> Hiroki Yamamoto: Art of the Post-Anthropocene

Hiroki Yamamoto: Art of the Post-Anthropocene

Written by Nobuko Nakano|2022.8.26

Coming across the term “post-Anthropocene” may elicit a strange reaction in the average reader. After all, it’s not so long ago that “Anthropocene” itself first became a household word, so adding the “post” prefix to it already should come as a mild surprise. In Japan, the obsolescence of the term is limited to the art world, and one certainly wonders if the author really had to go to the trouble of writing an entire book, rather than say an essay, for such a limited audience. However, as readers making their way through Hiroki Yamamoto’s Art of the Post-Anthropocene will understand, this is a gimmick on the part of the author and his editors ; a treat to the readers, so to speak. At the same time, the theme of the book is how the artists the author focuses on have attempted to resolve the dichotomy inherent in the titular term. “Anthropocene” is a concept that, as soon as it’s used, evokes the existence of humans in opposition to nature. Yamamoto’s focus is on attempts to overcome this premise through art. The “post” prefix can be said to signify the author’s attitude of accepting and subduing this situation for a time in order to try to solve the dilemma. In that sense, the title of the book perhaps reflects his understated but fierce fighting spirit.

Although the number of artists discussed in the book is limited, its analysis is highly detailed, and I believe that readers will find the text rewarding. While the author does not state his aims explicitly, he appears to be aiming for an evaluation of the fact that the proposal for the Anthropocene as a new epoch, made at the beginning of this century, originated not in the humanities, including history and civilizational studies, but as a geological concept in the natural sciences.
Galileo Galilei is often referred to as the father of natural science, and were we to take that as a starting point, we would now be about 500 years into the history of science.
The fundamental norms we share are no longer based in religion, but in science and technology. Even traditional fables and folk myths are becoming inseparable from science, as explanations to the most minute details of everyday life are given on the assumption that God can be found in science, though this may not be made explicit. In such an environment, the natural sciences have proposed a new chronological division that, if accepted, would force a change in the paradigm of humanity as a whole. The fact that science, rather than philosophy, is playing such a role is already something new in itself. In his book, Yamamoto grapples with the duality inherent in the stated structure, employing an impressive array of references in switching between multiple viewpoints—those of the creator, the viewer, and the critic—and making repeated attempts to reveal the nature of said invisible structure, depicting it with a quietly critical eye. This subtle approach is the intellectual equivalent of a masterful hunter carefully setting a trap, baiting his prey out from the bushes and into the snare, and brings the reader great satisfaction.

On a different note, the state of the world has certainly changed between the early 2000s, when the term “Anthropocene” was first coined, and now—especially since around 2020, when access to the internet began to increase notably due to the pandemic. The phenomenon of the life cycle of hot new terms shortening at an exponential pace can be attributed to the increase in the amount of information people are being exposed to per unit of time. (I’ll leave this at the level of a working hypothesis, since it should really be expressed in the form of an equation and requires verification.) As an example, in the Japanese linguistic space of recent years, so-called “sexy” terms such as “design thinking” and “art thinking” have attracted instantaneous attention and been utilized mainly in commercial contexts before becoming clichéd and overused. Disregarding the criticism that such terms were never even accepted in academia in the first place, their rise was short-lived, lasting only two to three years. Using any of those words now would likely be met with a chuckle, or someone might read too much into it and wonder whether the user was intentionally employing an antiquated term for some reason. Although said phenomenon is not the focus of this book, its theme is closely related to the background of the thesis that though the aforementioned terms may have arisen as important responses to actual issues, their superficial acceptance led them to become obsolete without ever being given due consideration on a sufficient scale.
The fact that we Japanese have chosen to forget rather than negate confrontation is one of the defense mechanisms elicited by the overcomplicated structure and naivete of our community, which renders it vulnerable against the specific kind of tension—what in recent years is often called “division”—driven by the dichotomous structure. The author’s ultimate goal is to analyze the phenomena—and above all, artworks—in the field of contemporary Japanese art that concern the concept of the Anthropocene, and to systematize an attempt to overcome the oppositional axis or anthropocentric paradigm of humanity versus nature, which cannot be resolved by the Western dichotomy, by presenting a virtual structure of the post-Anthropocene. The man-against-nature dilemma has long been the subject of debate in Western languages. However, when such a distinction is made, the fact that we are “men”—one of the parties involved—is impossible to avoid, and the argument runs into a dead end.

In his Mulamadhyamaka-karika, the ancient Indian philosopher Nagarjuna presents a tetralemma figure of logic, in which the four possibilities are “something is true,” “something is not true,” “something both is and isn’t true,” and “something neither is nor isn’t true.” Stated differently, A is, A is not, A both is and isn’t, and A neither is nor isn’t. An illustration of the tetralemma makes it clear that the range of solutions encompassed is greater than that in the Western-type dilemma.
The sense of entrapment brought about by the dichotomy of the Anthropocene casts its shadow on our reality as an unnatural distortion. Pursuing its resolution through the tetralemma is an example of the author’s unique convictions, which appear to stem from both his training as a cultural researcher at the University of Arts London, where he received his doctorate, and his Asian roots.
Statistically speaking, 90 percent of the mammals on Earth are now humans and domesticated animals. In our time, the very concept of nature is becoming highly abstract to those of us living in urban areas. Given these circumstances, how are we to connect with nature and restore it as a part of our lives? (Though my question is also inherently contradictory, since it assumes the aforementioned dichotomy.) This debate is interesting. What’s more, we’re individuals pitted against authority, and Japanese pitted against the so-called “centers” of the world. In this book, readers are treated to a vicarious experience of how people on the periphery have grappled with the world and how they will go on doing so, as well as of Yamamoto’s own struggle to take art back into his own hands, all delivered by way of the author’s calm analysis and academic, restrained prose.


Hiroki Yamamoto: Art of the Post-Anthropocene

Published by: CCC Media House Co., Ltd.

Format: 46" format, jacketed
Number of pages: 320


中野信子 Nobuko Nakano

Neuroscientist, M.D., cognitive scientist. Professor, Higashi Nippon International University; Visiting Professor, Kyoto University of the Arts.
Born in Tokyo in 1975, Nakano graduated from the University of Tokyo’s Department of Applied Chemistry in 1998 and received her M.D. in neuroscience from the same university in 2008. After a spell as a post-doc researcher at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique in France, she has been focusing on research and writing since 2010. She has been a member of the Mori Art Museum’s Board of Trustees since 2022 and is currently devoting herself to research and writing on the brain and psychology. Nakano is noted for her narrative approach to deciphering social phenomena and characters from a scientific perspective.