Zoey Mondt reviews Chiho Aoshima
The doe-eyed ingénues in Chiho Aoshima's digital drawings seem to emerge from beyond nature itself. It's as if they were born whole within a garden of unreality populated by themes milled from centuries of Japanese culture, ranging from Edo scrolls to Sailor Moon. Seamlessly integrating traditional Japanese landscapes and Zen-inspired motifs such as animals, birds, flowers, insects, ghosts and demons with the kawaii or 'cute' imagery which permeates contemporary Japanese pop culture, the five exquisitely rendered, large-format digital prints included in Aoshima's first solo exhibition challenge the boundaries between high and popular art while also acknowledging the influence of traditional painting. Paradoxes abound. Technology, it would seem, has surpassed even nature with its achievement of perfection.
A Chinese artist from the early 17th century commented, 'the distinguished modern artists never paint one stroke that is not like the ancients. But to be absolutely like the ancients is to be not like them at all. It is not even painting.' In addition to her appropriation of Japanese design elements, Aoshima utilizes the stylistic conventions of 18th-century scroll painters and printmakers in creating luminous, cunningly balanced compositions. She begins by drawing small sections on her computer using Adobe Illustrator, taking particular care with her rendering of organic forms, such as vines, to ensure every whorl and curve has a natural feel. Specific elements of a drawing may be archived and reinserted where needed. After the line drawings are complete, Aoshima applies colour and sets the data, then prints the sections out and arranges them into their final configuration, which she designs as a whole at the end of the process.
For the past few years Aoshima has worked as an artist and in-house computer technician for Takashi Murakami, the creator of Superflat, at his Hiropon Factory in Tokyo. Though she was never formally trained, she possesses an awe-inspiring eye for detail. From these works installed chronologically in the gallery's two rooms the rapid evolution and increasing complexity of her vision are evident. Paradise (1999), the show's earliest piece, is also its most conventional, despite the proliferation of naked girls lolling with fauns next to a rainbow-lit stream. Her obsessive attention to detail and attraction to the morbid are well illustrated in Mushroom Room (2000). Within a dripping violet and purple annulus a naked girl lies on her back in bed, staring wide-eyed up at the ceiling as a multitude of spotted mushrooms colonize her room. Next to the bed is a stack of books, whose titles seem to mirror the girl's mute thoughts - Don't Die, I Want To Go Somewhere For Play and When Will You Make It Wait For Me?
The expansive, all-over compositions of Aoshima's gorgeous, horizontally formatted murals Birth of a Giant Zombie (2001), the exhibition's most recent work, and The Red-Eyed Tribe (2000), probably her best-known piece, have been compared to Henry Darger's epic productions. Originally designed as an invitation to an Issey Miyake fashion show, The Red-Eyed Tribe was blown up to a whopping 15 Ý 52 feet and filled an entire wall at Murakami's 'Superflat' exhibition in 2000. In this exhibition the print is smaller, but no level of detail is sacrificed in the shift of scale. As with Darger's massive murals of the fictional Vivian sisters, the works depict droves of pale, wispy-haired waifs draped in filmy, translucent gowns that accentuate their unity as well as their vulnerability. Adrift yet static within undulating landscapes that seem to reverberate with cool light, soft colour and the vibrant patterns that surround them, the girls seem insubstantial and transient: tissue paper dolls too flimsy even to fathom desire. Yet in The Red-Eyed Tribe there is a hint of disorder just beneath the surface of all that crystalline splendour: a crimson malice is reflected briefly in the shallow pools of the nymphs' bloodshot eyes, transforming them into a murderous coven of bloodless Children of the Damned.
In Birth of a Giant Zombie chaos has seared through the surface dimension, corroding and consuming everything in its path. A befuddled teenage succubus with the apparent destructive power of anti-matter kneels in the midst of an ancient graveyard as everything around her dissolves and the pixie residents flee in dismay. Evoking the image of a broken reel at the movies, the viewer is confronted with the harsh glare of a flat, blank white screen. Further illustrating the immaculate flatness of her landscapes, Aoshima often exaggerates certain forms to produce a unity of patterning that borders on abstraction. This disorientating breakdown of pictorial space imbues the plane with a tension that seems to thrum with the innate rhythm of proton versus electron. With the addition of airborne apparitions and forms that float without any regard to the horizon - inexplicable plumes of silver-tinted mauve smoke and shards of incandescent crystal in place of a moon - Aoshima's fantasies transcend oppressive earthly conventions such as perspective and gravity, creating an atmosphere of utter artificiality that borders on the sublime.
First published in Issue 67