Klav’s Green Caterpillar Girl

In the early 2000s, Kevin “Klav” Derken purchased a book which became “the most significant influence for my creative vision”, the artist admits, the publication in question being Takashi Murakami‘s SUPERFLAT. Serving as an outline for Murakami’s “super flat” concept, these bound pages detailed a postmodern movement that not only bridged the divide between high and low art, between gallery and consumer culture, but also drew upon Japanese art’s pictorial tradition, especially the antecedents of ukiyo-e such as anime and manga. “This was my first exposure to contemporary Japanese pop art and I’ve never been the same since”, explains Derken, who “studied the catalog like it was the Bible”. So it should be unsurprising that his sculptural contribution to Mothership Toy Gallery upcoming Love Bugs exhibition, Derken’s Green Caterpillar Girl, was directly inspired by an illustration within the SUPERFLAT collection that had haunted him: Henmaru Machino‘s Untitled (Green Caterpillar’s Girl).

A Brief History of Henmaru Machino’s Untitled (Green Caterpillar’s Girl)

Displayed at Parco Gallery‘s Shibuya and Nagoya locations in mid-2000 as well as the following year’s American tour of the showcase at Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art to Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center to Seattle’s Henry Art Gallery, Machino’s art was part of the Murakami curated SUPER FLAT exhibitions. Characteristically explored lolicon through a preposterous lens, Machino’s manga work is a grotesquely surreal form of eroticism that hovers at the borders of what Murakami refers to as “nonsense”, meaning that its more absurd aspects cause it to verge on but not become laughable, as exemplified in such gender-defying works as Untitled (Green Caterpillar’s Girl) (1999). Trailing behind a preteen manga girl’s round-eyed face, the cartoonish caterpillar concoction merrily ambles along on some of its multitude of protruding nipples, twin phallic tails standing semi-erect over its quivering vulva. And it was this image that “always fascinated” Derken, by his own admission, the artist “being both intrigued and disgusted at the same time”, a complex response that resulted in him wanting to interpret the form sculpturally.

Kevin “Klav” Derken’s Green Caterpillar Girl

Employing what was apparently the plastic shell container to Cryptozoic Entertainment‘s Rick and Morty: The Pickle Rick Game, Derken rounded out his sculptural base by affixing halved ping pong balls for the multitude of pert breasts. Coating the whole with epoxy clay, Derken’s rendition unmistakably eludes to Machino’s original while tonally shifting the concept to a darker realm, not only in its muddy coloration but also through an utterly unappetizing girth. “I obviously wanted to leave my usual mark on it”, the artist confirms, “but I was also looking at the piece in its contemporary context”.

“It’s not as innocent and amusing as I had once seen it”, Derken continues, “and I honestly struggled in creating an object of objectification”, a thought which is supported by an inadvertent title alteration by the artist. The original work by Machino — Untitled (Green Caterpillar’s Girl) — includes possessive punctuation, indicating that this “Girl” belonged to an undepicted “Green Caterpillar”, but Derken’s slightly altered title — Green Caterpillar Girl — denotes no secondary being but rather declares her as her own individual. And in the time when present-day feminists draw greater attention to sexual assault and harassment claims, such as through the #MeToo movement, it means something that she is the “Green Caterpillar Girl” and not the plaything of some unseen other. Or, as Derken concisely states, “the piece [to me] represents a remembrance of innocence and fantasy that has no footing in our modern society”.
Klav’s unique Green Caterpillar Girl sculpture will be available at the Love Bugs exhibition, which will take place on Saturday, February 23rd, 2019 from 6-10pm at the Mothership Toy Gallery‘s physical location (223 W Girard Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19123).

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