Making Lemons Out of Lemonade: Empty God Core at the B²OA Gallery

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As an anime and manga blog largely focused largely on commercial output, it is rare that I will report on and review an Art Show in all of its capitalized glory. However, I feel it important to discuss the “Empty God Core” show at the B²OA Gallery, featuring the works of Japanese artist Umezawa Kazuki.

I am well aware of the fact that anime and manga have been subjects of exploration, self-discovery, and exploitation since at least Murakami Takashi and his “superflat” movement. Often times challenging and presenting the exoticism of Japan’s visual culture, artists like Murakami tend to feel as if they come not from the otaku subculture itself, but are reacting to it as it has grown over times. While I would not go so far as to say that this is some unforgivable flaw in his work, that he may not be a “true” otaku, it does make me notice when a piece of art conveys the perspective of someone who has embraced the lights and sounds of anime and manga as almost existential hazes.

That is the impression I received from Umezawa’s work, though even before I saw the actual show itself I had an opportunity to meet him for the first time thanks to our mutual friend, Ko Ransom. If there is anything that stood out to me most about him at first glance, it would have been his A Certain Scientific Railgun pins adorning his clothing. The one most prominent could be seen on his chest, a chibi version of Nunotaba Shinobu, my favorite character in the Index universe. A teenage scientist with a propensity for interlacing her speech with English, Nunotaba comes nowhere near the default choices for popular characters in her series, so I knew that Umezawa was serious business.

That being said, while I was aware that Umezawa was an otaku before I saw “Empty God Core,” I would have jumped to that conclusion almost immediately if I had come in without knowing a thing. Umezawa’s works consist largely of collages of anime characters, scrambled to the point of almost losing all recognizable qualities, and then rearranged to create futuristic, apocalyptic landscapes and large, god-like figures. I say “almost,” because the first thing I spotted in one of his digital paintings was the characteristic blonde poof of Cure Peace from Smile Precure! Soon after, I spotted bits of other characters as well, but it made me realize how distinct Precure hair is designed to be, so that, even divorced from the very bodies on which they sit, one can see that, yes that over there is a piece of Cure Blossom, and down by the side is Cure Beauty. The iconic nature of anime and manga characters jumps to the forefront, and their fragments are used to construct worlds.

There is a general idea when it comes to anime fandom that a lot of its qualities arose from the perception of 1980s Japan as a kind science fictional space. Like Blade Runner, which envisioned a future city amalgamated from Tokyo and various Chinatowns, the common discourse positions otaku as products of their time, and their subculture a result of changes to the world, the economy, and the degree to which societal values crumble or ossify in response. In this environment, otaku have historically been viewed in a negative light, people who cannot confront reality, loners who can only consume their media in ways which reinforce their divorce from society, while anime and manga become increasingly shallow and lacking in any real substance. What Umezawa’s work does is flip that script on its head, and show how this otaku subculture and its inhabitants can utilize the “vapid” qualities of anime and manga and its devotion to signs and icons of cuteness, beauty, and sexuality as building blocks, as atoms to form universes. Rather than a dystopian cityscape creating the otaku, the otaku creates the dystopian cityscape. He turns lemonade into lemons.

This post is regrettably a little late, but if you’re in or around New York City, the show is running until November 15th. The B²OA Gallery is at 515 west 26th street in Manhattan, and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am-6pm.

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12 thoughts on “Making Lemons Out of Lemonade: Empty God Core at the B²OA Gallery

  1. Seeing Umezawa’s art up-close must be an overwhelming experience! As an artist I can say that being able to turn lemonade into lemons is my ultimate goal…

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  2. Not just an Otaku and Artist, but a well read one too. From online pics of his work, the artist is riffing on some Otaku theory stuff. Keywords: Saito Tamaki, J. Keith Vincent, Henry Darger. Cheers and thanks /M

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  3. Do you know that Umezawa Waki is much disliked by a Japanese Otaku? Because, he uses the image of the animated cartoon for a work without permission. He breaks the painting which other person drew. He steps on the comic book which Otaku made. He is not Otaku, is not artist. He is not a lemon, is not lemonade. He is a thief.

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      • Because Darger used tracing, does Umezawa not have any problem? Umezawa’s work does not tracing. He copies it by the function of the PC without permission. Is the “rules” of contemporary art more important than a law? Takashi Murakami’s derivative blob mascots is sure that it is not interesting. But interest in the works of Umezawa is nothing more than interest in the original Manga and Anime.Therefore Kazuki Umezawa is a thief.

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        • I would have to look up close at the original Umezawa work. If it is captured on a PC, printed, cut out and pasted into place he is following the tradition of “collage”, parody and fair use. Case law varies by jurisdiction. If the whole “canvas” is one giant digital print he is more up to date with the technology, but he loses a lot of the “this is a collage” symbolism of the work

          On the other hand, too rigid an enforcement of copyright would shut down all of Comiket too, wouldn’t it? So if it is digital collage, the worst accusation one can make is that he is lazy (for not tracing or cutting and pasting by hand).

          Would his work be valid for you if he had re-drawn all the characters and scenes himself, by hand? Just a thought experiment. Another: What if someone did a car up in the same way, as an itasha?

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          • I insist “Umezawa is not a Otaku”; “Umezawa is not an artist”; “Umezawa is a thief”
            The Comiket is surely illegal if hold law closely. Therefore it took long time, made a rule to tolerate from a rightful claimant.You know Genshiken, but do not seem to have a lot on the Comiket and Dojinshi. Would the Genshiken’s character make dojinshi with trace and collage? They make dojinshi with one’s pattern. This is a rule on making a fan illustration as well as doujinshi.Will liking the orijinal works and valuing it, an action of Umezawa include it? He tears the comics and dojinshi whom another person made, and stamps it. Therefore he is disliked very much by a Japanese Otaku and is not Otaku.
            I have watched some collage art. It had charms that the original work did not have. However, charm was not felt in Umezawa work. It is only the charm of the original work. Therefore I say that he is not artist.I think that the reason why the vomit mixed with diamonds is beautiful is that a diamond is beautiful. However, you think the vomit mixed with diamonds to be beautiful. It is the difference in opinion.
            It is not Otaku and is not artist. Therefore Kazuki Umezawa is a thief.If he had re-drawn all the characters and scenes himself by hand, will say nothing and not comment here. However, his drawing is very poor.
            Itasha is a part of the fan activity that Original works like. However, a rightful claimant is angry if it is superabundant and makes it with a sale purpose.I want you to know that there is the arrestee.

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