A sleekly painted, cartoonishly proportioned figure, Miss Ko2 Original (Project Ko2) is begotten by such predecessors as Hans Bellmer’s Surrealist dolls, Charles Ray’s monumental Big Ladies, and Jeff Koons’s Pink Panther. The Playboy Bunny-like model, dressed in a miniskirt, schoolgirl tie, and cherry red heels, holds out a welcoming hand, apparently eager to serve viewers a glimpse of her emphatically sexualized curves and impossibly long limbs. Though this style of female figuration is common in otaku drawings and small figurines, Murakami was the first to produce it on such a monumental scale, bringing its problematic distortion into acute focus. With Miss Ko2 Original (Project Ko2), he subverts the seductiveness of manga and anime imagery by inflating and further amplifying the sexuality of these characters. The resulting super-human figure unmasks and conquers the voyeuristic nature of otaku fantasy by actualizing it in the extreme.
Meaning child, young woman, or geisha, the Japanese word ko is also associated with a restaurant server. Accordingly, Miss Ko2 Original (Project Ko2) dons a uniform reminiscent of that of the waitresses at the Anna Miller restaurant chain in Tokyo, a popular hangout in the otaku scene, known for employing buxom waitresses in skimpy costumes—a Japanese version of the Hooters chain in America. A widely popular choice in cosplay, the Anna Miller uniform is representative of Japanese anime and manga which in turn reflects the fetishized combination of prepubescent innocence and brazen sexuality. The sculpture’s wide eyes and open-mouthed smile give her an aura of childish innocence that is at odds with with her courtesan’s pose and outrageous figure. Rendered in a high level of sculptural detail, Miss Ko2 Original (Project Ko2) exudes a charged hyper-sexuality combined with an obvious plastic artificiality that exemplifies the ancient Japanese ideal of woman as doll or puppet. Miss Ko2 Original (Project Ko2)’s rosy skin, enormous luminous eyes and enlarged bosom all glow with an unnatural saturated vibrancy, confronting the viewer head-on with his or her own voyeuristic gaze. At once symbol and humanoid, evoking desire, self-introspection, and humor, the present work implicates not just Japanese contemporary culture but the global obsession with viewing and commoditizing female bodies.
Miss Ko2 Original (Project Ko2)’s origins are firmly rooted in Murakami’s trademark Superflat multiverse. Originally trained in the traditional Japanese art of nihonga, Murakami saw great similarities between the flat composition of that painting style and the simplified aesthetics of anime and manga. Nihonga, first practiced at the beginning of the twentieth century, offered a reaction against Western influence on previously cloistered Japan by asserting Japanese traditions and techniques. Manga, by contrast, was largely fueled by post-war American occupation of Japan, as young GIs popularized U.S. comics, television, and cartoons. Murakami, synthesizing the two forms, developed a unique and wholly contemporary aesthetic language, emphasizing two-dimensional forms and bold, striking imagery. As curator Gary Carrion-Murayari has posited: “Gradually, Murakami has erased the distinction between himself and the cultural position he inhabits. The complex iconography he has built may have been extracted from Japanese entertainment, but these images have become Murakami’s own icons – or better yet, avatars – which he uses to negotiate the relationship between East and West.” (Exh. Cat., Doha, Al Riwaq, Murakami: Ego, 2012, p. 119) Drawing on iconography from such wide-ranging sources as classical Japanese scrolls, American Pop Art, commercial design, and Abstract Expressionism, Murakami’s hybridized art, exemplified by Miss Ko2 Original (Project Ko2), not only put otaku on the map of the contemporary art world but also co-opted it to reference and embody the overwhelming global phenomenon of cultural collisions that remains startlingly relevant decades after its execution.
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