4th December- 13th February
Opening hours: Tuesday- Sunday 11am- 7pm, closed Monday, New Year’s Day and Lunar New Year
Admission: Adults 3,000 won, children 1,500 won
Exhibition tours: Tuesday- Sunday 2pm, 3pm, 4pm, 5pm
In the current exhibition, Manga Realities: Exploring the Art of Japanese Comics Today at Artsonje Centre, the curators faced a daunting task of providing a representational snapshot in a gallery setting, of a medium usually enjoyed in a private realm. I cannot judge on how accurate a snapshot the curators have made; my manga appreciation is ashamedly that of a novice. However, I can appreciate that the nine artists selected represent different themes and styles in manga today. Themes used are in tune to our current globalised context, highlighting the medium’s ability to adapt. Once a form of mass entertainment for separate groups of Japanese men, women, boys and girls, the exhibition provides a platform for manga to show off how it has ripened to become regarded as ‘high art’ and a global commodity which transcends gender, age and cultural barriers. The difficult task of presenting manga in a gallery space has been handled superbly with 3D installations that are sympathetic to the individual manga represented. For both novices like myself, and avid fans alike, I’m certain this exhibition won’t disappoint.
Upon entry to the exhibition via a heavy velvet curtain, the visitor is welcomed by five giant panels featuring Matsumoto Taiyo’s ‘Number Five,’ (2000-2005); a pleasant welcoming into the world of manga that awaits inside. A selection of small scale drawings are on display too and feature gorgeous depictions of characters drawn from disparate sources such as different indigenous cultures and mythologies. There are old castles, dinosaurs, flying vehicles and smiling flowers to name but a few elements, brought together gloriously in a view of a harmonious, idealised future.
Impressive installations are carried on throughout the exhibition which deal with the problem of presenting manga in a gallery setting. The subsequent crossing over into our 3D dimension mimics manga’s often overt blurring of realities. Not only do they provide a platform for shared realities, but fans often blur realities themselves; take, for example the phenomenon of ‘cosplay,’ where people dress up as their favourite manga characters.
Wakaki Tamiki’s ‘The World God Only Knows,’ (2008), is presented in a classroom setting, mirroring the depicted environment of the manga. The gothic, winged characters in ‘Sugar Sugar Rune,’ (2003-2007), by Anno Moyoco are depicted amongst swirling pink, purple and black clouds of sparkles and stars which spill out from the 2D element of the page and are embodied in black flowing, flowered frames. Igarashi Daisuke’s ‘Children of the Sea,’ (ongoing from 2006) portrays beautifully executed, maritime adventures of young children. The drawings are in numerous cabinets, stood in a whirlpool-like circle and are protectively hugged by a grey curtain hanging from the ceiling, also featuring elements of the sea lifted from the manga. Asano Inio’s ‘Solanin,’ (2005-2006) contains highly detailed drawings hung around a room physically realised from within the manga. Freed from the restrictions of the page, Karamochi Fusako’s ‘Five Minutes From The Station,’ (ongoing from 2007), are individual frames displayed on a series of walk-in, box-like, white walls. There is no start or finish to the events depicted, and elements from the manga such as an arrow lodged into a wall, a hanging archery bow and a balloon come to life in 3D form as part if the installation. ‘Nodame Cantibille,’ (ongoing from 2001), by Ninomiya Tomoko portrays a story centred around a talented pianist presented in a Victorian-esque setting which includes a plush red carpet, mini chandeliers and an auto-playing piano which bangs out Beethoven now and again.
However, there were two exhibits which impressed me more-so than the others. The first is Harold Sakuishi’s ‘BECK, (1999-2008) which is a triptych of screens showing a rock show. Beads of sweat, trembling Japanese characters representing sounds, hands in the air, wide eyes, euphoric expressions and radiating backgrounds have been magically manipulated to create an extremely loud and energetic environment to the sound of silence. The visual techniques used seem traditional but the subject matter of a high school band surely brings the manga up to date. A fun addition to this installation is the reality blurring inclusion of numerous famous albums covers reworked to feature ‘The Mongolian Chop Squad,’ the band depicted in the manga.
The second is Kyo Machiko’s ‘Sennen Gaho,’ (ongoing from 2004). They are a selection of exquisitely hand drawn manga which reject traditional narrative. They depict singular moments on one page, usually within three or four frames. The line-work is simple and colour is provided in delicately tinged watercolours. What makes these works even more special is the fact that since 2004, Machiko has used the internet to self publish one such page a day on her own blog. This heralds a new age of web based media which means that manga can access wider audiences, displaying its ability to adapt to our current times.
This is another wonderfully and thoughtfully curated exhibition where manga is given a platform to display its powers which have evolved from a form of mass entertainment into a highly refined art form which can be expressed via endless possibilities of styles and themes. Manga has been given the chance to break free from its traditional two dimensional vehicles of presentation, and shows it keeping pace with our ever changing reality of globalisation and technological developments. Forget our reality and check out Manga Realities before 13th February!