Comes to Akron — My Reality:
Contemporary Art and the
Culture of Japanese Animation
Noell Wolfgram Evans
It’s not as if Akron, Ohio is a bad place, it’s
just not a place that people think of to be on the cultural edge.
It’s a wonderful city to be a part of but its Mid-West
mentality often means that it’s a step behind in embracing,
wholeheartedly, new and unique art forms. A current exhibit though
at the Akron Art Museum may be signaling a change to all of that.
And if this traditionally blue-collar town is stepping to the
forefront of art exploration, will the rest of the Mid-West follow?
in question is one celebrating anime entitled “My
Reality: Contemporary Art and the Culture of Japanese Animation.” The
exhibit, described by Roger Durbin of Leader Publications as: “…at
times brilliantly engaging and, at others, unsettling, then wryly
hip…”, is a complete sensory tour de force with paintings,
sculptures, films, lectures, workshops, books, images, photographs
and hands on crafts all coming together to offer the visitor
a kind of “crash course” on becoming an otaku (anime
fan). This show is not just for the die-hard anime fan though
as it deals with ideas, themes and influences that a watcher
of any type of animation (and in fact any pop culture junkie)
can relate to. Attending this exhibit is like coming into a great
television show in the middle of the season: you may not know
all of the characters or their quirks but something pulls you
in and you immediately become engrossed.
For the uninitiated
though, anime (pronounced annie-may) really took hold in the
1960’s. Emanating from Japan it features
a stylized look in it’s characters who are often involved
in very complex stories and themes. In a way it’s a response
by Japanese artists to the post World War II atomic “craze” and
the technological boom that followed. Our response to that expression
has been both popular (Speed Racer) and cultish (Devil Lady).
That may all be changing though, if Akron’s response to
this exhibit is any indication. Opening night crowds were overwhelming
with long lines being perhaps the true theme of the night. People
stood on and wound down the stairs, waiting to get in up until
the 11:30 closing. Opening night in any venue often attracts
the true fans but there has been a steady stream of diverse visitors
to the museum, which can only be attributed to new people exploring
new works and ideas.
of the Akron Animation Association sees this as the type of
that can “bring people together,” which
she says for anime can only be a good thing. “I saw people
in their 50's walking around admist the teenagers. The more exposure
anime gets in America, the better. It's a way to learn about
a different culture and experience something different than what
we're used to.”
What’s interesting about the show is that it deals with
anime as an art form in and of its self but also as a catalyst
for other art. The exhibit features thirty works by seventeen
artists including Inka Essenhigh, Mariko Mori, Paul McCarthy,
Tom Sachs, Richard Patterson and Takashi Murakami. Many of their
works (and the others on display) showcase the perception and
influence of anime as much as they showcase the actual art. Take
for example Momoyo Torimitsu’s Somehow I Don’t Feel
Comfortable. It consists of two 16-foot tall pink bunny balloons.
Stationed directly outside of the second floor elevator, they
are a jarring but electric sight. While they look like they could
be specific anime characters they are not, rather they represent
the genre. The bunnies are spaced apart so that you can walk
between them; pausing in the middle, you get the feeling that
you are in another world and it’s a jarring and exciting
moment, as if you had gone through the looking glass. There’s
an interesting statement there to be made about being part of
and towered over by an anime world.
and eye catching piece is Takashi Murakami’s
DOB in the Strange Forest. DOB is a character created by Mr.
Murakami and this fiberglass piece places it within a brightly
colored mushroom shaped forest. The sculpture is easy to look
at and fun but as you look closer, you start to see that DOB
resembles in many ways Mickey Mouse. Suddenly the piece shifts
in your mind from happy eye candy to a smart meditation on influence
and reaction, particularly within the world of animation.
I would suggest that to really get into the mindset of the show,
you start your visit off in the reading room where there are
chairs set up and manga (graphic novels/comic books) all around.
Manga, it is said, account for nearly 40 percent of all of the
printed material sold in Japan. When you read it, you can understand,
as it is moody and inclusive with pictures that often drive a
narrative both fantastical and real. Staying in this room is
like going through the pressurization chamber on a submarine.
It allows you to get completely in the subject and, for the uninitiated,
gives you a good basis to start from.
important as what is in the exhibit is the exhibit it’s self. Cincinnati CityBeat writer Steve Ramos states
the impact this show may have: “An exhibit like My Reality
helps to erase the kiddy bias toward animation. By bringing anime
into art museum galleries, My Reality aims to prove that anime
is more substantial than the Pokémon craze. This exhibition
says that anime is ready for its high-art close-up.” And
in close up, it looks quite good. James Filbert, President of
the Kent State University Anime Society, also believes that this
show can have a positive impact on the way that anime is viewed
in the community. He states that anime has gotten a bad rap in
the past but exhibits like this could change the public’s
mind: “…anime and manga are still viewed as a subculture
by many. Of course you've got things like Dragonball Z and Pokemon,
which both sides shun. Anime fans do not like it because it has
been Americanized and is "kiddie" to alot of them,
so they don’t want to admit it's still an anime. Conversely,
Most adult Americans feel the same way for different reasons.
I kind of hope this changes in the future, and it seems to be
doing that gradually.”
was originally organized by the Des Moines Art Center in Iowa.
Since its inception,
it has traveled across the country,
gathering steam and interest. There is a hope of course that
the interest will stay, long after the art pieces have moved
on. Credit must be given to the City of Akron and perhaps more
importantly to the Akron Art Museum. It would have been easy
to bring in an exhibit of some old, dead, master painter but
instead they chose to push the boundaries of their patrons. Hopefully
the end result will be some wider eyes toward this art form and
perhaps a greater understanding that all forms of comics and
animation are not necessarily only for a select few. That their
joy and art are open and available to all. If this show only
brings an awareness to that, it can be considered a success.
Perhaps Ms. Rasinski expressed anime’s movement into the
mainstream best: “I remember when I first got into anime,
you couldn't find it anywhere. Only select stores would carry
it, not many people knew about it, and I couldn't find many people
who were interested in it. Now, with the advent of things like
the Akron Art Museum's exhibit, anime is actually being recognized
as an art form and more people are hearing about it!” Now
that it’s made it into the city, how long it stays remains
to be seen. This is something that will be watch by anime enthusiasts
and Akron artists alike.
The Akron Art Museum is
located at 70 East Market Street in Akron, Ohio. The program “My Reality: Contemporary Art
and the Culture of Japanese Animation” originated at
the Des Moines Art Center in Iowa and was exhibited at the
Akron Art Museum from September 21, 2002 through January 5,
Evans is a freelance writer who lives in Columbus, Ohio. He has
written for the Internet, print and had several plays produced.
He enjoys the study of animation and laughs over cartoons with
his wife, daughter, and newborn son.
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