In the mid 17th century, Ukiyo-e woodblock prints spoke to Japan’s hedonistic period of the emerging bourgeoisie. The idle life of Edo’s “Floating World” as it was known in this period were layered encryptions of folklore and mythic creatures, serving and entertaining the growing class of artistans, merchants, and lordless samurai gathering in an increasingly metropolitan society — a class that were largely invisible and powerless until now.
Over 300 years later and across the Pacific, original Ukiyo-e prints are here on display in Vancouver, directly in dialogue with new works inspired by their content. They converse with each other in a city that is caught between its own form of creation/destruction. Hedonism spreads like wild fire as the middle class consumes itself.
Boarded up on the corner of Hastings and Carrall, all of the salmon have died. By opening night, several were eaten alive by their fellow tank dwellers and those that survived failed to adjust to their new habitat past the first week. Periods of adjustment and change affect everyone. The headlining news has been raging with cannibalistic zombie stories. Humans are eating themselves and each other. Apocalypse is in the air and in the water. It’s not all unrelated.
The death of the salmon is not art. The death of the salmon is parallel to the point. They died because they were moved into a gallery. They would have died regardless, whether as the appetizer for the next opening or because of the hazardous conditions we are brewing in the water. Another news alert flashing across the screen: another oil spill in Alberta, this time an estimated 1,000 to 3,000 barrels of light sour crude oil into Jackson Creek, which feeds into Red Deer River. These fish will die for sure. So will most surrounding wildlife who are dependent on this source of fresh water. The officials have claimed the spill is not hazardous to society. The fish are not factored into society’s class structure.
The Ukiyo-e prints signaled a shift in style and mentality, beholden to the transformative power of fire’s all consuming energy. It was The Great Fire of Meireki in 1657 that destroyed over half of Edo and consequently caused much of the city and its society to rebuild. The power of fire and wind and natural conditions cannot be underestimated and undervalued. We cannot destroy nature without destroying ourselves. We have developed the sciences to help us interpret what the environment is trying to tell us, but in our current dark ages, we have forgotten how to listen and instead have silenced the interpreters.