“In Kudo’s sculptures and assemblages [...] there was a prevailing obsession with the theme of impotence linked to nuclear attack, a penchant for grotesque renderings of the body, cut into pieces or dissolving into puddles of goo, and a science-fictional dystopian picturing of the body as part machine… Kudo’s works looked less like sculpture than like movie props from lurid science fiction films [...] I admired them greatly.”
—MIKE KELLEY, ‘Cultivation by Radioactivity’, Tetsumi Kudo: Garden of Metamorphosis, Walker Art Center, 2008
With its assorted anthropomorphic forms encased by a verdant green birdcage, Tetsumi Kudo’s Souvenir – La Mue (1970) is a lurid exploration into the base conditions of humanity. Within the multimedia sculpture, a microscopic biosphere of moulded body parts erupts from a terrestrial wasteland. Flowers share the space with grotesque fossilized remains and the soil radiates with the chromatic gleam of fluorescent spray paint. Kudo’s foreboding psychological landscape transcends formal classifications, exhibiting a language and symbolism unique to the artist’s oeuvre. The work presents a multitude of dichotomies that range from the fusion of organic and inorganic elements to the utopian idealization of a post-nuclear ecology, revealing Kudo’s trademark proto-post-humanist vision of the world. While Kudo’s unique visual vocabulary clearly expresses his disillusionment with humanity, touching on prescient themes such as pollution and deformation, the work is also a reflection on metamorphosis. Kudo explains, ‘Pollution of nature! Decomposition of humanity (humanism)! The end of the world! These exclamations are fashionable nowadays but this situation is neither absolutely catastrophic nor fashionable. This is the ineluctable process of reforming ourselves. Behind this situation there is a great possibility of revolution for us personally’ (T. Kudo, quoted in F. Gavin, ‘Tetsumi Kudo’s X-rated cages that shocked the art world’ http:/www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/19731/1/tetsumi-kudos-x-rated-cages-that-shocked-the-art-world [accessed 9 September 2016]). His aesthetic syntax is derived from his dual experiences of growing up in Japan and later working in France amidst the legacy of World War II. As a mainstay of the radical post-war Tokyo art scene and a revolutionary figure in the European avant-garde, Kudo’s unique combination of politics and aestheticism in Souvenir – La Mue remains searingly contemporary.