Naoya Hatakeyama

August 8, 2012 § 3 Comments

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.

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§ 3 Responses to Naoya Hatakeyama

  • dmf says:

    this aspect of framing/foregrounding seems vital to me, to try and create contrast-effects, points of interest, and such and get us out of the well-worn grooves of habitual coping, an alchemical opus contra naturam if you will.

  • arranjames says:

    I would agree with the idea that the 20th century is saw a triumph of the eye. Among my favourite of the ‘centrisms’ that proliferated in recent decades is- I think it was coined by- Martin Jay: ocularcentrism. In the cross-fertilisation of my professional life in psychiatric nursing and my subaltern life as amateur philosophy blogger I’ve started ruminating on the idea that certain psychiatric disorders are part of the fallout from ocularcentrist visual culture.

    I guess the most obvious connection, and the one I hope to do some empirical research on in the coming year, is with the eating disorders…especially anorexia nervosa. I have a vulgar hunch that this is a disorder that weaponises the eyes, making affect almost entirely dependent on scrutiny.

    On the subject of the photography, I recently enjoyed my first experience of the film Koyaanisqatsi, a film without any plot and which has a series of moving images accompanied by music (no speech) of the natural world, of missiles exploding, of oil tankers, drills, of people in shopping centres, of cities viewed from above or at street level (and at a variety of speeds so that now you see stable objects, now you see only streaks of light). It’s the first piece of cinema that I’ve seen that is ecological in the way that you’re suggesting.

    What is also of interest is that the people who made the film have stated that ‘it is up [to] the viewer to take for himself/herself what it is that [the film] means…these films have never been about the effect of technology, of industry on people. It’s been that everyone: politics, education, things of the financial structure, the nation state structure, language, the culture, religion, all of that exists within the host of technology. So it’s not the effect of, it’s that everything exists within [technology]. It’s not that we use technology, we live technology. Technology has become as ubiquitous as the air we breathe… ‘

    I find this interesting because it means that this is a kind of ‘ecology without nature’…or rather an ecology where nature isn’t emphasised. The film-makers state that technology is their focus but that isn’t the feeling when watching the film… I had something much more like a sense of seeing a flat ontology unfolding on my living room wall.

    • Adam Robbert says:

      Hi Arran — I think it’s an intriguing idea to link the burdens of a (hyper)visual culture with the emergence of difference psychiatric disorders.

      Equally interesting to me would be not just the pathologies that emerge in conjunction with an emphasis on different sensory modalities, but also differentiated subject modes in general (‘healthy’ or ‘pathological’).

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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