Tsuchi

Earthy Materials in Contemporary Japanese Art

2022
Author:

Bert Winther-Tamaki

An examination of Japanese contemporary art through the lens of ecocriticism and environmental history

Bert Winther-Tamaki explores how Japanese artists have continually sought a passionate and redemptive engagement with earth. By focusing on the role of tsuchi (earthy materials such as soil and clay) as a convergence point for a wide range of creative practices, this book offers a critical reassessment of contemporary art in Japan and its intrinsic relationship to the environment.

Tsuchi is a compelling and original book that brings together new insights into the relationships between environmentalism, contemporary art, and the ‘aesthetics of Japanese earth.’ Bert Winther-Tamaki’s interweaving of historical context, close visual analysis, and rich use of Japanese sources make it an outstanding book that will make a lasting impact in the field of Japanese art history and beyond.

Namiko Kunimoto, author of The Stakes of Exposure: Anxious Bodies in Postwar Japanese Art

Collectively referred to by the word tsuchi, earthy materials such as soil and clay are prolific in Japanese contemporary art. Highlighting works of photography, ceramics, and installation art, Bert Winther-Tamaki explores the many aesthetic manifestations of tsuchi and their connection to the country’s turbulent environmental history, investigating how Japanese artists have continually sought a passionate and redemptive engagement with earth.

In the seven decades following 1955, Japan has experienced severe environmental degradation as a result of natural disasters, industrial pollution, and nuclear irradiation. Artists have responded to these ongoing catastrophes through modes of “mudlarking” and “muckracking,” utilizing raw elements from nature to establish deeper contact with the primal resources of their world and expose its unfettered contamination. Providing a comparative assessment of more than seventy works of art, this study reveals Japanese artists’ engagement with a richly diverse repertoire of earthy materialities, elucidating their aesthetic properties, changing conditions, and cultural significance.

By focusing on the role of tsuchi as a convergence point for a wide range of creative practices, this book offers a critical reassessment of contemporary art in Japan and its intrinsic relationship to the environment. Situating art within the context of ecology and urbanization, Tsuchi shows artists striving to explore and reprocess raw forms of earth beneath the corruptions of human activity.

Bert Winther-Tamaki is professor in the art history department and visual studies program at the University of California, Irvine.

Tsuchi is a compelling and original book that brings together new insights into the relationships between environmentalism, contemporary art, and the ‘aesthetics of Japanese earth.’ Bert Winther-Tamaki’s interweaving of historical context, close visual analysis, and rich use of Japanese sources make it an outstanding book that will make a lasting impact in the field of Japanese art history and beyond.

Namiko Kunimoto, author of The Stakes of Exposure: Anxious Bodies in Postwar Japanese Art

Tsuchi is a superb key concept that allows us to dig deeper into a rich lode of world art history that is postwar Japan. In his thoughtful study, Bert Winther-Tamaki literally offers us a bottom-up view of what such radical practitioners as Shiraga Kazuo and Nakahira Takuma saw, felt, and experienced with this ubiquitous matter of our planet.

Reiko Tomii, independent scholar

Contents

Introduction: Japanese Cultures of Earth

I. The Postwar Silos of Tsuchi Media

1. Ceramics: Earth Flavor in Fired Clay

2. Photography: Soil Conditions in the Lens

3. Avant-Garde Actions: Wrestling and Digging Earthy Materials

II. Convergence and Proliferation since the 1980s

4. The Bubble and Its Aftermath: Containment of Spillage and Blast

5. Earth Diving before and after the Triple Disaster

Epilogue: Tsuchi in the Contaminated World to Come

Acknowledgments

Notes

Index