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Magma Spirit Explodes. Tsunami is Dreadful.

Chiho Aoshima (Japanese, b. 1974)


Medium digital print Measurements H: 192 x W: 1296 in. (487.7 x 3291.8 cm) Credit A. W. Mellon Acquisition Endowment Fund Accession Number 2006.14 Location Not on View


Chiho Aoshima is one of several contemporary artists carrying on a legacy of graphic, popular culture-inspired art that also draws from the history of Japanese scroll painting and printmaking. Much like her mentor, Takashi Murakami (included in the 1999 Carnegie International), Aoshima's compositionally complex work marries visual references and technical similarities to mainstream Japanese animation with the epic themes of historical art and the grand scale of commercial advertising. With a mastery of computer animation and a vocabulary of images drawn from Japanese anime (cartoons) and manga (comic books), the Tokyo-based Aoshima creates fantasy worlds in which hybridized creatures are participants in the composition's narrative as well as elements in a decorative scheme. Magma Spirit Explodes. Tsunami is Dreadful. (2004), a mural that spanned a 100-foot wall in the CMA lobby, is a narrative of almost cinematic scope and complexity. Nature and humanity wreak havoc in myriad ways, from tidal waves to fiery conflagrations and war. These disasters, however, have been carefully choreographed; bright flames to the left of the composition give way in effortless transition to volcanic puffs of smoke that are in turn transformed into the blue-green expanse of a tsunami. The work was a highlight of the recent 2004 Carnegie International, for which it was explicitly commissioned.

Artist Bio

Chiho Aoshima's work embodies a synthetic imagination of the machine age. She creates backlit tableaux and large murals consisting of digital printouts that are drawn using Adobe Illustrator. With a mastery of computer technology, she demonstrates an effortless control of information and speeded-up image integration. In her hybrid universe, large-eyed, sinuous-limbed girls befriend reptiles, lie in the crotches of humanized trees, and grow wings or satellite antennae on their heads; in one case, a girl's gigantic head turns into a mountain. The harmonious coexistence of humans and nonhumans—with body parts blending with the landscape, creatures, and machines—indicates simultaneously a higher integration of species and a chaotic disintegration of all the boundaries between them.

The hybridization of imagery demonstrates Aoshima's creative deployment of postmodern Japanese culture. Representing the Pop sensibility of an adolescent female, who gathers details from disparate sources to realize her fantasy, Aoshima's digitized allegory could be said to fulfill the ideological mission of Superflat, which, as developed and defined by Takashi Murakami, aims to assert the "infantile" imagination of Japanese Pop as a major driving force of contemporary creativity. Aoshima modifies Japanese animation's exploitative representation of pubescent girls with the cool eroticism of her girl characters, whose unemotional engagement in violent acts inverts the nuances of cuteness. Her arcadian world of reptile-loving girls and blended imagery of interstellar travel and underwater existence, exemplified by The Red-Eyed Tribe (2000), poetically rewrites that of Naucica (1984), the vastly popular Hayao Miyazaki futuristic anime featuring an insect-loving princess who restores the arid Earth to life.

The Superflat resuscitation of traditional Japanese formal traits, including the decorative transformation of nature and composing with color fields, is exquisitely cultivated in Aoshima's tableaux. Again, in The Red-Eyed Tribe, the horizontal arrangement of human figures and trees accentuates the blue and white color fields of the sky and the earth, canceling out any linear perspective and directing the viewer's eye horizontally across the surface toward the edges of the canvas. The sprinkling of bright color spots over the pictorial plane creates multiple focuses, mobilizing its space, just as the red eyes of the alabaster girls resonate with the red fruits and blossoms of the trees in the periphery. In Zombie (2002), which depicts zombie girls rising from their graves, the ornamental application of bright color fields, such as the highly charged green grass and the gold-streaked blood-orange sky, enhances the picture's lurid apocalyptic impression.

Aoshima's projection of alternating utopian and apocalyptic visions may reflect the fascination and the anxiety aroused by imminent technological change. Aoshima recapitulates the heritage of sensorially activating pictorial surfaces and altered visions of life, touching on Maxfield Parrish's appropriation in the early twentieth century of art-nouveau allegorical tableau-vivant arrangements; Tsukioka Yoshitoshi's late ukiyo-e practice, in which ornamental bright color spots and the depiction of bloody acts of cruelty are used for erotic effect; and the fluorescent glitter of aquamarine, white, and gold characteristic of Roger Dean's early 1970s illustrations for the album covers of Yes and Asia. With her own pictorial surface capturing the diffraction of a computer screen and her cyborg surrealism, Aoshima practices a new psychedelic allegory that projects the pain and the pleasure of a human nature that continually reinvents itself.

Chiho Aoshima received her BA from Hosei University, Japan. She has exhibited her computer-generated, site-specific works in venues such as Japan Society, New York (2005); Berkeley Art Museum, University of California, Berkeley (2003); Vancouver Art Gallery, British Columbia (2003); Liverpool Biennial, Tate Liverpool (2002); Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (2001); Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2001); Henry Art Gallery, Seattle (2001); and Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2000).