“There is no more chastity in the Young-Girl than there is debauchery. The Young-Girl simply lives as a stranger to her desires, whose coherence is governed by her market-driven superego.”—Tiqqun, Preliminary Materials for a Theory of a Young-Girl, 2012
Aida Makoto’s retrospective exhibit, “Monument for Nothing,” is a stunning body of work, taking full advantage of its towering exhibition site. The Mori Art Museum sits on the 53rd and 54th floors of Roppongi Hills Mori Tower—a massive skyscraper built in 2003. It is the fifth tallest building in Tokyo. As part of one’s ticket price, visitors have access to a sky deck where the whole city extends beneath your feet. On clear days Mt. Fuji juts up from the horizon, as iconic in person as it is in any woodblock print. It’s a museum in the clouds. What better site for one of Japan’s most controversial and celebrated contemporary artists?
Aida Makoto is intent on unearthing latent cultural mores, as someone both implicated in and critical of society’s shadow. While this process is not entirely focused on infantilized women, Aida’s young girls easily eclipse the rest of his work—they burn a persistent impression like an afterimage, emphasizing his unique interest in blending a high-art past with a low-brow manga perversity. AZEMICHI (Path Between Rice Fields) (1991) makes a visual pun of a young girl’s part between pigtails, connecting the back of her hairline seamlessly to a path between rice fields. This work quotes Kaii Higashiyama’s (1908-1999) similarly iconic work Road from 1950—a deceptively simple landscape painting that shows the same unpaved path between green fields. Whereas Higashiyama is famous for creating landscapes that reflect an inner state of mind, Aida’s state of mind is indivisible from the young girl. With a tenderness that verges on pedophilia, the front piece of Aida’s exhibit, Picture of a Waterfall (2007-2010), depicts a vast array of young girls in almost exactly the same track and field uniforms clambering and splashing through a cultivated landscape. There is no difference between the treatment of these girls and the ones in violent compromise.
The young girls in Aida’s work are impersonal, and non-specific (even if they have unique physical characteristics). One young girl is as good as any other. Setting aside my tendency as a woman to identify with Aida’s girls, it might be useful to suspend any anatomical correlation and focus instead on the fact that Aida is not presenting real girls, but stylized representations of them. What is especially disconcerting about these representations is that there is something familiar about them. They emerge from a pervasive, cultural subconscious as a kind of archetype. The French collective Tiqqun recognizes this archetype as well and in 1999 coined their own version, the “Young-Girl”—a non-gendered umbrella term. Tiqqun suggests that there are many Young-Girls among us. We might all be Young-Girls, figures that emerge from the spectacle of capitalist society. (read more)