Chiho Aoshima’s formal vocabulary and cast of characters derives from the world of Japanese pop culture with its rich history of comic strips and its ubiquitous Hello Kitty branding.

Her primary subject matter is the mysterious play of surface phenomena, the secret life of the line and the complex mechanics of desire. Aoshima employs the lack of depth evident in the traditional genre of Chinese and Japanese landscape with its free-floating mountain ranges, clouds and forests to create a setting for an indeterminate fantasy world with psychedelic mushrooms, multi-coloured dripping blobs and firewalls of hot-rod flames.

For the International 2002, Aoshima developed an enveloping 20 metre long mural that rose to ceiling height over a sloped wall. Her mythical narratives were well suited to jump off the page into a monumental frieze, mimicking billboards, wallpaper and the time progression in scenes from Japanese anime (animated movies).

Aoshima’s neat drawings stand in the tradition of Aubrey Beardsley and the busy Art Nouveau line (itself heavily influenced by the Japonisme of the time) with its ambiguous play of cold classical clarity and a linear ornamentalism that loses itself in intricate swirls, spirals and waves. The mechanical nature of this clean line has been logically translated into digital images drawn with the computer mouse and presented as inkjet prints.

Like Beardsley, Aoshima exposes and exploits the titillating sexual tension that emanates from this formal opposition of controlled order and uniform surfaces, and the eternal struggle of the line to break free and find its own meaning. Any excuse to develop a flower or a tree, water or fire into parasitically flourishing ornaments is exploited: Aoshima’s female protagonists are surrounded by fertile, sexually suggestive and obsessively detailed embellishments. The fairytale world of doe-eyed girls oozing with saccharine cuteness is less innocent than Aoshima’s attractive drawings might suggest. The adventures and clumsy mishaps of the young girls with their beguiling mixture of sweet innocence and budding sexuality occasionally contain scenes of morbid savagery with eyes popping out of sockets and bloodbaths at the fish market.

Besides the Japanese woodcut tradition (ukiyo-e), Aoshima’s drawings also call to mind the work of Henry Darger – another obsessive draughtsman – especially his gruesome and sexually charged chronicle of the Vivian Girls who similarly battle against a hostile environment.

Female adolescence is a hazardous phase full of mysterious physical changes and uncertain, constantly shifting identities. A multitude of outside pressures impel teenage girls to conform or resist the expectations of the adult world and make sense of the seductive overtures from advertising, magazines and television. While revealing the sexual obsessions and violence inherent in both the faux naiveté of Hello Kitty and explicit Manga anime, Aoshima deliberately abstains from overt critique and condemnation of the misogynist nature of some of these cultural products.

Like so many artists of her generation, she embraces the imagery and commercial icons that have accompanied her through childhood and youth, avoiding the inevitable break and critical distancing that comes with growing up. Aoshima creates her own mythology that incorporates and expands Japanese artistic traditions and strengthens female gender roles through the playful appropriation of powerful stereotypes.

Zombie Family, 2002
Digital Print
Commissioned by Liverpool Biennial 2002
Exhibited at Tate Liverpool