As part of the ICA Student Forum, Victor Wang curated Manga Made (ICA Studio, 13-14 July 2013), a display that sought to be reflexive of the concepts explored in Keep Your Timber Limber (Works on Paper) by opening the dialogue to other regions of the world.
With the exhibition Manga Made I wanted to explore several themes outlined in Keep Your Timber Limber, largely grounded in body politics within art. As Keep Your Timber Limber is predominately rooted in a Western political aesthetic from the 1940s to the present day, I wanted to look at how the figurative form in contemporary art has been influenced by other cultures and how the discourse around body politics has now entered the digital realm with the development of the avatar.
Manga Made is situated within the larger exhibition as a curatorial research space that consists of archival material and other texts and images that act as framing devices for the questions I wish to investigate. The first of these framing devices is an image of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), which signifies, by the appropriation of the African mask, the relationship and influence that non-Western cultures had on the development of the figurative form in contemporary art. It is this relationship that I wanted to depict through the juxtaposition of Japanese manga and artworks such as Pierre Huyghe's One Million Kingdoms (2001) and Frances Stark’s My Best Thing (2011). A second narrative woven into Manga Made is the Prostitution exhibition by COUM Transmissions that took place at the ICA in 1976. The title of the exhibition Prostitution plays on Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, in that the Avignon of Picasso’s title is a reference to a street in Barcelona famed for its brothels, and that in both the COUM poster and the Picasso painting nude women are the protagonists. The COUM exhibition reference also reveals ICA’s historical position and the reception of such exhibitions in the past.
The mangas here represent Picasso’s African mask. They inform the development of each artwork, but they also provide an alternative representation of gender in illustration (being part of the Japanese Gender Bender genre), where the main characters can alter their gender usually through will or by curious circumstance. Framed as an extension of this is Pierre Huyghe's One Million Kingdoms. Part of a larger project entitled No Ghost Just a Shell, Pierre Huyghe and Philippe Parreno purchased the exclusive rights to a manga character named Annlee from the Japanese agency ‘Kworks’. The Japanese company specialises in creating stock avatars for the Japanese Manga industry. But it is Annlee’s androgynous form that further outlines the relationship between gender bending, non-Western body aesthetics, and digital performativity. With both male and female characteristics, Annlee represents the expansion of the commodified digital form of the body, and the development of digital gender representation as a construct - a concept furthered by Frances Stark’s My Best Thing, where Stark animates her online relationships between herself and two random strangers through the use of digital animation and avatars.
For me, this work furthers many of the questions asked by Huyghe's One Million Kingdoms. With this work Stark shows the progression of the avatar from commodified form to vehicle for social interaction in the rapid development of online dating, and the substitution of digital relations for physical ones. My Best Thing is an artwork that encompasses the complex relations that technology has on gender politics today, and how the digital space can offer a platform for gender performativity.
The ICA Student Forum offers students the opportunity to shape and develop a public programme of events in response to the ICA programme - find out more.