by Adam Robbert
Naoya Hatakeyama produces a fascinating collection of ecological photography which I viewed recently at SFMOMA. There’s a Romantic impulse here depicting grand, crisp scenes of landscapes, open air, and undisturbed terrains. Discrete cars become a flow of electric light down a mountain road, small mushrooms grow from hardened surfaces, icicles carve rock in the background. But there is just as much attention paid to industrial themes — factory columns, ore smelting, city skylines at night, the sun illuminating the silhouette of a derelict factory the moment before its timed destruction — that suggest a blurring of nature and industry, and a turning away from pristine and undisturbed worlds.
Landfills, abandoned railways, and tsunamis also populate Hatakeyama’s canvas as the artist is just as at home using remote control cameras to record the demolition of slowly formed geologies destroyed in a quick blast, captured with analytic precision in the artist’s work. Destruction and the sublime abound. There is also a profound interest in the properties of different objects including limestones, factories, and dynamite. How do the properties of different rock formations interact with one another? How do they shape the landscape over time? How are they cut and formed with different (explosive) chemical substances? These are all questions asked directly by the artist.
Foregrounding the interactions between these entities is what makes the imagery so ecological. In this sense I disagree with the curator’s description which reads, ”Hatakeyama approaches his subjects in a calm and distanced manner, representing them from multiple viewpoints and across time.” These qualities — multiple perspectives, changes across time, distant observation — aren’t they more or less the contribution of most twentieth century art and philosophy? I read the twentieth century as the ultimate triumph of the eye, of visual re-presentation, refracted perspectives, kaleidoscopes of distant optical renderings overlapping one another in sometimes beautiful and often chaotic ways. What I see in Hatakeyama’s work is not so much a triumph of the eye, but a return to tactility and the sense of touch. Limestones, explosives, roads, cut mountains all have a very visceral, ecological, and tactile feel to me.
The paradigm sense of ecology is not the eye with its distant gaze, but hands, membranes, and cilia — senses for touching and being touched. These are all subtly hinted at in Hatakeyama’s photographic imagery.