Take Japanese manga, give it a twist of science fiction and consumerism, and place it in the recent aftermath of one of history’s most tragic catastrophes, and you will be somewhere near understanding what has gone into Japanese artist Aya Takano’s collection “To Lose is to Gain”.
Takano, born in Saitama, near Tokyo, is a renowned artist, writer and cartoonist. She uses Japanese manga and anime to inspire her recognisable two-dimensional artwork from the Superflat movement, which is known for exploring the fetishism within the modern consumerist phenomena.
This exhibition, her second held at the Perrotin Gallery in Paris, sees Takano using typically manga-inspired figures and motifs using surrealist, impressionist and even renaissance influences to depict the surreal shock of the tragic circumstances and subsequent consequences of the earthquake that struck Japan in March 2011.The exhibition is divided into three themes: past, present and future:
Past explores the history of Japan: where traditions meet urbanity and social disruptions with bright colours built up around Takano’s signature rouge-limbed female forms
The pieces from Present see Takano in a dreamlike –or nightmarish – state, dealing with the horror of the Fukushima disaster on both a conscious and subconscious level.
Future takes an unreal turn, with the rejection of natural laws. Overturning gravity and physical human constraints counterbalances the real pain of what Man and his unstable relationship with Nature has done to Takano’s homeland. Imagination is far from the disastrous recipe of where a man-made world meets natural phenomena. Imagination is the only way to imagine the future faced with such uncertainty.
Takano’s work is presented in diamond-shaped canvas boards, some of which hang from the ceiling; her work floats in a jigsaw miscellany of images. The distorted angle of presentation forces spectators to concentrate, whilst also acting as a nod to the theme of the fantastical. Others are enclosed in ornate guilt frames, creating a deliberate dichotomy of cartoon and fine art references.
With dark oversized eyes, timid young manga girls wrap long limbs around themselves in fragile slips or without clothing. There is so much grief, fear, confusion and an overwhelming sense of fragility that the entire exhibition exudes the artist’s personal reaction to the horrors that Japan was experiencing a year ago, and still is now.
Fleeing further into fantasy than her previous work, which was wildy hectic, both darkly urban and fearfully naïve, Takano has a particularly physical and emotional relationship with this exhibition.
But perhaps she isn’t fleeing from reality. Maybe such a tragedy can only be expressed through fictional motifs, as the truth cannot be known yet. The title “To Lose is to Gain” seems like a frail but hopeful epithet for what is a collection of shock and fear, expressed in Takano’s gangly feminine cartoon bodies with their vacant eyes.