Friday 18 July 2014

But is it art?


Sorry. Oh god I’m so sorry. You have no idea how much I’ve been fighting it all this week, but you know how it is; the more you resist and the more it becomes obvious that it is the single most inappropriate thing you could say and that the only thing saying it will achieve is to subject you to the scorn and disdain of all who hear, then the more the pressure builds inside your head until you can’t do anything but yell it out loud. Like giggling at a funeral, and we’ve even got a person displaying a rictus grin in a box.

Sorry. Again.

In my defence (and admittedly it’s a very weak defence), I’m in pretty good company here. Artists of all stripes have a long and amusing/tiresome history of producing stuff with little to offer beyond shock value and the rather childish hope of ‘provoking a reaction’. Jeff Koons and R. Mutt, My Bed and Piss Christ: while you can and should discuss any deeper underlying merits these artists and works may possess, on the most readily accessible level they all function by shoving their genitals in the face of the audience, figuratively and occasionally literally. Arguably the only difference between this stuff and a primary school student running around the playground shouting ‘Bum!’ repeatedly is the level of conscious irony involved. Postmodernism, ladies and gentlemen!

But, occasionally, in their charmingly infantile desire to lambast innocents and the easily offended under the guise of ‘asking questions of society’, one of these artists actually does manage to pose a meaningful query; fling enough of your faeces at a wall and some of it will stick eventually, I suppose. And so it is with Megumi Igarashi, AKA Rokudenashiko, the Japanese artist who was this week arrested for scanning her vagina. Not, you understand, at the self-service check-out in Tesco (I think we could all agree that would have merited some kind of intervention), but on a scanner for one of those 3D printer things that are so terribly zeitgeisty right now. And then she made a boat and sent the scans somewhere by some means and something something ten policemen turned up at her door and arrested her. I’m a little fuzzy* on the details. Anyway…

Ten! Ten fucking cops! One can only imagine they got wind of this down the station house and everyone present got a little sweaty-palmed and fevered thinking about the interview scene from Basic Instinct and decided that actually, yes, this is the most pressing thing we could be doing with our time right now. So off they trotted and nicked this lady for something something look she’s made a boat in the shape of a minge there must be something we can pin on her, right?


She has, as far as I can make out, fallen foul of an obscenity law. And, y’know, what she’s doing is arguably obscene. (That little Tourettes-lite outburst I had at the start there is honestly what the thing’s called, despite the Western media’s rather prim insistence on calling it a ‘pussy boat’. Manko is pretty much the Japanese equivalent of cunt, as I found out several years ago when I asked my then girlfriend what it meant. Loudly. In the queue at Starbucks. She was visibly unimpressed by my newly acquired vocabulary, and I blame the trauma of this episode for the fact I’ve been unable to learn any new Japanese words since.) Being obscene is kind of the only reason people would pay attention. The question then becomes about what society judges to be obscene, and this is where I think Rokudenashiko has hit paydirt, for want of a better phrase, because almost by accident her desire to run through the sociocultural schoolyard screaming naughty words has called down the wrath of the hall monitors, and in doing so has helped to frame An Important Question.

So, let’s say that a boat shaped like a giant cunt is obscene. What, then, are we to make of the free and legal distribution of material depicting schoolgirls** getting raped, or teachers getting raped, or housewives getting raped, or office workers or nurses or tour guides or basically any female in any role you care to mention? I’m not getting into the wider porn discussion here, but regardless of where you stand on role-play, personal freedoms, or the impact of pornography on wider society, you’re not seriously going to tell me that this material is less obscene, that it’s less worthy of official censure, than a two-metre fiberglass fanny-dingy?


And that’s just one example, let’s not forget those festivals where they parade massive wooden cocks down the street, or the fertility festivals where hundreds of essentially naked men wrestle in the winter air for possession of a stick which endows them with superspunk (I’m paraphrasing here). Let’s not forget Japan’s distinctly dodgy engagement with child porn. Let’s not, indeed, ignore the fact that if it had been a titboat instead then no one would have batted an eyelid.

You’d think, given the recent and well-documented cases of male members of the Japanese establishment*** offering concerned advice to childless women about the importance of conceiving and bearing children, that they’d be a bit more open to vaginas (for want, once more, of a better phrase). As it stands the message, as Igarashi so rightly highlights, is a touch confused –



Wholesome family fun

I am by no means impressed by the tedious ‘weird Japan’ trope this story invokes, and a massive yellow graffitied vagina is certainly not the most aesthetically pleasing of items. Nevertheless it has, somehow, managed to ask and reflect genuinely important issues about society as it exists now and I can’t think of a better definition of ‘art’ than that.

*Don’t. Just don’t.
**Or at least actresses dressed as schoolgirls
***Is there any other kind?


  1. Lovely. The best comment I saw, from a Guardian article: "... but it's not pixelated!"

    1. So basically if she'd used a really low-res scanner this wouldn't have been a problem at all...

    2. And the 'men' of this country would've got more excited.

  2. I was thinking of going down to the old-folks home and volunteering this weekend, but after reading this post and seeing those OBSCENE pictures, I think I'll just end up jerking off in public somewhere crowded...

    1. You say it like those two activities are mutually exclusive.

  3. Awesome post. FYI, I think the reason why she got slapped was not because you can't have explicit art in Japan (if it really is art, and yes, I know that's tricky constitutionally): you can, or whether you can make dildos and, well, vaginas (you can).

    Where she ran afoul was that despite the sale of model penises and vaginas in Japan everywhere, she chose to do so, through the mail, for money, without dotting her i's and crossing her t's like other penis and vagina makers.

    And I suspect she didn't jump through the hoops on purpose... to generate free publicity for her stunt and vanity.

    Mission accomplished.

    1. Can't fault her for having a winning strategy, eh? As I say, for all that the way it's posed lacks elegance, it's a valid enough question. Just a shame it's taken something facile to ask it.

      "...dotting her i's and crossing her t's like other penis and vagina makers."

      It sounds like there should be some absolutely filthy innuendo going on in this sentence, but I'll be damned if I can see it. I don't know what's more disappointing: that I couldn't find it or that spent so long trying. Thanks for stopping by and commenting ;)

  4. Why did she choose yellow? No pink kayaks?

    1. Eido, I'm surprised you're not pilling in with all apologist guns blazing to defend the Japanese police from unwittingly stepping into the international media's 'weird Japan' feeding frenzy. But I guess it's actually hard for you to defend misogynist Japan on this one.
      Disappointed to see you here, quite frankly, given the amount of hate you have for people who critique Japan.
      Careful with this one Kamo.