"Because making a life-size figure character was taboo within the 'otaku' community figure culture began in response to a desire to somehow call the beloved characters of 'manga' and 'anime' forth into the real world, to have them at one's fingertips. At the root of the figure character was their clear functionality as pornographic statues. Because making a life-size figure is really no different than making a sex doll (a dutch wife) in the context of the anime figure, it's safe to say ours was a fairly shameless plan from the start. But for me, aside from what one might think in that context, we were making a kind of human sculpture new to the history of art, and its reality within the otaku world was something that only occurred to me a while after the project was underway. In one sense we were recreating an unknown world, the world of the otaku, in a new context." (T. Murakami, "Life as a Creator", Takashi Murakami Summon Monsters? Open the Door? Heal? Or Die?, Tokyo 2001, p.138).
And so Miss ko2 was born. The first three-dimensional figure Takashi Murakami created, Miss ko2 really serves as the introduction to all of Murakami's resulting three-dimensional figures. She is based on a character that Murakami selected from "the fighting 'bisyoujo' (Japanese slang for beautiful young girl) game Viable Geo, who wore a waitress uniform from the chain restaurant Anna Millers" (ibid, p.138). In this video game, Miss ko2 is based on a female character that is a secret agent for the Japanese government.
Miss ko2 is depicted as a young woman with long blonde hair that cascades down her back, huge, innocent eyes, fair skin as smooth as marble, a tiny waist and mile long legs. She wears what at first glance resembles the typical waitress outfit, but upon closer examination the viewer immediately notices the transparent nature of the fabric, which hints at the shape of her nipples, as the outfit clings tightly to her breasts. The skirt itself pays tribute to the description mini-skirt; it hardly covers her sexuality. Confidently Miss ko2 reaches out to the viewer with a smile on her face, her arm extended, beckoning the viewer to come closer.
The sculpture makes illusions to the Japanese obsession with young girls in their school uniforms with big bows in their hair, colorful ribbons on their clothes, and their wide and inquisitive eyes. Mixed into this equation is her overt sexuality, her "come hither" pose, her curvaeousness, the high heeled shoes that emphasize the length of her legs and the short and tight nature of her outfit. Her facial features, hair, skin and clothing are all painted with a matte finish. Only her candy apple red shoes are painted with an ultra-shiny surface, giving testimony to the mythology of red shoes. This figure makes plain every straight male's fantasy in body and mind, mixing the innocence of youth with the sophistication of sexual prowess. Miss ko2 gives the impression of being a virgin with a courtesan's knowledge of the world of pleasure.
Small figurines that are born from video games, television and comic books fascinate Japanese youth culture, so much so that entire magazines, known as modeling magazines are produced and collected in high volume by thousands of aficionados. Miss ko2 made the cover of Monthly Model Graphix in April 1998 confirming her status as a cult object, and was featured numerous other times in the magazine. Even before the critical art press recognized her as an art object, she was all the rage of the 'otaku' model world. It was in these magazines that Murakami chose to present Miss ko2's successor, Project ko2. Like Miss ko2 before her, Project ko2 received such a high level of critique and a thorough and sophisticated analysis in Monthly Model Graphix that was difficult for the art press to match the excitement that was already created for her.
Much of Murakami's work derives from Japanese 'otaku' or 'geek' culture, typified by males obsessed with the world of comic books, video games and animation, a Japanese pop culture phenomena and as a child Takashi Murakami longed to be an animation director. Instead Murakami went to art school to learn 'nihon-ga', a style of painting which combines traditional Eastern styles and subjects with forms and motifs from the West. Yet Murakami's artistic explorations have moved the artist away from his original training to develop a new vocabulary in contemporary art. These explorations have adopted a multitude of forms, from painting and sculpture, to balloons, stuffed animals, T-shirts, watches and handbags.
The artist grew up in Japan at a time when the country was recovering from the devastation of World War II. This period encouraged a high rate of childbirth, and as a result, popular culture flourished in the form of mass produced toys, movies, television, pop music, comic books or manga, and anime cartoons. In addition, the American presence was strongly felt and the world of Walt Disney further fueled this media saturated environment.
Beginning in the mid 1990's Murakami incorporated this culture's aesthetic into meticulously created paintings, at once, a reinterpretation both of American Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. Known for their huge expressionistic and gestural canvases, the works of such larger than life figures, Jackson Pollock and Willem De Kooning, were translated into flat, pristine surfaces eliminating all evidence of the brushstroke. Just as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein established a relation between the 'high and low' art by referring to Pop culture in their paintings, so too did Murakami, who developed characters that are a cross between Mickey Mouse and Hello Kitty.
Through these developments, Murakami realized that it is through the environment that surrounds us that one can gain a deeper understanding of society. By incorporating the flatness of traditional, uni-dimensional Japanese painting, and contemporary American and Japanese popular culture, the artist created a Disney-like, Japanese animation style uniquely his own. Like Botticelli's Birth of Venus, from across the oceans a new icon of beauty has been born, Murakami's Miss ko2 stands tall, arm extended to greet us.
Model Graphics, April 1998