The Floating World

February 19, 2015Midori in top hat and tails

Commissioned by the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco to create an interactive party-as-performance-art as the opening night gala for the Floating World exhibition. The party, titled “Seduction” brought the attendees into the spirit of revelry and the reinterpretation of the pleasure quarters depicted in the 17th century scroll.

The artist’s intention is to draw attention to the parallel between old Edo (now Tokyo) and San Francisco today. Both are port cities with a young and newly wealthy middle class, seeking the ‘good life’ from the service providers and entertainers in the pleasure quarters. These were often marginalized people that were also being displaced by the very customer they serve. Instead of the exoticized trope of Orientalist imagery and avoidance of the issue of sex work, the artist organized performing characters with parallel careers and social positions of both old Edo and San Francisco.

The top ranked courtesans are today’s top performing drag queens. The singers and dancer geishas are the singing neo-burlesque troupes. Letter writing courtesans became the beat and word artists. The Kabuki actors became the glam rock and pop stars.  The comedians, poets, drunken customers, accountants, playboys, housemaids, all appear in today’s garb and interacted, teased, danced and flirted with the attendees. As this was a much anticipated event, many of the guests also came in fancy dress or costumes.

The entire museum and all the guests were immersed in a one-night only apparition of New Yoshiwara by the Bay.

In Edo Period Japan (1615-1868), the “floating world” was a phrase that referred to both the pleasure quarters in major cities and a pleasure-seeking way of life. The most famous of these pleasure quarters was the Yoshiwara—a walled and moated district in Edo (present-day Tokyo) where one could abandon the rigors of daily life in pursuit of sensual delights.

Like Las Vegas today, the Yoshiwara was a destination that traded in sex, excess and fantasy, and its reputation as such—spread by the stories and artworks it inspired—was critical to its economic success and hold on the popular imagination.

Enter this complex world through more than 60 works of art, including paintings, woodblock prints and kimonos, and featuring a spectacular 58-foot painted scroll by Hishikawa Moronobu (d. 1694). Purposefully excluding the harsh realities of the sex trade, floating world artists created an idealized realm of high style and exquisite beauty. Produced by some of the most talented artists of their time, these artworks afforded vicarious pleasure to the many who could not access the Yoshiwara directly, while luring others to spend more freely. Seduction offers you the opportunity to explore the intersection of art and desire, and to consider how fantasy can attract and obscure.

Floating-World-screenshot-778px Performer dancing Overhead shot of crowded lobby Woman talking to audience Woman talking with audience Man in elaborate makeup