UC Irvine School of the Humanities Q&A with Bert Winther-Tamaki

An examination of Japanese contemporary art through the lens of ecocriticism and environmental historySoil is fundamental to life on Earth. It grows our food, regenerates our organic material, and underlies our cities and countryside. Soil is everywhere—but can it be art?

For UCI art history and visual studies professor Bert Winther-Tamaki, the answer is a resounding “yes.” In his new book,Tsuchi: Earthy Materials in Contemporary Japanese Art (University of Minnesota Press, 2022), Winther-Tamaki explores the omnipresence of tsuchi—Japanese for “soil”—in contemporary Japanese art, especially in ceramics, photography, and sculpture. In response to the devastating environmental degradation and soil pollution Japan has weathered since the 1950s, Winther-Tamaki suggests that the nation’s artists have turned tsuchi into art to illuminate its redemptive, culturally significant, and ecologically crucial nature—and to inspire us to save it before it’s too late.

Here, Winther-Tamaki discusses his new book and the role that the environmental humanities can play in confronting the pressing ecological issues of our time.

Full conversation here.

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