A Plunge into Japanese aesthetics
Venue : Salomon de Rothschild Hotel
Organization : Japan Foundation
Ainu, Anne Laure Sacriste, Anrealage+Kohei Nawa, Daito Manabe, Dokkyaku, Enku, Hakuin＋Sengai, Haraguchi Noriyuki, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Hokusai, Isson Tanaka, Jomon, Justine Emard + Mirai Moriyama, Kohei Nawa, Lee Ufan, Paul Gauguin, Picasso, Ryo Hiraoka, Ryohei Miyata, Seiha Kurosawa, Shibata Zeshin, Shinichi Sawada, Shinji Omaki, Yoshihiro Suda
This exhibition aims to be a comprehensive reflection of the elements of the various projects planned in Paris as part of the cultural program “‘Japonismes 2018” and to serve as a presentation of Japanese aesthetics to a consciously global audience
The geographic features of the Japanese archipelago, curving from north to south along the edge of East Asia and varying in climate and season, has given birth to a distinctive culture characterized by rich, multilayered interactions between the natural and human worlds. One of the unique features of Japanese aesthetics and thoughts is their embrace of differing and even opposing elements—stillness and movement, masculine and feminine, good and evil, form and chaos, permanence and the fleeting, the baroque and minimalism, tradition and modernity—which coexist “as a kind of oscillating unity in dichotomy.” Unlike the dialectic of Western dualism, these opposites are not reconciled in a synthesis that produces a new sublation, but rather maintain a fundamentally dichotomous quality in their union, in what might be described as a "floating dialectic." Yet when the dichotomous elements can be regarded as existing in a mutually complementary or reciprocal relationship, this can engender stagnation. The aesthetics discussed in this essay are actually closer to a “way of thinking” or “taste” than a rigorously defined aesthetic in the Western philosophical tradition.
How are new ideas and thoughts generated in Japan, which largely eschews dialectical reasoning and precise verbal expression? Through hybridization. Because this hybridization occurs, however, absent of any critical method, the process is rather playful and exhibits a self-indulgent multiplicity. Foreign cultures are “Japanized” without passing through any critical filter, chosen freely based on imitation and curiosity. Okakura Tenshin suggested that the Japanese people exhibit a playful spirit in their adoption and domestication of elements from other cultures.
Furthermore, in contrast to Western dualisms of self/other, subject/object, and an anthropomorphism that separates nature and society, Japan is characterized by an animistic anti-anthropomorphism that inherently links human existence with its natural and environmental surroundings and regards all things as possessing an inner spirit. In our Anthropocene Age, as the dichotomy between nature and society increasingly loses validity, we are seeing the emergence of ideas such as actor-network theory (ANT) and new materialism that recognize proactive non-human roles and organisms. This is the backdrop, the primary factor, spurring the updating of animism in contemporary form, and indeed the concept of a new animism is garnering growing attention. Amid this, Japan, with its blurred boundaries between subject and object, and where the ideas and customs of everyday life retain animistic elements, has the potential to play a major role in this new version of animism.
Japan can also be said to have a distinctive approach to the subject. As Levi-Strauss pointed out in “The Place of Japanese Culture in the World” (Chapter 1 of The Other Face of the Moon), compared to the West, Japan does not assign great importance to the subject. Levi-Strauss calls the Western conception of the subject “centrifugal,” that is to say, an “origin” from which everything issues. In Japan, on the other hand, the subject is not origin but outcome. He describes the way in which Japanese thought conceives the subject as “centripetal.” Moving from social and professional affiliations toward more individual concerns means that the subject becomes the final place reflecting where it belongs. Already being involved with the outside in the process of heading from general to specific could be said to signify an openness.
The dynamism and vitality of Japanese culture, rooted in unfettered interaction with the environment and the immanence of circumstantial subjectivities, resembles biological activity and the metabolism of cellular renewal. As Contemporary Europe, France in particular, grapples with issues such as terrorism and migration, this exhibition indicates the possibility of a coexistent past and present, a gesture at the harmony of heterogeneity. Its title, Fukami (“Depth”), is a gentle linguistic nudge towards visitors to move beyond existing clichés about Japanese art and to immerse themselves in the depths of the true essence of Japanese aesthetics. The interactive exhibition space encourages an experiential discovery of creative links and an unfolding of the aforementioned “floating dialectic” among the diverse works. Exhibited in a magnificent nineteenth-century French building with buoyant transparent scenography by SANAA, the featured works —spanning five millennia— deftly transcend barriers of history and geography. Here, juxtaposing historical with contemporary and placing Japanese and Western artists' creation side-by-side, viewers journey through 100 pieces created by 25artists within the framework of ten themes.
These themes categorize features of Japanese aesthetics in a manner that maximizes the exhibition's visual impact, but in this essay I have distilled them into four core topics—Animism, The Aesthetics of Reduction, Transforming, and the Geopolitics of Nature. These four sections of the essay are all interrelated, and exhibition works may be mentioned more than once. The ultimate aim is to invite readers to contemplate the beauty of life and liveliness.
"FUKAMI—The Expression of Beauty of Life and Liveliness in Japanese Aesthetics" Yuko Hasegawa (Exerpts from catalog)