A possible condition of the future
A title for a style of art
If you, a poor unqualified worker, were to dine in the same canteen as your father, a high-tipping entrepreneur, then the situation would have to be either a laughable coincidence or part of a wider, more level social structure. Where everyone is middle class, a situation of Superflatness arises, as the artist Takashi Murakami so theorised in 2000, and subsequently applied to his output as well as that of his contemporaries in Japan.
Superflat art is also called poku, a cross between pop art and the Otaku dung beetles. It's a democratisation of art in the Internet Age, so that it might find its young and anonymous market, although the art itself is not new in most aspects. In fact the art arrives from past manga artists as Hokusai and Hiroshige, and the work of anime pioneer Yasumasa Kanada. Kawaii is popular because it heals and inspires, and in Superflat art that might just be recontextualised into a perverse parade of pieces that are not blind to the hopeless fixations of the Otaku, or geek people, and indeed are often born from an Otaku life.
The shinjinrui, or 'new human race', emerged in the seventies, and one subgroup was the Otaku - these are enthusiastic fans of some particular subject, be it war, tanks, sci-fi, figurines, Tokusatsu films, or porcelain owls. There is some conjecture as to whether these people are discriminated against for their ugly deformed appearance, but it is true that they find sanctity in underground comike, or comic fairs, or in their collection-filled bedrooms. Murakami, himself an Otaku drop-out, one who could not compete in the debates so central to the culture and which all require encyclopedic knowledge, now in a way records the struggle of these people, who know 'nothing of life', and immersed in mass media, are revealed as the 'stoned', confused people they are, in what may amount to a portrait made against their will. Rather than employ some high art philosophy to this end, the art of Superflat employs sophistry.
Formality in Japan exists in eveything from Zen design to the preparation of tea for guests. As Momus says, not referencing an absent, invisible reality doesn't belittle what's present and visible, so because one moment of the day is not given a priveleged status, instead there is a profound banality in buying, like a steady rate of exfoliations per second, combined with a furtive, diffused sexual energy in the smallest details. Superflatness provides greater choice of entertainment, and this can be seen in the fetish-oriented, pseudo-communicative sexuality of the Otaku's novel games and their exclusive 'wet' desires (without social realities) and 'dry' desires (with exchanges of trends, as at Comike)
Beside this caroon reality, it is an equally mad world where the salarymen can actually consolidate the obsessions of Otaku males, namely inenjo-kosai, or the act of highly-valued high school girls whoring themselves for Prada bags, as explored in the movie Love and Pop.
Superflat art seems to articulate the collective rage of Otaku members. Yoshitomo Nara is a shaggy-haired robot who through his powers, called 'automatism', depicts scowling, balloon-headed children who may carry a knife or sport bandages from a case of mumps.
Murakami paints and sculpts on larger scale, his motifs including teeth and eyes distorted anamorphically, and gazing at crowded angles.
The undespairing representation of sexuality and death is nihilistic and subverts the transitions of Japan, sublunary, pathologically suppressed, into ephemera. Once introduced to the idea of 'art' rather than 'entertainment' in the Meiji period (1868 - 1912), then gradually opening to western values of transcendentalism, the ambiguous post-war self-definition, that divided was into many subcultures, is now conjoined in one. Superflat is the postmodern realization of the Edo Era (1615 - 1868) reevaluation that took place in the booming 80s. Ukiyo-e is just made racier in a kind of retro, animated computer preciseness that cannibalizes existant currencies. The popularity of TV series such as Saber Marionette J, which is set on a planet of androids that sacrifices three androids with human hearts for a human female, was emblematic of a culture of impotence felt since the World War 2 defeat.
Without perspective or hierarchy, the curation of Superflat art reflects the generation which it represents, imitating their commercial fashion photo look as felt on the renao (hot-noisy) Harajuku streets, in fake historically-correct Teddy Boys or bright childish Mongolian appropriated wear. I think the policy of that purpose made more in the marriage than the love of the parties. The parties are fun but it's the arranged triple-marriage between money-making, the Lolita complex, and paint program competence that compresses the concept of genre until it squishes like a head in a vice.
“Oh! My God! I miss you.” - Yoshimoto Nara
Individuality is a taboo in Japan and there is less freedom. Superflatness results in a plasticity of identity - although the relationship between what mask you wear and the character portrayed is not only a strong tradition from Noh and Kabuki, but a great, spooky modern phenomenon, now seen in Cosplay, which involves fans dressing up to recreate favourite scenes from anime shows. The trendy people who don't want to wear normative clothes take clothes from other cultures and eras are wear them divergently, so for example jeans are worn in a different way from their origin.
In the late 90s a graphic persona called 'Chappie' evolved, and in the form of a mannequin, hundreds of Chappies were conjured up, all dressed differently, enforcing the socialization to distinguish only through clothing, for boys and girls to be distinguished through a kind of techno-saccharine DNA. The purity and choice in dress, sometimes androgynous and sometimes referencing gender models, is emphasised through vector graphics and amateur photography, which remove the camera eye, leaving space for imagination and figurative experiment and what may be the culmination of 'grand' subjects losing credibility. As in Hollywood or clubbing, preceding fragments are reassembled and lose their authorship.
In the black days after World War 2, drugs and pornography were swimming around with the ultimate hardcore conceptual artist, Walt Disney. His drunken insights into the human desire for warm, melty metamorphic fantasies and his subsequent despatch to assistants was convergent with the paring down in manga and anime, which means today most people growing up with it do not recognise the high art status of what is freely available. Cell-shading represents luxury and future goods because it is flat and prototypical, and Murakami painted floating images in a Superflat situation where the emperor is no longer a God.
As Momus says, rock and roll cowboys don't need to sing about the devil when there was no barbaric christianity cult to repress sexuality. Instead the idiotic acts can become enchanted. The image of sweat, blood and tears and get-high hairy rebel-responses are made Superflat on the street by paying more attention to the delicate theatrical artifice that undermines them. In music, the transcendentalism is reversed by Cornelius into disjointed surfaces and secularized repetitions, or by Martin Creed into structural song-jokes.
Oppositions that have been Superflattened include those between racial distinctions, narrative, human developmental stages, the erotic and non-erotic. On a mass-production scale, the Hiropon Factory has spawned and released mutant love dolls for fashion label 20471120, which further promotes the role of hentai by parodically expanding the grotesqueness of design elements in Otaku products.
An analogy Murakami has used for the act of art is how a samurai in the past would turn his killing hand to creating, say, a cheap religious icon, which turns people on to their own unpopularity. The samurai sculptor shows a minimum resistance and activates fantasies. When scampering about easily with his sword through the depthlessness of Tokyo, he performs with a connection to the plastic robots, nymphs and American Dreams that are fetishized in the superflat Sony screens below. For more information on this subject, search for experimental sound pierrot Momus, whose words contain magic and he is such a creative person, God he rules.