shunga: sex and pleasure in japanese art – review

An intensely rich feast for both eye and mind is currently showing at the British Museum where 170 works ranging from paintings, sets of prints and illustrated books from UK, Japan, Europe and USA feature ‘Spring Pictures’, the erotic art of Japan from 1600-1900 or in other words, Shunga.

These works of art were developed largely under the auspices of the ukiyo-e school (pictures of the floating world) and saw themselves as a natural progression from the day to day ideals of sex and humour already prevalent in paintings. Shunga, however, were the property of the rich and rulers and although continued through strict conformist times and even banned from 1722, in private, Shunga continued to explore the openness of sexuality in every day lives as well as the sex-industry, often known as ‘pleasure quarters’.  It is not unexpected to see illustrations of married couples making love, even, in some contexts, homosexual intimacy.

Shunga wasn’t just titillation for men, however, as the exhibition explains, women often received Shunga as part of their marriage trousseau and particular collections were almost certainly created more for women than men. From a society of such repression and rules, it is refreshing to see that behind closed doors, sexual pleasure was accepted and indulged by both genders.

The exhibition houses work by such greats as Hishikawa Moronobu (1618-1694), supreme in his signals of erotic suppressed emotion and blossoming sexuality, Kitagawa Utamaro (ca. 1753 – October 31, 1806) whose studies of light and shade made him exceptionally appealing to European impressionists and Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) not only famous for his ‘Mount Fuji Seen below a Wave at Kanagawa’ but of course, physical embraces between couples so tender that it might make one feel like a peeping tom.

The history of Shunga is fascinating and this exhibition not only informs but also leads to question Shunga’s place today. In a time where erotica is often photographic, is there a place for the line drawing, the hint and not so hidden positioning of genitalia? Of course there is. Shunga’s magic lies both in the simplicity of line of the body, each curve or dimple moving into view with the gentle rhythm of human intimacy and the intense patterning of the clothing, the robes, the backgrounds which capture so effectively every sensual second you are sharing in full view.

Shunga: sex and pleasure in Japanese Art is being exhibited at The British Museum, London from 3 October 2013 – 5 January 2014. Room 90-91, Admission charge.

Text: © JL Nash, 2013
Images: Courtesy of The British Museum, London
No1: Torii Kiyonaga (1752–1815), Detail from Sode no maki (Handscroll for the Sleeve), c. 1785. © The Trustees of the British Museum.
No2: Kitagawa Utamaro (d. 1806), Lovers in the upstairs room of a teahouse, from Utamakura (Poem of the Pillow), c. 1788. Sheet from a colour-woodblock printed album. © The Trustees of the British Museum.
No3: Sugimura Jihei (fl. 1681–1703), Lovers under a quilt with phoenix design, untitled erotic picture, mid-1680s. Private collection, USA.


blue jasmine review

I never want to see Blue Jasmine again. But if you love Woody Allen’s movies, you must see it and if you hate Woody Allen’s movies, you should see it. He’s not in it which is the first indication it’s not a comedy but his acerbic observation of the frailties of all of us run deep and hit hard in his most recent offering to the silver screen. You might not think you would relate to the main character played by Cate Blanchett whose life has crashed after the arrest and subsequent suicide of her high profile conman husband. But don’t be fooled into thinking this plot point is a spoiler for the film, because every relationship she has and every combination of relationships within the movie show the audience a little bit of the human condition covering most classes, socio-economic groups and gender. It calls into question not only family relationships but also the way we define ourselves in old and new friendships.

Cate Blanchett’s character, Jasmine, is scarily vulnerable and damaged throughout the film from start to finish and in a sense there is no resolution at the end for the audience to cling to or to feel a sense of safety. This actress delves deep into the shallowest of human waters and successfully brings home, denial, greed, anger, and betrayal leaving us with a clear sense of vulnerable instability. There is a clear development from the high life she has enjoyed, a life of blind snobbery through to needing the charity of a sister she has hitherto ignored and largely been ashamed of. We see her character trying to make something of herself, and redemption for her denial, her ignorance, her previous choices seems in grasp. Then, at a point where she is offered a new start, it becomes painfully clear that despite the typically Allen use of a chorus of characters, echoing the central themes in the style of a perfect Greek Tragedy, where they continuously remind her of her past throughout the film, she is still in denial and largely in her own version of reality. Her expectations of a new beginning crash and her opportunities for a fulfilling and rewarding relationship evaporate.

Woody Allen allows Jasmine the freedom of talking to herself in monologues which offers not only exposition in plot but also serves to display her depth of despair and ultimately mental illness. There is no happy ending for her character other than she is forced to face the realities of her own actions, the consequences of her own decisions and in that, the film acts as a modern morality tale.

In Blue Jasmine there’s a touch of the Steinbeck about the characters, from a variety of his stories but perhaps it’s simply an incredibly accurate mirror of humanity which never changes no matter what era from which the story is crafted. As I said, I never want to see Blue Jasmine again, but not because there is anything wrong with the film. Far from it. This kind of masterpiece chronicling the mundane through to the exotic, the full to the empty has taken my heart and mind, placed it in the wringer and left me in such a state of deep reflection, I’m almost afraid of what I might see next time. It’s brilliant and the only person it won’t move is someone who is in complete denial about their own life but then as the movie shows us, perhaps that’s more of us than we might think exist.

Text: © JL Nash, 2013
Images: Film stills from Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmin, 2013


monday morning

I awoke and you were between my lips
Until I stretched out the fantasy of night’s longings
I rose and lamented the absence of your scent in my nostrils
I showered and saw the water on your skin
Grafted onto me piece by piece from some
Clandestine nocturnal operation

I drank coffee and saw my reflection
Some beautiful monster I had become
Of your making in dreams late and early
And in the pattern of such formation
There was a taste of the finite and
I called it lust and
It tasted good

Text: © JL Nash, 2013
Images: © Predrag Pajdic with Yohan Campistron, Paris, 2013


artificial intelligence by francesco romoli

Images: © Francesco Romoli, courtesy of the artist.


postcards from the future by francesco romoli

Images: © Francesco Romoli, courtesy of the artist.


studiolav at designjunction in london

Designjunction is, in its own words, ‘a contemporary design show’ which is actually the prize part of the London Design Festival. This is its third year. Last year it attracted over 17,000 visitors and serves to platform the very best in international design ranging from lighting through to furniture.

This is where StudioLav finds itself from 18-22 September at the centrally located 1960’s Postal Sorting Office in London as one of the best international design companies. Not surprising as they were shortlisted for the Young Designer of the Year category for the Elle Decoration International Design Awards 2013.

The youthful energy of this young company carries within its products and design, wisdom as well as making use of modern materials and production techniques. This is enhanced through their newest collection, which will be showcasing at designjunction called OMBRO.

One might be reminded of the romance of old film reel in the patterning of these tables, even though the tops can be cleverly changed for differing colours to suit one’s own interior tastes. Perhaps, that’s why these two bright sparks Loukas and Vasso (who are StudioLav) named this collection OMBRO. A word which describes a cinematic technique to produce moving image through illusion of space, line and alternating form. Of course, it’s clear to see and indeed even feel the magic of the layered geometry combined with the most precise of angles in the production of the finished products.

Talking to Loukas in London as he prepares for this spectacular event, and enquiring as to his and Vasso’s inspiration, it’s the railings, the gates, the shadows and the sun. It’s how light strikes and creates and overlaps. These tables come alive and one feels as if they could be growing in the garden let alone, decorating the inside of the house.

Why tables and why not anything else? I’m asking, considering that StudioLav is already known for their detailed crockery, their luxurious chairs, quirky food stamps and their very funky pencils. The table, Loukas gently says, his voice like a 3B pencil sketching a shadow, the table is in view at all times. We sit on chairs and although we use them, we stop seeing them. The table is intrinsic to the house.

Curious to know where StudioLav’s priority lies, the questions keep coming and Loukas obliges, both excitedly and calmly to stress that although the central idea is exceptionally important, there must always be a balance between concept and functionality at all times.

Two and half years of working together but apart, Vasso working from Athens and Loukas based in London, the distance between, although sacrificing the immediacy of creation, is working well for them as they become more and more successful to now international acclaim and recognition.

How marvelous then, that it is possible to view this newest collection OMBRO and imagine letting the sun fall through the window and the light patterns travel over the floor or wall as it hits the table in your living room or bedroom. StudioLav’s ideas are always fresh, exciting and new. This collection excites and pleases in the same way. Make a point of getting to designjunction in London between 18-22 September at The Sorting Office, 
21-31 New Oxford Street,
London, WC1A 1BA to see StudioLav’s stunning designs at Stand F16A.

Text: © JL Nash, 2013
Images: © Predrag Pajdic, 2013


alexandra eldridge: meetings with my daemons

The world renowned Alexandra Eldridge’s paintings are being exhibited again. What absolute joy to have the chance for exploration of the space between the temporal outer world and the latent internal world that she creates. Alexandra’s use of collage, paint and Venetian plaster is just the tip of the iceberg of her creativity and sublime imagery, reaching from the depths of her subconscious out into that of the viewer, leaving traces within, of her mysterious and message laden works that might be earthy and transcendent to some but to others, lift into the realm of power and ultimate forces of nature which drive the universe we all inhabit.

In this solo exhibition, Meetings with My Daemons, Alexandra’s paintings once again take the viewer on a journey, original to both parties. It is a witness or indeed a recounting of profundity, the strike of revelation based on her experience in the deeply magical and spiritual Kauai, where she tells of the getting of a vision of her soul image. These mythical encounters, streamed from her subconscious, spilled into her paintings as animals and symbols and now stands testament not only to her brilliance but offering a modicum of insight into the elusive shadows of beauty that exist within her mind.

Alexandra Eldridge is an artist of international standing and repute and has exhibited her work both nationally and internationally in over forty solo and group exhibitions. She has also conducted numerous workshops and had residencies in France, Italy, Spain and throughout the United States. Her physical body currently resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico but her spirit lives within each painting at each location it finds itself.

Until 22 September 2013
Nüart Gallery
670 Canyon Road
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501

Images: © Alexandra Eldridge, 2013, courtesy of the artist.


it’s time to make a stand

Did you know that only 10% of the world’s population lives in countries where same sex marriage has been legalised? Homosexual behaviour is still criminalised in more than 38 countries around the world. Tolerance and acceptance is not the norm. However in countries which are lacking in education and resources it is almost possible to understand how this might be the case. It is easier to look at a third world states and understand how ignorance can flourish. It is then all the more shocking when a country of resources, education and international standing begins to change its laws to walk down the dark path of criminalisation of homosexuality in any form.

Although male homosexuality was actually decriminalised in 1993 in the Federation of Russia, there is a distinct absence of legislation, which protects against all discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Russia. Notably same-sex marriages and civil unions are not recognised. However, it is the most recent of the Russian Federation’s legislation, which has the international community protesting. Many states within the Federation have had their own legislation for some time prohibiting information dissemination with reference to homosexuality. This year, a federal bill was passed which banned the distribution of ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations’ to minors. One could be tempted to see it as one of the biggest smoke-screens for some time and wonder what other legislation or political manoeuverings are taking place in or by the Russian Federation. Human Rights, after all, provide a perfect eclipse as any audience is forced into an emotional knee jerk reaction to such laws. What else is happening in Russia?

But whether this is an incredible elaborate smokescreen or not, the issue remains, that an educated country is closing the door on basic human rights. There is no complicated argument which needs investigation here. It is a simple case of repression and oppression; some have been quoted as saying that the Russian Federation is taking a step back into the Middle Ages. It matters not what century one is looking at, we all live in the present and cannot ignore today.

What is next? With international governments making very little difference to the Federation’s legislative bent, can it be expected that Tchaikovsky’s vast legacy will be published and performed under a different name in case minors are affected by the history of one Russia’s (up until now) favourite sons? Are Maria Feodorova’s literary works to be burned or banned? Will Lenin’s own decriminalisation of homosexuality or even Yeltsin’s 1993 decriminalisation be removed from the history books in schools and universities? Perhaps the Ballets Russes will be disbanded considering it was founded by Sergei Diaghilev and will all traces of Nijinsky and Nureyev be scratched from view? Pushkin might not have been gay but openly wrote about the bonus of male bedfellows when communicating with his gay friend Philip Vigel. Perhaps all of his prose and poetry needs to be removed from the bookshelves instantly too?

Let’s not forget Nikolai Gogol’s plays and stories or even Tolstoy’s musings on his own homosexual attractions in his autobiographical writing of his childhood. The list of gay/bisexual Russians who are prominent in the arts is extensive. Poets Mikhail Kuzmin (1972-1936), Vyacheslav Ivanovich Ivanov (1866-1946), Nikolai Klyuev (1887-1937), Sergei Yesenin (1895-1925) and Ryurik Ivnev (189-1981). Let’s not forget the painter Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov (1806-1858), composer Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881), publisher Anna Yevreinova (1844-1919), and filmmaker Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein (1989-1948) to name but a few who are part of not only Russia’s cultural history but more notably the cultural history of the species homo sapiens on this planet.

Today’s gay and bisexual artists, writers and composers not only need acknowledgement but also protection and nurturing. It is safe to mention Slava Mogutin (1974 -) Siberian born artist, sculptor and author who is currently based in New York. Thanks to the United States and the work of Amnesty International and PEN American Center, he has been granted political asylum. How many other incredible creatives such as Slava are left struggling in the Russian Federation?

Perhaps we should also begin to wonder whether gay engineers or architects who have built prominent buildings, bridges or icons will now be forgotten as their creations are destroyed or their own histories re-written? Do not be sidetracked. This issue is not just about the arts; it’s about the situation we should all enjoy not as a luxury or privilege but as a basic human right.

It is time for the Pandorian to take a stand, smokescreen or not. Let none sit idly by, loving the arts, whether music, dance or literature to the detriment of not only our mutual history but also the present day cultivation of what humans have to offer which separates us from animals, which is the sophistication and demonstration of beauty in all its forms and those who create it and perform it, regardless of their gender preference or sexual orientation.

Text: © JL Nash, 2013
: © Slava Mogutin


leaving hollywood behind for £15000

Considering that the average production budget of a major studio film in 2007 was $106 million [source: MPAA] (approximately £65 million) and although we know that Edward Burns managed to produce his Newlyweds for $120K (just under £74K) including editing and post production costs, how is it possible to create a film for only £15000?

Well, that’s just what The Minister of Chance team is doing right now in Cheshire, UK. Already with a cult following on the internet, Radio Static is the brave independent firm which is taking podcast to film. The Minister of Chance podcast first series received nominations from the BBC and USA Parsec Awards and hails an internationally acclaimed cast including Jenny Agutter OBE, Paul McGann, Sylvester McCoy, Tamsin Greig, Jed Brophy and Philip Glenister to name but a few.

Reviews of the original series were glowing:

“ …startling… a joy to listen to… world-class… magic… superb… haunting… intricate… sucks you in and holds you… so poetic that you’re happy to go along with every twist… fascinating… a gorgeous audio experience.”
Greg Jameson, Entertainment Focus

“…fabulous… truly wonderful… the cast is absolutely phenomenal… the writing excellent… outstanding.”
Seattle Star

“…excellent… gripping.”
The Guardian

“…transports you to another world… eclipses nearly every audio adventure I’ve listened to… flawless… this future classic.”
Paul Gee, Who News Extra

“… superb… full of depth and flavour… sublime.”
Sam Fleming, Singularity

The Writer and Director Dan Freeman, together with the Executive Producer Clare Eden, have, through the podcasts, taken the listeners back into the realm of imagination, where weekly story telling on the wireless was an essential part of life. Except that now the wireless is the internet and not a radio, but the realm of the imagination still reigns supreme in human beings and largely due to the success of the crowd-funded podcast project, a film is currently underway in the UK. A film which is working to a budget of £15000. OK. Perhaps it’s time to ‘fess-up’ and say it’s not quite a full feature film – more like a very short film of the prologue of the series which has been rewritten to accommodate a more cinematic and visually powerful style. But it’s still a film; just not quite of blockbuster proportions one might have originally hoped.

Austerity measures might be in place when compared to Hollywood’s funds but there is no skimping on talent. Top quality writing attracts top quality talent which, in turn, gives award winning performances. What is really refreshing is to hear from the Executive Producer how the ‘talent’ are hardworking, fun and professional. Tim McInnery, for instance, once a favourite as Lord Percy or Captain Darling in the Black Adder Series, a well established actor of stage, screen and radio, was described as “everything we hoped he’d be – fantastic in the role of the King, and a total gent to work with.” Mark Lewis played the king in the original series and was going to be in the film, but an offer from Ridley Scott meant he wasn’t available. Tim McInnery however, has stepped into the part with impressive results.

A quick peek at the whole cast list is evidence enough of several combined lifetimes of excellence from both young and seasoned actors alike. This short film, also featuring the Cheshire landscape as well as promoting and using local talent, for a country coming out of recession, is an example of ingenuity, entrepreneurship and a refusal to wait for the ‘big boys’ to make something beautiful.

More and more independent production companies are taking it upon themselves to create and develop art, music and literature. Crowd-funding platforms are commonplace and all one needs to do it seems – is believe. This £15000 has been raised through crowd-funding and is a perfect example of how the process of creation has changed. Interestingly they are making the film and still continuing with their campaign until 10th November, when their limited edition purchases will no longer be available.

What is the Ministry of Chance about? Well, without offering any kind of spoiler the prologue called The Pointed Hand gives this description as a starter to the series…

“A strange new world… Ambassador Durian of Sezuan (Paul McGann) is dispatched to the primitive island nation of Tanto. However, his offers of friendship to the belligerent King (Mark Lewis) fall on deaf ears, and things take a turn for the very, very sinister.”

For me, the presence of the smoother-than-chocolate Paul McGann is enough to stimulate interest (of course, for his sublime acting talents), but essentially, The Minister of Chance is a science fiction fantasy-adventure series which will amuse, beguile and titillate the eardrums, stimulate that grey matter of yours and I warn you, can be quite, quite addictive. The film promises to feed the eyes as well as a sense of adventure. There will even be some special effects and I understand that Paul McGann’s rocket ship landed in Chester’s Roman amphitheatre for the film!

It’s fun and the podcast series definitely harked back and offered a nod to old style radio dramas but the excitement in this new film production is many layered. Firstly that it is crowd-funded; public opinion does count, secondly that it is supported by a hugely gifted cast and crew, thirdly that is comes from the hand of the immensely talented Dan Freeman and fourthly that it is unafraid to create and present as a development from an already highly successful independent project.

The original podcast series is free to download through their website or even though ITunes. Why not get up to speed while you wait for the movie to be finished? You never know – you might even get a chance to be part of its film campaign and on a such a small budget, I suspect they might still need you!

Text: © JL Nash, 2013
Image: The Minister of Chance – Rocket ship


michael landy: saints alive

If you happen to be in London until the 24th of November 2013 don’t miss the extraordinary exhibition Saints Alive by Michael Landy at the National Gallery.

Saints are more often associated with traditional sacred art than with contemporary work, but Michael Landy, current Rootstein Hopkins Associate Artist in residence at the National Gallery, has been inspired to revisit the subject for this exhibition.

Landy’s large-scale sculptures consist of fragments of National Gallery paintings cast in three dimensions and assembled with one of his artistic hallmarks – refuse. He has scoured car boot sales and flea markets accumulating old machinery, cogs and wheels to construct the works. Visitors can crank the works into life with a foot pedal mechanism.

Towering over you, the seven sculptures swivel and turn, in movements that evoke the drama of each saint’s life. Saints Apollonia, Catherine, Francis, Jerome, Thomas – and an additional sculpture that takes a number of saints as its inspiration – fill the Sunley Room alongside paper collages.

Born in London in 1963, Landy attended Goldsmiths College and is part of the generation of artists who became known as the YBAs (Young British Artists). He is best known for his 2001 installation, ‘Break Down’, where he catalogued and then destroyed all of his possessions in a former department store in London.

Images: From the Saints Alive exhibition by Michael Landy at the National Gallery London until the 24 November 2013. © Thomas Dane Gallery, London, National Gallery and the Duerckheim Collection, 2013.