We’ve just uploaded a video to run with the current show. It’s available on our Youtube channel, or you could just look at it right here. The images are all from the current exhibition Artists of the Utagawa School at Toshidama Gallery and the words are from an extremely fine seventeenth-century Japanese novel called Tales of The Floating World, by Asai Ryoi. It’s a collection of stories loosely woven around the fictional character of Hyotaro. Having expended his fortune on drink, drugs, women and gambling, he turns his hand to a variety of professions before becoming a priest. The tales are fast paced and entertaining… a kind of ukiyo-e pulp fiction. In the seventeenth century, authors were able to be populist for the first time following the introduction of printing presses to Japan and there was a race for instant popularity. Nevertheless, between bouts of slapstick humour and pathos, Ryoi consistently weighs the value of pleasure against the suffering of the world, hence the poetic distance of the first few lines.
The words in the video come from the introduction, where the author explains ukiyo-e in the manner of an ennui… a meditation on the uncertainty of life and the certainty of pleasure. Whilst some commentators argue that Ryoi is moralising throughout the novel, the introduction is a clear enough invitation to pleasure. Take a few minutes away from whatever you’re doing and relax into the floating world of ukiyo-e.