Towards Visual Ecocriticism: Ecological Issues in Images, Films and Visual Culture in Asia

Wednesday, 14:00-16:00, Media





This panel invites papers that fall within the session title on ecocriticism in the study of visual culture, screen and visual media, and see ‘eco-visual studies’ as a growing discipline. It also intends to explore how classical and modern Asian philosophies and theoretical frameworks (e.g. Buddhism, Confucianism) can expand the field of ecocriticism further, beyond its conventional Eurocentric frameworks and traditions. One key area of questions is: Can one be moved by mediated pictures? Can images raise our awareness? Can they lead to changes?


Representations of Nature in the Work of Apichatpong Weerasethakul

In Thai cinema, nature and country life are traditionally often depicted as an opposition to the urban sphere, forming a dualism that equals the city with modernity, materialism and Westernization; country life, meanwhile, is shown as a peaceful idyll with a holistic way of being, where humans exist in harmony with benign, bountiful nature. This dualism forms a recurring and central theme in traditional Thai culture and an important carrier of Thainess.

Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul offers a new take on the nature theme. Significant parts of his work are set in the jungle and the forest. The wilderness is a radically different realm than the agricultural sphere that Thai culture tends to focus on. It takes on a life of its own: spirits and mystical, half-human beings pervade it, offering the characters an entrance to their own secrets, dreams and irrationalities. The wilderness, as depicted here, becomes the scape of the Other, linked to Thai spirit belief, legends, and folklore. The borderline between human civilization and the wilderness is fluid, allowing humans to transgress between the worlds on inner and outer journeys, and social and rational categories to loosen.

This paper aims to inquire into the ways nature, especially the wilderness, is portrayed in the work of Apichatpong Weerasethakul. What is nature understood as, and how does the filmmaker’s non-anthropocentric view of it differ from Western topoi of nature, ecology and ecocriticism, that often see nature as pure, moral, endangered and/or romanticized? To deepen this investigation, I shall also focus on Apichatpong’s aesthetics and his visual depiction of nature, as sphere and as topography, which is marked by a sort of magical realism and a “cinema of the senses”.


Reconstructing Nature: Towards an Eco-aesthetics in Contemporary Chinese Visual Culture

Morton suggests that “nature” is simply “an arbitrary rhetorical construct, empty of independent, genuine existence behind or beyond the texts we create about it.” (Morton, 22) By using examples of contemporary visual texts that “reconstruct” and “reappropriate” sights of natural landscapes, this paper postulates that the concept of “nature” is increasingly defined by representations in art and other visual media. It is through these changing representations under forces of globalization and modernization, that people redefine and re-establish their perceptions and aesthetic appreciations of nature.

For thousands of years, the landscape of the Three Gorges region of the Yangtze River has inspired countless Chinese artists in producing some of the best known poems and paintings that reflect on the spirit and vitality of the Chinese people. But the construction of the Three Gorges Dam have construed a sense of homelessness for people of the region and appearance of more and more guided tours signifies a commodification of the area’s natural landscapes.

More recently in Zhangjiajie, a scenic National Forest Park in northwest Hunan, natural stone pillars are renamed “Avatar Hallelujah Mountains”, features of an imaginary fantasy world of a Hollywood movie. Will it change people’s aesthetic perceptions towards the original natural scenic site?

By using a number of contemporary films and photographic artworks based on the Three Gorges and Zhangjiajie’s natural landscapes, this paper explores and argues that due to rapid social transformations under the impacts of urbanization, globalization and commercialization and environmental destruction experienced in contemporary Chinese cities, natural landscapes have been given new significations through recent visual and art representations, thus changing the aesthetics of nature altogether.


The Migrant Ecology Projects (The Secret Lives of Forest Products)

Our presentation proposal concerns a reflexive critique of our research under the auspices of THE MIGRANT ECOLOGIES PROJECT [www.migrantecologies.org] entitled The Secret Lives of Rainforest Products. The project comprises interdisciplinary an interdisciplinary collaboration combining contemporary art, biology and DNA timber tracking technology [www.doublehelix.com]. It involves the excavation of historic and poetic journeys of a teak bed found in Singapore via the cartographic codes of DNA back to a 1950’s teak plantation in Sulawesi--from which the divining processes of contemporary science inform us that the timber may have originated.

Our work attempts to balance on the one hand concerns about illegal logging and deforestation in our region, with what is on the other hand a more reflexive exploration of what might be called an “agency “of nature--what nature and natural products get humans to do as much as what we do to them. The project involves tracing “memories” of Southeast Asian forest products in time and space alongside the things that trees and forest products “ask” of humans, animals and other plants along the way.

The preliminary results of this research, comprising of large scale woodprints, stop motion animation and photography will be exhibited at the gallery space of the Academy of Architects, Paris France in April 2010.

As part of a panel on visual eco-criticism we hope to address some of the problems and possibilities arising from this project as they pertain to post humanist inquiry, art and science, science and magic, cultures of representation and the material lives of forest products in Southeast Asia.


Ecological Aesthetics: A Current Trend in Street Fashion of Japan

The harmonious coexistence of human and nature is the basic concept of the Japanese cultural tradition. Nowadays relationships of human and nature are the crucial problem of modern society. People thinking about the quality of life, are going to change their routine behavior. They modify their consumer concept including the attitude to fashion. They use an unsophisticated and comfortable clothing, protesting against glamour images and manifesting “natural” images based on ecological aesthetics.

This is developed in the Japanese street style as well. This aesthetic concept is incarnated in naïve simple sentimental and poetic “Mori Gyaru” (“Forest Girl” in Japanese) images. The Japanese culture indues this image with a melancholic air, silent admiring of the nature and its fragile beauty. A “baggy” silhouette of the “Forest Girl’s” clothing doesn’t fit her body. A “Forest Girl” doesn’t aspire to put on“functional” clothing. Spacious comfortable garments of natural colors made with “cushy” materials in combination with handmade and vintage elements give this image with the sensation of comfort and rest.

A “Forest Girl” looks for fantastic play with a dress and accessories to implement her creativity in new «eco-friendly» images that turns to nature and ecology. Today a “Forest Girl” is more than just a street trend; it has its special “natural” ideology and mentality that affects on lifestyle of a follower.