Monumental Cutescape: Hello Kitty, Ominous Ubiquity and the Non-Human Time of Consumer Capitalism

1: Mickey Mouse2: Kumamon

3: Hello Kitty4: Pikachu

Click images to view full size.

With consumer capitalism as the dominant political and economic system worldwide, many people–especially young people–feel unable to affect meaningful change on their world, or indeed, to make any impact at all. This, combined with the irreversible impact of consumer capitalism on our environment and ecosystems, has led to an almost surreal temporality: the non-human time of the consumable object.


In this liminal temporal space, objects are both continuously reinvented and timeless. They are made and remade with countless minute variations in order to constantly provide new products for consumers to buy; however, no true structural changes take place.


Perhaps one of the most iconic examples of this temporality is the cute animal mascot. These mascots, including Hello Kitty and Mickey Mouse, are given new appearances, clothes and accessories for every season, occasion and locale. However, their personalities and basic appearance remain constant: indeed, their existence is no longer centered around any cartoon or film series, but rather on their reproducibility and recognizability as franchises. They are ubiquitous and unavoidable in the visual space of Hong Kong–anyone walking the city or using the MTR is bound to run into them at least once a day. The viewer is ultimately given a sense that Hello Kitty, Mickey Mouse and others will never go away–their parents experienced them as children, as did they, and as will their children.


In this series of pieces, I am concerned with capturing this temporality by portraying four famous cute animal characters (Hello Kitty, Mickey Mouse, Kumamon, and Pikachu) as ominous titans towering over districts of Hong Kong.


Aesthetically, I took inspiration from Monumental Landscape, a style of Chinese brush painting popularized in the Song dynasty (960-1279 CE). These evocative paintings belie a view of the landscape as eternal, looming and ominous, towering over temples and buildings. I employ similar dark tones, composition elements and brush stroke styles towards a portrayal of iconic cute characters instead of mountains.


I also draw inspiration from the classic painting The Colossus by Francisco de Goya, as well as more contemporary depictions of giant, powerful characters (the anime Attack on Titan; the video game Shadow of the Colossus; blockbuster films such as Pacific Rim). Giant, towering, dangerous characters with callous disregard for human life are evidently a common sight in contemporary media; for this reason, I felt that depicting these characters in this way would be pertinent both to my thematic interests and to contemporary aesthetics.


The city districts, meanwhile, are portrayed as nondescript series of buildings, crooked and emerging almost naturally from the land. I wanted to give the buildings a Hong Kong feel to them through their asymmetry, narrowness and haphazard appearance; however, I chose not to include any discernable landmarks, so as to streamline the design. Ultimately, I wanted to portray a cityscape that is unrecognizable, almost alien–a place that a viewer could not hope to influence or change. At the same time, these cityscapes are subjugated to and powerless against the iconic creatures towering over them.

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