AIKO ROBINSON – Afternoon Delight – 14 Feb-3 March, 2017
My practice is a response to shunga, ‘Spring Pictures’, a form of pornography that flourished in Japan during the Edo period between the 17th and 19th centuries. Historical shunga reflects the acceptance or celebration of sex in Shinto culture, and values love, mutual pleasure and equality between sexual partners. It is also positively associated with spring as it addresses themes of fertility and new life. I am interested in the idealised visions of the shunga artist, and how these might compare to prevailing ideas regarding pornography in contemporary society.
Crossing to Another World continues themes I explored in the work Burdens of clothing and skin, created for the ‘Last Judgement’ group exhibition at PG gallery192 in July 2016. Here, I have returned to the Buddhist folklore about souls crossing an array of rivers to reach the afterlife. While Burdens of clothing and skin focused on the condemnation of the spirits of those who had sinned, Crossing to Another World depicts the spirits of the blessed and their peaceful passage to Heaven. For me, themes of death are integral to themes of sex, as sex is closely associated with reproduction and new life. Euphemistically the dead walking across the bridge to Heaven, relates to the phrase ‘Le petit mort,’ or ‘Little death,’ a French term for orgasm.
The Tale of Genji: Lady Rokujo’s Revenge takes inspiration from the worlds first known novel ‘The Tale of Genji’, written by Murasaki Shikibu between 1000 and 1012. The protagonist is Hikaru Genji; he is the second son of an Emperor, an imperial officer in the court and a very handsome man. The novel depicts court life and has a focus on Genji’s many romances. However, the main character in this watercolour is Lady Rokujo. She is one of Genji’s lovers, and is particularly jealous of Genji’s wife, Aoi no Ue. Lady Rokujo is so consumed with jealousy, that she sends her spirit to possess Genji’s wife, night after night. This eventually results in Aoi no Ue’s death. I am fascinated by the angered spirits ability to act autonomously, leaving Lady Rokujo completely unaware of her evil doings. This relates to the concept of ikiryo, or ‘Living Ghost’, which is when a spirit leaves the body of a living person. The headless figures are ghostly in nature and the dark forms of ikiryo help to convey emotions such as jealousy.
The small-scale works in this exhibition use puns and humour, as seen in Japanese literature and Warai-e (another common name for Japanese erotic art, which literally translates to ‘Laughing pictures’). I have adopted Western sexual euphemisms and puns in these works, quite literally depicting ‘birds and bees,’ ‘pussy (cats),’ ‘shags’ and ‘melons,’ as well as sexually suggestive forms such as ‘orchids,’ ‘mushrooms and mussels.’ I have used the Warai-e concepts as way to encourage a positive and lighthearted attitude towards sexual curiosity. I aim to remove some of the negative connotations associated with sex in contemporary culture, such as taboo and shame.
Exhibited alongside GRACE WRIGHT – Afternoon Delight