Archive for November, 2011


I was going to write about grief and loss and starting to come to terms with things but then I realised it was all far too personal and there are only a few people in the world that I’m ready to share that with. I’m not even ready to talk to them about it in full detail (or even scarce detail) so I’m definitely not at the stage where I’m going to tell people who are practically strangers.

None of this will make sense because it’s 2 in the morning, I have a headache and I’m dead on my feet having only slept maybe 6 or 7 hours out of the last 72.

Ah, insomnia. One of the true constants we can count on in university.


#6 Manabu Ikeda

Manabu Ikeda – Ark, 2005.

Following on from #5, the Tate Liverpool review, I’ve been reliving my time there. Well, actually, more my time glancing at the books on the shelves in the gift shop. I’ve always had a love for East Asian culture so, me being me, I decided I’d see if they had any cheapish books on Japanese Edo prints. Not much luck. There was a large hardback on Hiroshige’s prints that I would have loved to possess if not for the £20 price tag (why are books getting more and more expensive?). Moving on from there, I looked for any other familiar names amongst the jutting spines and found none – I’m not talking Van Gogh or Banksy ‘familiar’. More like Hokusai, Korin and Jakuchu.

I didn’t find any. Although I did find this: Bye Bye Kitty!!!: Between Heaven and Hell in Contemporary Japanese Art. At £25 I gave it a miss but not before a quick flick through which led me to Manabu Ikeda’s work.

Reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated creations, his illustrations leapt off the page and danced around in front of me, waving metaphorical arms and exclaiming “Look at me, look at me!” Vibrant in their use of colour (and, in some cases, looking at further examples of work, the lack of colour), Ikeda’s work is spectacularly detailed. It’s like looking at Paul Kidby’s Discworld art infused with Final Fantasy’s Yoshitaka Amano and Tetsuya Nomura’s in-world and character designs. A lot to take in. But breathlessly stunning and wonderful. There’s always something to look at. Apparently it can take an entire day just to create a segment on the paper that is no bigger than the size of his fist – his work is that densely detailed and it shows in the final products.

If anyone’s played Final Fantasy 9, Existence may seem familiar. Personally it reminds me of the Iifa Tree, the Tree of Life and something a little like Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree. The detail in the work even resembles life with it’s illustrated rivers, roads, pagodas, towers and tree-roots all intermingled in almost seamless harmony. At first glance it looks like a giant mossy tree but upon closer inspection, you can really see and appreciate the detail Ikeda invokes in his work.

Take a look at the piece Foretoken. In the bottom-left corner, an obvious reference to Katsushika Hokusai’s The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, an iconic piece in Japanese art. It’s interesting to see how art inspires art and how Ikeda combines graphic art with the universally recognised themes of popular Japanese art and culture; nature and the inevitability of life, creation, death and destruction. Upon closer look of Ikeda’s own ‘Great Wave’ in Foretoken, modern, human elements can be seen such as girders and building structures, possibly a representation of today’s Japan and the fusion of both old and new cultural references.

I think the dailyartfixx article-stub on Ikeda’s work sums up the content of the Bye Bye Kitty!!! book (and Ikeda’s work) very efficiently;

From March 18, 2011 to June 12, 2011, he is participating in the group show “Bye Bye Kitty” at the Japan Society in New York.  “Moving far beyond the stereotypes of kawaii and otaku culture, Japan Society’s show features sixteen emerging and mid-career artists whose paintings, objects, photographs, videos, and installations meld traditional styles with challenging visions of Japan’s troubled present and uncertain future. Each of the three sections, “Critical Memory,” “Threatened Nature,” and “Unquiet Dream,” not only offers a feast for the senses but also demolishes our preconceptions about contemporary Japan and its art.”

Manabu Ikeda: Mixed Media 

Looking at Ikeda’s work, it’s easy to see the fusion of traditional and contemporary Japanese art and how it subverts the current cultural norms of Japanese imagery (for example, shows like Pokemon and characters like Hello Kitty are now iconic of the far off country). It’s refreshing to see a return to the work of the old-school but with a definitely modern twist to it, as unique as an artist’s individual signature.

Ikeda has swiftly become one of my favourite artists in the space of two days; it’s the themes of his work, the attention to detail, the intelligent use of colour and shape. So much so that I am now considering using his work as a stepping stone to inspiring a creative writing piece for the Reading the World and the Business of Writing module rather than an old Edo print. I’ll consider it carefully of course, but I’ve already started jotting down ideas based on those few original glimpses of Ikeda’s work from yesterday.

I’ll finish off with another interesting piece of his (but make sure to click the links of his other work; even if you don’t find it as aesthetically beautiful as I do, it has to be said that his attention to detail is fantastic). To see more of his work at the Mizuma Art Gallery website, please click here.

Manabu Ikeda – Ninomaru Palace (episode from History of Rise and Fall), 2007.

#5 Tate Liverpool – DLA Piper Series ‘This Is Sculpture’

Foregoing the Alice in Wonderland exhibit on the grounds of student poverty, I had a good wander around the Tate Liverpool today, perusing the (free) DLA Piper Series: This is Sculpture exhibition, spanning two floors.

I’m supposed to do a six word review of it all… but I thought I’d best give you, dear reader (whomever you may be), a little bit of background information first. Which is basically that paragraph above, so knock yourself out.

Also it seems I am forever bound to be unable to escape Carol Ann Duffy. Her name cropped up on the second floor of the exhibition and I tried very hard not to run out of the Tate cringing – after a mildly torturous AS Level English Literature year on her work and running around Manchester Metropolitan University’s main building hoping she wouldn’t show up in my poetry seminars, I try not to break out in hives every time she’s mentioned just because that first year of college was terrible.

Moving on, here’s my review of post-modern art – my six word review:

Colourfully bland juxtaposed, fragmented geometrics.

I tried to be clever with it but I’m not entirely sure it worked.

#4 Jay Hopler – Green Squall

At first, I was a little reluctant to read Hopler’s short collection, Green Squall. Anyone that knows me knows of my dislike for a good 90% percent of poetry. It’s just not a medium that I’m comfortable with – reading or writing. And, upon first read, I was inclined to throw Green Squall onto the pile with the other hastily shoved aside poetry that I never enjoyed. As it is, I honestly still want to do that with most of the book but repeated reading and discussing it with my peers has chastened me a tad.

It’s not that I like the whole collection – similar to poetry, I’ve never been a fan of gardening or the outdoors, and there’s a dull sense of repetition throughout the book that runs like a bad, overdone Family Guy joke – though there are several poems I actually found myself enjoying, these being: The Boxcars of Consolidated Rail Freight, Meditation On Ruin, The Frustrated Angel, Memoir and Green Squall.

Throughout the book, the imagery appears to stay constant with a focus on the world of gardening, with the birds and the flowerbeds, a backdrop of Florida. Occasionally it veers away, describing a woman in red although this too comes back to the recurrent theme of birds when Hopler mentions the cardinal. Emotional tones run their course, a streaming constant of regret and frustration with Hopler’s narrative voice endlessly self-deprecating his or her self. This appears prominently in one of my favourites, The Frustrated Angel in which the guardian angel seems to give up on Hopler entirely;

That’s mighty big talk, isn’t it, Hopler — coming from a man who

lives with his mother?

Hopler, I’ve had it with all your crying and complaining. If I

wanted to hear whining, I’d kick a dog.

The angel introduces a sense of humourous comedy to the text; after all, one hardly expects a paragon of virtue and goodness to speak of committing a less than holy, loving action (of course, on a tangent after watching much Supernatural and reading Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens, I’m honestly left wondering how ‘good’ are angels and how ‘bad’ are demons? Perhaps they are more chaotic neutral than wholly virtuous or troublesome).

Personally, Green Squall seems to me to feel almost too auto-biographical in its narrative. Hopler’s poems here are definitely mostly narrative based, with a good deal of repetition, emphasising those aforementioned tones of  disparagement and frustration with this idea of Floridian paradise. Interestingly though, he creates his own words and, somehow, we as readers manage to understand – in some way, shape or form – what he’s trying to convey to us through the term ‘lizarding’ or ‘vampired’. Points have to be awarded for his creativity in that, at the very least.

#3 Lost In Translation – directed by Sofia Coppola

Image credit to:

Directed by Sofia Coppola and starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, Lost in Translation is a filmic text that focuses on two insomniac-ridden Western travellers, thrown into a shock of Eastern culture, each suffering from communication issues.

It is not just a language barrier that causes frustration to Bob Harris and Charlotte, but their slowly faltering relationships with their spouses, regardless of the distance between them. The film focuses on this unlikely couple (he, the mature, experienced actor and she, the young, unknown wife of a photographer) with their vastly different lifestyles often mirroring each other.

At first, Bob and Charlotte’s narratives seem so completely different to the viewer but as the film progresses, we grow to realise just how similar they are. Their experiences in Japan, a world so far from their own and from what they know and recognise, bring them closer, as does their insomnia and their marriage problems. There is the idea of the cliché in a holiday romance and, although Coppola hints at a romantic spark between the couple, she never defines it, choosing to leave it to us as a viewer to decide our own fate for the two. We are left trying to decide whether the two could really have the potential to embark on a romantic relationship or whether it is one of patriarchal affection. Coppola directs each scene between the two so exquisitely that the borders of their relationship blur.

It’s interesting to watch how Japan slowly becomes less of an alien place to both Bob and Charlotte, but only when they are in each other’s company, suggesting that each finds a sense of grounding with the other. Regardless of the language barrier, Charlotte has plenty of English-speaking friends whom she introduces to Bob. These Japanese natives seem to be fascinated with their Western counterparts, engaging with them as much as possible and encouraging them to let themselves have fun. What makes this so captivating is the culture shock; although Japan is a world far-removed from our own Western one, there are so many similarities between both. Even a country so far east draws on Western philosophies and fashion, combining together to create a hybrid blend that both alienates and familiarizes simultaneously.

Lost in Translation’s ending may leave some feeling frustrated but that all depends on how much you’re willing to read into the characters’ stories, rather than being drawn into the smooth, flashy cinematography of night-time Tokyo. It is most definitely a character-driven plot and if you can get past the visual aspects of the film and look deeper, half the work in finding the various meanings hidden in the text is mostly done. And it’s worth it.