Lecture Review – Takashi Murakami, Harbourfront Centre’s Brigatine Room, 14 February 2002 7pm

2 March 2002


I’ve tried to be a regular at the Power Plant lectures for the past while, though this doesn’t mean I’ve managed to see them all. What I’ve noticed is that of the ones I have attended, there is almost always a video component. Either the artist shows excerpts (Atom Egoyan; Arnout Mik) or – the one that really sticks out in my mind – the actual lecture itself (Phillip Monk interviewing Douglas Gordon in the Fall of 2000), is presented on a screen.

Takashi Murakami’s presentation, on Valentine’s Day, also featured video. While the audience gathered, scenes from a documentary on him and his work (japanese version) played in a loop, which was effective in giving the crowd something to do while they waited.

When the lecture did begin, he sat at a table to the left of the stage with his interpreter, who he didn’t really rely on. Having seen lectures by foreigners before, I expected what we usually see when foreign leaders visit foreign lands – speak in sentences, or small paragraphs, and then pause to allow the translation. In this case, Murakami simply read from a prepared document, in a halting broken way, but I nonetheless appreciated the effort. His prepared essay went into the history of anime, the uniquely Japanese method of animation, which is an obvious influence on his work, and concluded with the presentation of two videos.

Something notable about anime

Since his work involves sculpted mushrooms, he pointed out something that I have never noticed before; in almost every anime film, no matter what the story line, a mushroom cloud is depicted. His sculpted mushrooms appear howvever to be of the more magical variety.

The videos

One was a short documentary showing the process at his Hiropon Factory, and the preparations for his show at the Museum of Contempoary Art Tokyo last spring. (Both the show and the video were entitled “summon monsters? open the door? heal? or die?”). The other video was part of a larger work that will be debuting in Paris this summer.

I think it would be overly presumptuous to say that because he didn’t speak English so well he decided to just show videos, however, I thought it worked out beautifully. Usually in the middle of lectures my mind wanders, and I barely remember anything, but being a TV baby I hardly ever forget videos. I felt I learned more and was able to appreciate his practice more because of the presentation of these two works.

With regard to the second video, which was a critique of American culture.

Murakami introduced it by saying that the theme he is working with for the upcoming Paris show is a question: is it the case that America provides the line drawings and asks other cultures to fill in the colours? The video featured scenes from American films, opening with the scene from Patton (1970) where he denounces losers, and then moving on to the famous line in Apocalypse Now (1979), “I love the smell of napalm in the morning”. These scenes highlighting the American glorification of violence than move into the Japanese attacking Pearl Harbor from last summer’s movie of the same name. The film concluded with scenes of Japanese girls singing a song on some TV show, overlaid with news footage scenes of the World Trade Centers being hit (from every angle available) and collapsing. An audience member asked what song it was the girls were singing. His interpreter explained that it was from a Japanese festival called girl day. The tradition is that dolls are collected on this day, being given to the girls by boys, and are displayed in a hierarchy, the top dolls comparable to the figurines of a wedding cake – boy and girl together. The song expressed the girl’s wish to be on the top shelf with the boy. Murakami explained that he feels that since their defeat in WW II, there has been a tendency to avoid confrontation, and to focus on the good things in life when confronted with a crisis. Thus the song juxtaposed with WTC was evocative of this.

Art Star

On a more general note, in some interviews and reviews of Murakami, a similarity with Andy Warhol is mentioned. His use of pop culture (for him, otaku rather than soup cans) and in the fact that he calls his studio practice a factory (and runs it as a small business manufacturing marketable goods). The aspect that connects this to celebrity was evident at the end, when a small crowd gathered around the table to get autographs. And not only did he indulge the whims of these young admirers (they all looked like art students) with a signature, he also indulged them with drawings, that will probably end up on e-bay someday.

Rating: 9/10

Related Links
http://www.parco-city.co.jp/dob/ http://www.jca-online.com/murakami.html http://www.hiropon-factory.com/plofilenew/murakami/index-e.html http://www.mfa.org/exhibitions/takashi.html http://www.carnegieinternational.org/html/art/murakami.htm
(more through google search – http://www.google.com)

Instant Coffee Saturday Edition

  1. Mar 2002: Appeared in Instant Coffee Saturday Edition Issue No° 5
  2. 2002-2015 Archived on my websites & blog
  3. Sept 2015: this version produced