What is an idol? In the most literal sense, an idol is an object of worship. Historically, the term has been used pejoratively to dismiss devotional objects foreign to one’s own belief system. As Voltaire wrote in his Philosophical Dictionary, “There has never been a people on earth who has adopted the name ‘idolater.’”
People may not self-identify as idolaters, but there are performers who identify themselves as idols. The media culture of contemporary Japan is constructed around such “idols:” versatile performers who jump between media, never remaining confined to one in particular. While use of the term “idol” is not limited to Japan (celebrities are “idolized” the world over), its meaning in Japan’s media culture specifically references performers with public personas that are manufactured to appeal to particular audiences. These idols appear in advertising, pop music, film, television, and pornography. These idols don’t exist apart from the videos, magazines, and ephemera that depict them: there may be a human performer, but she is not presented as a singular, unique being but as a conduit who channels the idol’s affective charisma, displacing her own identity for one desired by her producers and fans.
The body of work presented here engages with idolatry by merging the historical and contemporary uses of the word: the supposedly misplaced worship of an unaccepted conception of God, and the adoration of an artificial and illusionistic media construct. These are expressed using the visual language of the Baroque, an era in which traditional ideas of the divine, the idolatrous, and the place of mankind in the universe were in a state of flux and redefinition. The Baroque era also saw the beginnings of mass culture in the popularization of print and the emergence of new forms such as the picaresque, the novel, and opera. The intertextuality and theatricality of the historical Baroque could be seen as parallels to the transmediality and artificiality of the contemporary idol.
The “idol” being venerated in these installations, paintings, and sculptures is Minori Aoi, an “Adult Video Idol” who was featured in videos between 1999 and 2001. Minori’s videos are unique within the genre due to their degree of self-parody. Baby Kiss (1999) is modeled after a TV variety show, with segments such as a quiz game (in which Minori incorrectly answers questions about herself), a TV melodrama, and a cooking show. One of her last videos, Underground Job (2001), has her simultaneously playing the role of the idol and a production assistant in her own movie; in lieu of an erotic finale, the ending shows Minori taking down the set, cleaning up, and driving away in a van.
Minori is depicted in two ways in her videos, photo collections, and magazine features: as an idol portrayed by a human performer, and as a cartoon caricature of this performer, a line drawing of a head with big eyes, prominent ears, and pigtails. This logo symbolizes the idol as a commercial entity, branded and marketed as a mass-produced product. These products, ultimately, constitute the idol’s physical presence. The piece The Real Presence of Minori Aoi (2014), modeled after a Roman Catholic monstrance, constantly loops one of these products – a softcore video of the idol frolicking in and out of a variety of costumes – in an attempt to perpetuate her visual/physical presence in the world. Similarly, the piece Minori Incorrupt (2015) presents a sarcophagus, empty save for the impression of the idol’s body in the pillow and cushions and Minori’s character logo placed in the center of its swirling Baroque arabesques.
Like the historical Baroque era of the seventeenth century, our current era is seeing a redefinition of humanity’s place in the universe. The trend towards a posthuman view of humanity, integrated inseparably with its technological apparatuses, is a paradigm shift akin to the Earth’s displacement from the center of the universe. The idol could be seen as an ideal posthuman object of worship: something that is simultaneously human and artifice, embodied by an actor but constructed in a boardroom, presented as a unique being but produced on a massive scale across media outlets.
Born 1985, Syracuse, NY
2015: MFA from Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY
2008: BFA from Syracuse University, College of Visual and Performing Arts, Department of Painting, Cum Laude
2015: MFA Summer Show, Rubelle & Norman Schafler Gallery, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY (Group)
2015: PORNOHAGIOGRAPHY, Pratt Studios Gallery, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY (Solo, MFA Thesis Show)
2015: Memento Mori, Postcrypt Gallery, Columbia University, New York, NY (Group)
2015: Memento Mori, Morgan Avenue Underground, Brooklyn, NY (Group)
2015: Draw Into Me, DeKalb Gallery, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY (Group)
2014: Salonumenta, DeKalb Gallery, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY (Group)
2014: Unnoticed, DeKalb Gallery, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY (Group)
2013: MFA Welcome Show, Steuben Gallery, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY (Group)
2012: Level_13_:_Cheat_Codes, Altered Esthetics, Minneapolis, MN (Group)
2011: California, Arts Continuum, Los Angeles, CA (Group)
2010: Fever Dream, CCCP Gallery, Brooklyn, NY (Group)
2010: May Salon Show, Greenpoint Gallery, Brooklyn, NY (Group)
2010: Spring Group Show, Greenpoint Gallery, Brooklyn, NY (Group)
2009: I Heart Art, WORK Gallery, Brooklyn, NY (Group)}
2008: Level_13_:_Secret_Level, Altered Esthetics, Minneapolis, MN (Group)
2008: Recent Paintings, Westcott Community Gallery, Syracuse, NY (Solo, Senior Thesis Show)
2007: Tomb of the Haniwa, Drawing Room, Syracuse, NY (Solo)
PRIZES AND AWARDS
2008: Augusta Hazard Painting Award, Department of Painting, Syracuse University
2008: Critical Studies Award, Department of Painting, Syracuse University
2015: Co-Working Residency, Babycastles Gallery, New York, NY
Through a Green Glass Door Opaquely: Perspectives in Alexi Worth, artcritical.com
This is Real Life: John Miller’s Crafting of Mediated Vision, artcritical.com
Richard Phillips Laid Bare: A New Monograph on the Hyper-Realist Painter, artcritical.com