of the Wabi Sabi meaning. I am wondering if there is possibility for a new contemporary Wabi Sabi aesthetic to evolve? Listed below from the Bibliography are the terms defined from Ohbunsha Kogojiten (Dictionary of Archaic Japanese Words, 1988.)

1. Wabu: to worry or be pessimistic, to feel lonely, to be perplexed, to be reduced to poverty, to enjoy a quiet and deserted state. Wabishi: lonely and unsatisfactory, deserted, hard and troublesome, shabby and poor, uninteresting, unbearable (Ohbunsha Kogojiten, 1988, p. 1254).
2. Sabuhas two related sets of meanings: (1) to lie in waste or go to ruin, to feel lonely, to get old; (2) to rust, to become weaker or fade, to have an elegance that comes from aging. Sabishi: quiet and lonely, discouraging because of a lack of necessities (ibid., pp. 551 & 552).

I am interested to explore in my artwork a contemporary Wabi Sabi that still evokes the above meanings but perhaps with more modern materials such as the cement I use that evoke modern day building materials with faded paint and bright colours seen in Japanese advertising. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

jaakko pallasvuo & jake and dinos chapman

I got back last week from a short 2 week trip to Germany, Spain and a few days in Prague. I had a great time and was going to do alot of reading on the plane, but was still not feeling well and ended up just watching lots of trashy movies. But there were a few good shows I saw and two that I felt was related to my research.

I'll start with Finnish artist, Jaakko Pallasvuo who was part of a group exhibition called Startpoint: Prize for Emerging Artists at the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art in Prague, Chech.
Pallasvo's work Reverse Engineering,2013, stood out for because initially it was a digital video to be viewed on the internet. Then it drew me in with it's continually changing content. It reminded me of a blog with lot's of highly personal content. He talks directly to the web cam and even gives instructions to the viewer about making such videos. He discusses computer gam levels, art, film, interent, live journals, production and insecurities. He sound such as an annoying pop song and voice overs of men and women. The imgaes are of him talking, computer generated character talking, crude 3d computer graphic images and video games. He uses a few simple video effects to keep the work interesting. 

Next i saw a big show of Jake and Dinos Chapman at Galerie Rudolfinum in Prague. Very grotesque but the anthropomorphic kids were quite interesting.

jaakko pallasvuo
Reverse Engineering
Galerie Rudolfinum

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Wabi Sabi – the Japanese art of impermanence

Wabi Sabi – the Japanese art of impermanence
Andrew Juniper

Japanese culture, art and aesthetics have had a major influence on my artwork. There is a term called Wabi Sabi that can not be directly translated into English but refers to a type of aesthetic influenced by a number of factors. It stemmed from Zen Buddhism, that in turn was influenced by Chinese Taoism. Zen Buddhist monks were interested in artistic practices because they saw artistry in every aspect of life. The term seishintouistu refers to a meditative state that your mind enters when it has a single mined focus on one activity and as a result a loss of ego occurs. 
The monks could only afford cheap, humble natural materials and grew to notice the qualities in natural materials like bamboo. Inconsistencies symbolised something called mujo or impermanence. Wabi-sabi was also a backlash against the highly ornate, expensive, perfect Chinese objects.

As Wikipedia states, Wabi-sabi () represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete". It is a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence (三法印 sanbōin), specifically impermanence (無常 mujō), the other two being suffering ( ku) and emptiness or absence of self-nature ( ).

Juniper states the term Wabi sabi suggests such qualities as impermanence, humility, asymmetry, and imperfection. Pg2
These were the aspects investigated in Zen Buddhism. The monks saw Wab-sabi as a way to communicate spiritual messages.

I see Wabi-sabi as a respect for natural materials, finding beauty in the inconsistencies and as a result seeing it as a metaphor for the impermanence of our existence. Within this book Juniper discusses how modern Japan may be losing the influence of the traditional Wabi-sabi aesthetic but the subliminal influence is still significant in contemporary society.

I have been meditating for about 15 years now, not totally consistently but have experienced the benefits, one of which is better access to my creative mind and ideas. I also feel similar benefits when I enter my studio and get absorbed in the art making process.

It was also interesting in this book the list of design principles that Wabi-sabi adhered to such as;

- organic, natural materials
- no shiny materials
- materials that show the passage of time
- materials whose devolution is expressive and attractive
- the form dictated by materials
- asymmetrical or irregular
- artlessness not artistry
- evolves naturally, not forced
- no symbolism
- texture is rough and uneven
- variegated and random
- natural sporadic texture
- disregard for conventional beauty
- beauty in the smallest imperceptible details
- no harsh or strong colours, natural colours favoured
- subdued lighting
- matte, murky, lacking uniformity colours
- no embellishment or ostentation
- unrefined and raw
- use freely available materials
- areas of unused space
- observe physical balances as found in nature
- no formula or regular shapes
- unforced balance
- be sensitive of impermanence
- be humble, sincere, personal

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Dada – Art and Anti Art. Hans Richter.

In his book Dada - Art and Anti Art, Hans Richter (1965) discusses the element of chance within the art movement DADA. I think the element of chance relates quite highly to error and serendipitous mistakes. Richter thought it was quite central to Dada art and opened up new areas to art that had not been explored before and gave a new sense of freedom to the process.

The Dadaists asked the question what is chance and where does it lie within us? Dada artists read Jung who discussed coincidence, synchronicity, causality. They saw chance as a magical way of entering the unconscious mind or the soul. They saw is as a way to restore art back to it's primevel powerful state.
We were fated to live with the paradoxical necessity of entrusting ourselves to chance while at the same time remembering that we were conscious beings working towards conscious goals. This contradiction between the rational and the irrational opened a bottomless pit over which we had to walk.  Pg 61
Humour and laughter was also an important part of their art. Dada arose as a backlash of the times when the War had such a serious impact on society.
I see the connection to chance within art to primitive urges and animism. Tapping into the unconscious, entering into chance and accepting primitve urges are all realted. I want to encourge more chance within my artwork. I am very interested as to where it will take me.

Animate/Inanimate Symposium

Sunday 1 September  2013 11.00am - 5.00pm

A day of lively discussions about the meanings, histories and vulnerabilities of the natural and animal worlds through the eyes of artists, cultural theorists and environmental scientists, this symposium coincides with the exhibition Animate/Inanimate at the TarraWarra Museum of Art and will be held in the enchanting Brolga Room at Healesville Sanctuary.

12.00noon - Keynote presentation: Professor Barbara Creed
Barbara Creed is Professor of Screen Cultures at the University of Melbourne and director of the 'Human Rights and Animal Ethics' research network.
In Search of Sensation in the Nineteenth Century Zoological Park

Professor Creed explores the uncanny tension between animate/inanimate and human/animal in relation to the entrapment of animals in zoos and travelling menageries of the nineteenth century. She will also explore the aesthetics of shock in relation to the human/animal border as well as the role of this aesthetic in art

3.45pm - Keynote presentation: Professor Deborah Bird Rose
Deborah Bird Rose is a Professor in the Centre for Research on Social Inclusion at Macquarie University, Sydney. Professor Rose writes across several disciplines, including anthropology, history, philosophy, cultural studies and religious studies, and has worked with Aboriginal people in their claims to land and in other decolonising contexts. She has written numerous books and essays including Wild Dog Dreaming.
Animism, Art, and the Breath of Life
Art’s special magic is to knock us out of familiar enclosures. ‘We tell ourselves stories in order to live’, Joan Didion famously tells us. In this time of mass extinctions, art has the power to open new stories, breathing life into new meanings of our place in the life of planet earth.

I had seen this symposium advertised and was caught first by the title of the exhibition; Animate/Inanimate. Then on reading a bit more about the speakers I saw that animism was going to be discussed by Professor Deborah Bird Rose. Her talk was quite interesting but did not delve too deeply into art.

The first speaker Professor Barbara Creed’s discussion was the most interesting and relevant to me. She discussed the notion of the uncanny as attractive and repulsive and as both familiar and unfamiliar. She showed Henri Rousseau’s painting The Dream, 1910 and discussed how he had never left Paris but continued to paint jungles and exotic locations. He painted at the Paris Zoo which led onto a discussion about zoos. Around the time of his painting (1910) you could say that the zoo was a symbol of Imperialism, as a way to bring nature under control. Creed also mentioned the natural history museums and how they held rooms full of skeletons, stuffed animals, the uncanny living dead.

A significant reference was Freud’s The Emotions of Man and Animals. She also discussed the artwork by Emmanuel Frémiet, Gorilla Carrying off a Woman, 1887. There was a fascination in society with wild animals and in a zoo it was possible to get up close to them. People were both scared and attracted, they craved the excitement. They were in search of sensation. Around those times they feared loss of control to a more primitive state.
I really enjoyed her connections with the uncanny, zoos, animals and art. I can understand why around those times that wild animals, zoos and natural history museums were the new sensation. The above mentioned artworks I find quite inspiring but I see my artwork touching on a more contemporary sensation. Digital technology, robots, animations and contemporary materials are what I am trying depict new sensation through. Perhaps the interent, robots and new technology could be seen as a scary gorilla? Not as a primitive threat but more as a digital threat to civilisation.  Maybe my wheeled concrete robots could wheel off unsuspecting ladies?

I also really enjoyed listening to artist, Louise Weaver speak. I have always loved her artwork but had never heard her speak. She came across at thoughtful, articulate, subtle and alluring, just as her artwork is.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Robotic Creatures : Anthropomorphism and Interaction in Contemporary Art

Ghedini, F.PERCRO Lab. Scuola Superiore Sant''Anna, Pisa, Italy. Bergamasco, M.

In the article Ghendini and Bergamasco state that there is a lack of research of robots in art. He discussed how robots in art create a theatre like event as the robots have an interactive element to them. Even by simply having anthropomorphic qualities. As soon as a viewer enters the room, a relationship begins and so this defines a new type of theatre. Any type of theatre has an acknowledgement of an audience. A robot cannot be too small so as to risk it being interpreted as an object and if it is too big, it will risk being viewed as a monument.

They discussed the history of puppets in different cultures and robots in science fiction. Perhaps the most interesting and relevant to me is the relationship Japanese people have to robots. They view them more as friendly helpers as opposed to the west where we see them as aliens and threatening. This can be explained with the native religion Shintoism. As discussed in Tylor’s book Primitive Culture, more primitive cultures’ religion project anthropomorphic and spiritual powers onto inanimate objects. Tools such as swords or axes came to have spiritual powers and in turn hold anthropomorphic qualities. The history of such practices in Japan had a big influence on their culture, even to this day. The Japanese obsession with cute characters and the ability to anthropomorphise most inanimate objects. Given reason as to why the Japanese are more welcoming to robots.
The new Japanese humanoid robot HRP-4C

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Sir Edward B TyIor – Primitive Cuture – ReIigion in primitive cuIture

This was the main text I read and referenced when writing my initial proposal. He used the term animism and personification and I was confused about the difference to anthropomorphism.
Below are the definitions I found on Wikipedia.

Animism is the religious worldview that natural physical entities—including animals, plants, and often even inanimate objects or phenomena—possess a spiritual essence. Specifically, animism is used in the anthropology of religion as a term for the religion of some indigenous tribal peoples, especially prior to the development and/or infiltration of colonialism and organized religion.
Anthropomorphism, or personification, is attribution of human form or other characteristics to anything other than a human being. Examples include depicting deities with human form and ascribing human emotions or motives to forces of nature, such as hurricanes or earthquakes. Anthropomorphism has ancient roots as a literary device in storytelling, and also in art. Most cultures have traditional fables with anthropomorphised animals, which can stand or talk like humans, as characters.

Also on WiseGeek website they had an interesting explanation of what the difference was.
The difference between anthropomorphism and personification is a subtle one, as each term refers to a similar assignment of human characteristics to a non-human entity. Anthropomorphism is a literary device that an author uses to give traditionally human feelings or actions to an animal, plant, or inanimate object. For example, the sentence, "The wind blew angrily, expressing the full extent of his violent rage," applies this concept, because the wind retains its non-human form while taking on human emotions, intentions, and a masculine pronoun. Personification works similarly and occurs when the writer allows a non-human entity to fully embody human traits. The Easter Bunny is an example of personification, as an animal becomes a total embodiment of human characteristics and abilities.

Primitive Culture was a very interesting study of primitive cultures and the common thread of the spiritualisation of inanimate objects. Mythology, philosophy, religion are all discussed referencing different cultures. I was also introduced to the term Pareidolia, which is the tendency to see patterns in abstract phenomena, like seeing faces on inanimate objects. 

Shintoism from Japan was discussed and it explains the obsession Japanese culture has with cute characters and anthropomorphism. Many primitive cultures have a long history of evoking spiritual and human like powers onto inanimate objects especially favorite tools for either hunting or performing tasks. 

He discusses how the first thing we learn about is human beings. As children we naturally project human like qualities onto inanimate objects. It could be suggested that observing human nature is part of our human nature.

He talks about ideas such as the transmigration of souls into objects such as trees. Also, human like qualities within the sun, moon and stars and the spiritual qualities of certain landscapes.
He discusses language as having feminine and masculine meanings. 

Animism is, in fact, the groundwork of the Philosophy of Religion, from that of savages up to that of civilized men. Pg 426

I found Tylor’s book to be quite enlightening. I am quite open with my attraction to the anthropomorphic but on a more personal level I am more restrained discussing any spiritual beliefs. I am, I would say, equally attracted to spirituality, specifically Buddhist philosophy, native spiritual beliefs and some new age ideas and concepts. It is something that has grown with me since child hood and was amplified when I went through cancer some 15 years ago. I found it comforting to realise there was link between anthropomorphism and spirituality. Putting faces on everything could be linked to some subliminal spiritual instinct. 

 An example of Anthropomorphism from Wikipedia. This illustration by Milo Winter of the Aesop's fable, The North Wind and the Sun, an anthropomorphic North Wind tries to strip a traveler of his cloak.

An example of Animism via Wikipedia. A tableau presenting figures of various cultures filling in mediator-like roles, often being termed as "shaman" in the literature. 

DELEUZE GUATTARI a thousand plateaus - capitalism and schizophrenia

A Thousand Plateaus is a 1980 book by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and psychoanalyst Félix Guattari. It is the second volume of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, and the successor to Anti-Oedipus (1972).

I only read the chapter, Year Zero: Faciality. From what I can gather they invented the terms faciality and deterritorialization. In this chapter Faciality was discussed as the symbolic nature of the face and its ability to define zones, areas to bounce off and other areas of shadows, white wall or black holes. They suggested we can interpret anything as having facial likeness. It works unconsciously. Faces as lanscapes. Choices guided by faces. They discussed dismantling a face could possibly make us go mad but could help us get out of our subjective point of view.

Quite philosophical and hard to follow at times but there are some interesting concepts within the chapter that provoke deeper thought and perhaps understanding of why I am attracted to and make anthropomorphic art. I like the idea of dismantling the face and in turn opening up different perspective, be it conscious or unconscious. I see some connections here with Freud’s Totem and Taboo.
The white wall, black hole concept intrigues me and I see that seeing faces in everything as one of initial and primal instincts.

On searching for an image in google for Faciality, I was attracted to this one. I immediately see a face, the big black shape as two eyes. On investigating a bit further, it is actually a still from a video by an artist called Dick Whyte. His images at first seem quite abstracted but on longer viewing, the slow moving, blurred black and white forms does remind me of some monstrous face. It also gives me confidence that animation or moving images do not have to be complex or fast moving to produce and anthropomorphic effect.

He states:

Silent abstract/poetic video reworking of the first ever television broadcast made by John Logie Baird in the 1930s, using 78rpm discs.
Part of a series of film adaptations of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's "Capitalism and Schizophrenia" I am currently working on: