Brighton Museum to take visitors on a journey through Japanese ‘Floating Worlds’

A new exhibition promising visitors a ‘mindful meditation’ experience opened to the public on Saturday.

Brighton Museum’s new exhibition, Floating Worlds, leads viewers on a peaceful Japanese journey through woodcut prints from the Edo period (1615-1868).

Japanese woodcut. Royal Pavilion & Museums

Japanese woodcut. Royal Pavilion & Museums

The style of prints on display is known as Ukiyo-e, or ‘pictures of the floating world’. These images show pleasurable activities in beautiful surroundings, and often emphasise spiritual connection with the natural world.

Ukiyo-e prints were at the height of their popularity in the nineteenth century, and Floating Worlds focuses on work produced during this period.

The exhibition starts in the bustling streets of Edo, old Tokyo, inviting exhibition viewers to visit the Kabuki theatre and witness fireworks exploding in the city sky. The exhibition then reflects on the theme of ‘fleeting beauty’ and the brevity of life. The ‘winter struggles’ section leads visitors out of the city and into the quiet countryside, where the changing seasons can bring hardships.

Moving into the exhibition’s second room, Floating Worlds introduces the theme of hidden meanings by exploring Hanakotoba, the Japanese language of flowers. Prints representing streams, rivers, and sea connect the viewer with the idea of fluidity and changeability, while images of mountains represent solidity and perspective.

Fiona Story, curator of Floating Worlds

Fiona Story, curator of Floating Worlds

Fiona Story, exhibition curator, said: “We want to take the visitor on a mindful meditation, and to make the gallery experience less academic - although if anyone wants to know more, we have books and explainers available.

“We want people to enjoy the prints, to have a meditative and contemplative experience.”

Floating Worlds offers visitors a calm space to relax and enjoy the artwork. A series of mindful and wellbeing events such as yoga, Tai Chi and meditation will be held in the exhibition space.

Fiona continued: “We want to take our visitors on a mindful journey, to explore the connections between human activity and natural elements. We’ve also linked the artworks to haiku poetry to explore this idea further.”

Woodcut on display at Floating Worlds. Royal Pavilion & Museums

Woodcut on display at Floating Worlds. Royal Pavilion & Museums

The hakius are displayed next to the relevant prints, and were penned by members of the youth group, the Museum Collective.

Fiona explained: “We love working with the Museum Collective - they bring a great dimension to the work in the museum.”

Floating Worlds features works by some big names, displaying prints from Hokusai, who is known for The Great Wave off Kanagawa. Other Ukiyo-e masters such as Hiroshige, Kunisada (also known as Toyokuni III), and Utamaro are also represented.

The 60 prints on display have been selected from the nearly 600 prints in the museum’s collection.

A BSL introduction to the show and an app with gallery texts as audio will also be available.

Floating Worlds will be open until January 12. Free with Brighton Museum admission, members and residents free.

For more information about the exhibition and the mindfulness events, visit: https://brightonmuseums.org.uk/brighton/exhibitions-displays/coming-soon/floating-worlds-japanese-woodcuts/.