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Live with (F)art: a Japanese wind war for the ages

He-Gassen 10 (top) and He-Gassen 12 (bottom), 20x200 Vintage Editions
8"x10" ($35) | 11"x14" ($75) | 16"x20" ($260) | 20"x24" ($650) 

Not to toot our own horns, but today’s double Vintage Edition release is incomparable. Hailing from 19th century Japan, these two new prints revolve around a surprising subject of superb indelicacy: a ferocious feud of flatulence. We’ve been gazing at and giggling about these internally for almost a year now, knowing they deserved to debut on the perfect date: the eve of April Fools’ Day. Though our operations are on hold while we shelter in place, we decided it seemed inconceivable to wait another year to release these, and cruel to deny collectors the opportunity for a look and a laugh—especially since we could all use a little levity right now. You might say we could not pass on this gas. Besides, if you’ve found yourself quarantined in the company of others, you may have flatulence more prominently on the mind. (So wrong, but so real.) So here they are: He-Gassen 10 and He-Gassen 12, available for preorder to be shipped out as soon as we’re able to get back into the office.

These are not your grandmother’s punctilious poots. These are earth-shattering, antagonistic, air biscuit assaults. He-Gassen literally means “fart battle”. The original scroll on which these images were painted unfurls to nearly thirty-four feet long, and features about fifteen different scenes depicting various forms of pernicious gas-passing. The illustrated handscroll, or emaki, is a traditional medium made of individual sheets of paper or silk attached along their horizontal edge and rolled around a dowel. Held by hand and best viewed by only a few people at a time, it’s a relatively intimate experience. As the emaki is unfurled segment by segment, the narrative reveals itself in an almost cinematic manner. The He-Gassen scroll would have played out one tableau of troublemaking toots at a time, an escalating war of wind-breaking. The drama is palpable … or shall we say smellable.

Created toward the end of the Edo period—one of the richest in the history of Japanese art—He-Gassen 10 and He-Gassen 12 are stylistically indicative of 1800s Japan. While the original creator remains unknown, it seems likely the scroll was a kind of political cartoon, a commentary on a new wave of unwelcome Western meddling. The Edo period saw an influx of foreign influence, and a wave of xenophobia in reaction. The Tokugawa Shogunate (the feudal military government of the time) sought to seal off Japan from the rest of the world and preserve their culture from outside interference as Europe and America imposed unfavorable trade agreements on the empire. Some suggest the He-Gassen scroll depicts locals letting it rip on wealthy merchants who collaborated with foreign powers. Another theory proposes the casualties of this hostile hot air are Westerners themselves.

The exact origin and impetus behind these images may be unclear, but one thing’s for sure: interest in the art of anal acoustics transcends cultures and time periods—just ask Chaucer or Le Pétomane. Another indisputable truth? Farts are funny. So get a good look now and collect these prints for an in-person laugh later, or the perfect mood-lifting present. Humor can be mighty healing.

With art for everyone,
Team 20x200

Tags: new art