Fungal Foray


Takashi Murakami’s ‘‘Army of Mushrooms’’ highlights one of his now-classic subjects: the manga mushroom, appearing at once in myriad forms. Murakami, a worldrenowned contemporary Japanese artist, developed his strangely attractive and cartoonish style after attempting to study animation and turning instead to nihonga, or traditional Japanese art. Murakami allegedly became disillusioned with the politics and culture of the nihonga community, and he began experimenting with contemporary styles. The genre he launched from this experimentation became known as ‘‘superflat’’—his own word—which has been described as both a theory of technique and a commentary on the fusion of high art with pop culture. Like the genre superflat, Murakami’s obsession with mushrooms contains a dual interpretation. During World War II, Murakami’s mother lived in Kokura, the city that was famously spared from the atomic bomb by cloudy conditions. The bomb intended for Kokura was dropped on Nagasaki instead, and Murakami’s mother lived on to raise a family, while countless others did not. For this reason, some western art critics have linked Murakami’s mushrooms with the ominous cloud of the atomic bomb. At first glance, this link seems logically sound, but Murakami is no stranger to blunt imagery. In ‘‘Time Bokan,’’ a series of paintings that change in color but not composition, a skull extends up from an elongated and smoke-like spinal cord. ‘‘Time Bokan’’ mores explicitly evokes the sinister vision of a mushroom cloud than does his amusing army of mushrooms. The nuclear issue in Japan morphed dramatically with the failure of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Like so many natural and unnatural disasters of recent times, it was watched in real-time by the rest of the world, bringing the hidden cost of an otherwise perfect alternative energy source into sharp focus. Nuclear power has long been on the rise, endorsed even by Lovelock (2004), the originator of the ‘‘Gaia’’ hypothesis, as a key way to halt global warming. Perhaps western art critics’ obsession with the origins of Murakami’s mushroom imagery reflect a lack of understanding of Japanese culture, or lingering questions of the impact and ethics of both nuclear bombs and nuclear power. Mushrooms hold a deep cultural significance for Japan. Crucial ingredients in Japanese cuisine and culture, they are revered for their diversity, their ephemerality, their texture, and their taste. They appear repeatedly in traditional Japanese art. Eighteenth century painter Ito Jakuchu included mushrooms in his paneled screen ‘‘Vibrant Vegetables’’ and in his impressive six-foot scroll ‘‘Compendium of Vegetables and Insects.’’ Later, Yumeji Takehisa designed mushroom print fabrics, which Murakami alludes to in his own work and describes as ‘‘very cute, but [...] poisonous mushrooms’’ (Murakami et al. 2007). Murakami gives us few clues as to whether this imagery is a fungal foray or a darker reflection. When talking to journalists, Murakami insists that he ‘‘just enjoys looking at Published online: May 30, 2012

DOI: 10.1007/s10393-012-0770-x

Cite this paper

@article{Daszak2012FungalF, title={Fungal Foray}, author={Peter Daszak and Sara Howard}, journal={EcoHealth}, year={2012}, volume={9}, pages={103-104} }