The Neo-Japonisme Project

The Neo-Japonisme Project


After Commodore Perry and his Black Ships forcibly opened trade with Japan in the 1800s there was a fad for Japanese cultural products that swept across Europe called Japonisme. The Europeans (especially the artisans and artists) of that era became obsessed with the intricate, exotic, otherness of all things Japanese. The Europeans reimagined their own pseudo-mythological version of the Floating World,  through a menagerie of clothing, architecture, housewares and visual art. But, like all trends, the times changed and so Japonisme became a memory from the past. In the 2000s a new wave of Japonisme has rushed across America with an influx of anime, manga, "Harujuku" fashion, kawaii toys, ramen-fetishes, cosplay, import car culture, the boom of Japanese neo-pop artists, and the rise of video games among many others. 

When I was younger I too, along with so many of my suburban friends, became deeply obsessed with all things even tangentially related to Japan. I even learned a bit of Japanese in my undergraduate degree which, in the most accidental of symbolic gestures, I have almost completely forgotten over the course of the passing decade. Many years later, the neo-Japonisme trend has only expanded and I often find myself with a deep anxiety, rummaging though faded memories of my past obsessions. I began to wonder what lingering effects such a sustained intake of idiosyncratic experiences with Japanese culture were doing in the back of my mind. So I began to collect and rummage through the transient, disposable, high-speed-castoffs of this neo-Japonisme fetish that still abound in America: advertisements, fan porn comics, ruined origami, shop window displays, Takashi Murakami’s CV. By reworking these ephemeral materials, both physically and digitally, I set out to try to catch a glimpse, as though out of the corner of my eye, at what biases, fetishes, and perhaps even secret knowledges of my past are still churning away in the back of my mind.

The fractured imagery of the decollages was achieved by sorting a vast collection of posters that advertise anime shows and movies in Japanese magazines. They were sorted and stacked by the pose and subject matter within the ad (often nearly identical with competing shows), then layered over and over again on to their close kin, only to be in the end fractured apart in to a vibrating genre-ghost. Humorous and slightly embarrassing, the failed origami was given to me as a parting gift by my ex-girlfriend. Years later, as I was learning origami myself, that gesture suddenly made sense. I felt compelled to photograph them and turn them into monuments celebrating the inevitability of failure in the process of growth. I then applied the origami skills I had learned to produce a series of classic folded forms photographed in sumptuous, studio-lit black and white. But rather than traditional origami paper, I used hentai doujinshi, which are fan-made pornographic parody comic books of famous anime characters as well as Takashi Murakami's CV. All throughout the studio production, I went on long, aimless walks with my camera that crossed and recrossed Little Tokyo examining the multitude of store window displays. As the project progressed these major veins started to intertwine, combine, fracture and re-imagine each other. Embracing the blurry and uncertain, the Neo-Japonisme Project is an investigation of the ways that the deep undercurrents of past obsessions thrive in unexpected configuration within the shadows of ourselves. 

For another perspective on this project, Damon Stanek has written an essay titled The Fold and its Echo that accompanied the the 2014 show of The Neo-Japnosime Project at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.