Female-generated erotica, lost in translation.

Recently, I tripped across an online review for my animated short film La Petite Mort on a French-language arts & culture magazine called Wukali. At least, I think it’s a review. The reason for my uncertainty is, of course, the absolutely horrendous French-to-English translation offered by Google Chrome. The author, identified as Pierre-Alain Lèvy, seems to be discussing the difference between erotica — that classy, art-directed tease who promises, but never quite delivers — and her more hardcore sister, pornography. This discussion name-drops a short list of Western civilization’s erotic art heavy-hitters, including Apollonaire, André Breton and Octave Mirbeau — the latter best known for his written anthology of sadism entitled Torture Garden — and alludes to Charles Baudelaire through his mention of Flowers of Evil.

It is notable that most of the names mentioned in the article are 19th and early 20th-century French men (Lèvy also mentions male Japanese artists Dan Kanemitsu and Katsushika Hokusai). Conspicuously absent are the historical women artists working with erotic content. Even the most cursory glance back at the early 20th-century in France summons the names of celebrated women writers Anaïs Nin, Colette, and Pauline Réage (author of the BDSM-themed novel The Story of O), all of whom would serve as better antecedents to my female-generated erotica than either Mirbeau or Baudelaire.

That said, Lèvy does correctly detect the influence of Japanese erotic art on La Petite Mort. A tiny reproduction of The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife by Katsushika Hokusai is prominently placed within the frame, providing a strong hint at what’s to come in the narrative. As with many of my animation projects, the concept for the film began with a single image — the Hokusai print, in this case — and developed outwards from there. I asked myself questions such as: “What happened before that image? And what happened after?” The resulting animation is my response to those questions.

toshio saeki

“Masturbation Box”, by Toshio Saeki.

A similar tactic was employed in the development of my most recent animation project Wunderkammer, which grew as a response to an image by Toshio Saeki from his print series Masturbation Box. An astute reader will have already noted that both the Japanese artists I’ve mentioned are men. Regrettably, there are very few Japanese women artists engaged with this type of ero-guro or “erotic-grotesque” imagery — at least, of which I am aware (Junko Mizuno is the one name that springs to mind, though I’d classify her work as more gothic kawaii than truly ero-guro). I consider my animations as female-lensed erotica engaged in a game of call-and-answer with the content produced by these male Japanese artists. Wunderkammer expands the universe surrounding Saeki’s image to a considerable degree, fleshing out the story with my other various fixations such as cabinets of curiosity, oddities, taxidermy, octopuses, and Edwardian-style costumes and furnishings. And, of course, that mysterious box.

scene 16 blur

Work-in-progress video still from “Wunderkammer” (projected release date Fall 2018).

Below is a screen capture of the Wukali article and here is a link to the original French article, which I imagine makes considerably more sense than the translated version offered here (if you can read French, that is).

Wukali 01Wukali 02

Lady Lazarus’s “Ero Guro” Board on Pinterest

Hello, gentle readers. For those of you who are following my series of ero guro themed posts and can’t quite get enough, I have a special treat. Lady Lazarus has been collecting images on Pinterest for her Ero Guro board. Want to learn more about contemporary artists who work with ero guro themes and subjects? Are you a fan of artists such as Junko Mizuno, Takato Yamamoto, Suehiro Maruo, and Toshio Saeki? Then click on the image below and visit my Pinterest board.

NSFW, but of course you knew that. Nothing too porny, though. This is a classy operation.

eroguroboard

 

The Erotic-Grotesque Art of Toshio Saeki.

Last month, Narwhal Contemporary Art Gallery in Toronto presented the first ever Canadian exhibition of the reputed “Godfather of Japanese Eroticism”, artist Toshio Saeki. The exhibition was comprised of original ink drawings from 1977-1983, and a rare series of fifty letterpress prints from Saeki’s 1972 publication Akai Hako (The Red Box). This exhibition also offered a fascinating glimpse into Saeki’s work process, as detailed in the catalogue essay:

Accessing the traditional Japanese partnership employed by the Ukioy-e woodcut masters, Saeki creates his original works as black and white ink drawings which he then overlays with vellum sheets hand marked with colour plans for the visualized finished image. As an “eshi” (artist) he passes his designs to a “surishi” (printer) and they are developed into the final work. Saeki refers to his method of practice as Chinto printing.

 

Above are a small sampling of the black and white ink drawings featured at Narwhal Projects. These scenes are representative of Saeki’s bizarre, darkly-erotic fantasy worlds, where a woman can be seduced by a gang of life size Daruma buddhist dolls, or a man’s disembodied head will obligingly perform oral sex on another female protagonist. A motif common throughout Saeki’s work is that of the young child acting as a witness/voyeur to the strange and typically sexual proceedings which, given the artist’s statement that his imagery stems from “…his photographic memory and childhood experiences through imagination and dreams…” gives his scenes a strongly psychosexual, Freudian element. Apart from his obvious technical virtuosity as an artist, it is his ability to fearlessly delve into the unconscious mind and dredge up every taboo and dark desire that I most admire in his work.

Even though he was born in 1945, the art of Toshio Saeki is highly informed by the ero guro style of 1920-30’s Japan. That being said, Japanese art has a long tradition of shunga that combines eroticism with violent and grotesque imagery, a tradition that predates the ero guro style by a significant span of history. Saeki clearly evokes this tradition in his two colour images below (2nd and 3rd from the left), both of which feature octopuses engaged in some interspecies love with humans. The image on the top left, entitled The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife (circa 1814), belongs to the celebrated Edo-period artist Katsushika Hokusai, and is a depiction of a famous legend involving the female abalone diver Tamatori (see description below). The Saeki image immediately below Hokusai’s — regrettably, I couldn’t locate a title for that particular piece — clearly riffs off the famous shunga work by Hokusai, even as he introduces a mysterious, faceless man into the scene.

In Hokusai’s most famous shunga, a large octopus performs cunnilingus on a woman abalone diver or ama, and a smaller one, perhaps his offspring, kisses her and fondles one of her nipples with a tentacle. This print is testimony to how our interpretation of an image can be distorted when seen in isolation and without understanding the text. A recent study by Danielle Talerico (2001: 24-42) explains that this image was initially considered by Western collectors and scholars […] to represent a rape scene. Talerico’s study shows that an Edo audience would have associated the image with the story of Tamatori. In the legend, the abalone diver Tamatori sacrifices her life to save the Emperor by cutting open her breast, where she hides the jewel she has stolen from the Sea-Dragon King in his underwater Dragon Palace. The Sea-Dragon King is accompanied by all nature of sea creatures, including octopuses. The dialogues between the two creatures and the diver express mutual sexual enjoyment (see Talerico 2001: 37, for a complete translation). (p. 161 in ‘Japanese Erotic Fantasies’ by C. Uhlenbeck and M. Winkel) — from http://www.akantiek.nl/hokusai%20p1290.htm