An essay by Midori Matsui, a Japanese art critic. It’s a cool read and perhaps gives a little hint about where our works are coming from.
The term “Micropop” is used to describe the attitude or approach to life that creates an unique and original path of living or aesthetics by combining fragments gathered from various places, without relying on institutional morals or major ideologies.
It refers to the stance taken by people who have been relegated to a “minor” position vis-a-vis the major culture that surrounds them, in the same manner as immigrants and children do. Those people – forced to function within the major culture without having sufficient tools to do so – make do with what they have, trying to fill in the gaps through leaps of imagination, thereby coming up with a peculiar amalgam or composite. The process of developing such a strange culture bears close resemblance to the way that children or immigrants, ignorant of the grammar of the major tongue and deficient in terms of vocabulary, come up with their own new language characterized by neologisms and deviant grammatical constructs.
Micropop also focuses its attention upon those places inside the city that people have forgotten, as well as upon obsolete, time-worn things. By adding something to those things and places – that is, often the minor act of inserting them within a new chain of relationships, or the setting up of a new site for gathering – Micropop evokes their hidden meaning, creating the impetus for the fostering of a new consciousness of community.
The idea of Micropop was inspired by the concept of “minor literature” as proposed by the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. It referred originally to the modernist novels written by such authors as Kafka, Joyce, Becket. Those authors, writing in languages that were not their mother tongues, created new compounds/composites within the gaps left by those major languages, linking lofty ideas and themes with vulgar actions and expressions, thereby developing new structures of discourse. Deleuze’s analysis went beyond the categories of literary criticism, treating the methods adopted by those novels and the stance supporting them as a model for cultural creation in general. He saw it as a process of creation that takes place under fluid circumstances in an age when many people live away from their home countries, in which the consciousness of smaller regional cultures is forced to transform itself under the broad influence of the world’s major cultures.
To sum up, the concepts of “Micropop” and “pop” emerge from the confusion of the cultural set of values known as “post-modern.” The term “pop” is another expression that Deleuze used to demonstrate the stance or position of “minor” creation (it is “pop” with a small “p,” and not directly related to American Pop Art). Instead of referring to major styles of popular culture, it demonstrates the basic posture that encourages the emergence of a consciousness or awareness of new forms of culture peculiar to a certain place. It expresses the stance of those people who live in a big city while not belonging to any particular institution or system; instead, such people glean their information from various sources, enjoying both high culture and popular culture, and treating them as equals. The sensibility of “minor pop” takes the manufactured objects of popular culture and reads into them allegorical symbolism of human dreams and desires, finding philosophical meaning in the “insignificant” events of everyday life as well as hints for action leading toward freedom.
In that sense, Micropop is also micro-political, as it involves the efforts individuals make to remove themselves from the framework of institutional thinking and the influence of modern capitalism and standardization, and to develop a posture of discovering the creation of an original sensation/perception and acquiring the venue of creation, while responding to the substantive conditions of “the here and now.” That effort is the demonstration by the individual of the statement, carried to extremes, of his/her voluntary ability to determine or decide. While responding to the mutability of things and thoughts in the post-modern era, that posture does not accept or approve of the concept that everything can be reduced to a simulation of a play of symbols/representations, or that reality can be surpassed by copies.
Accordingly, the stance adopted by Micropop can be seen as one of resistance toward the thrust toward totality that is being made by global capitalism and information networks. It sprouts amidst cultural crisis, for example, in those societies caught up in the vortex of vast structural change, or beset by disaster, or haunted by a sense of stagnation/frustration.
Japan, from the mid-1990s to the end of the decade, experienced precisely such an age of cultural crisis. The massive Kobe earthquake and the sarin-gas subway attacks of 1995 only amplified and intensified people’s anxiety toward the future. In addition to that, the prolonged economic recession lured young people away from a pursuit of material success and toward a search for spiritual meaning in their daily lives. The standardization of lifestyles and reification of cultural expressions encouraged them to create a narrow space where they could experience their own original sensations and perceptions. The means by which they accomplished that included recombining the relations between familiar things, gathering together “useless” fragments to create new compounds and amalgams, and reviving the meaning of forgotten places and things.
Those efforts, in turn, gave birth to new art forms and activities. The childlike creativity and curiosity of these “minor people” transformed their so-called “drawbacks” — i.e., their lack of funds, technology, and social status, and most importantly, their deviation from the norms of “adult” society – into their forte. The expressions of this new art thinks up new ways to use abandoned things, such as old legends and empty spaces, creating venues for communication. They include drawings that relay the action of intervention and the process of association, or which support the formation of individual affinity, as well as video artworks that use collections of fragments that float to the surface and create a complete picture of a living being or personal character, in order to depict the continued and complicated nature of the everyday.
Micropop represents an attitude that expresses the efforts of individuals, in the final stage of post-modern culture, to find a way to survive. It is a mode of resistance to a process of growing inhumanity that began in the 1960s, and which now seems to have reached its extreme limits. By treating the disadvantageous conditions of those in a “minor” position as the unique foundation for a creative method, the people of Micropop have broadened the possibilities of renewing our sensation, and giving rebirth to the values of the world in which humans live.