The notion of ‘affinity with nature’ functions as a powerful political concept employed in the national identification of different cultural regions of East Asia including Japan and South Korea. Both countries have much in common. They share the myths of a ‘love of nature’ and a comparable history of post-war economic miracles followed by an ecological crisis and the subsequent development of environmentalism. They also host highly recognised contemporary art events guided by an environmentalist agenda: the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale (ETAT), established in the depopulated countryside of Niigata Prefecture in 2000 by the Art Front Gallery, a commercial gallery from Tokyo; and the Geumgang Nature Art Biennale, initiated by the Korean Nature Art Association (Yatoo), sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, and first held in 2004 in Gongju, South Chungcheong Province.
Guided by ecological thought, both art events aim to induce harmonious interaction between human and non-human realms, while questioning established modes of artistic interaction with ‘nature’ related to modern Western art discourses. Satoyama (lit. village mountain), an agricultural site based on harmonious human-nature interactions, the foundational concept of the ETAT, challenges the notion of gaze that defines the modern Western notion of landscape and its relationships with power. The ‘nature art’ practiced in Gongju, which involves simple interventions in the environment that are spontaneous and impermanent, questions the paradigms of Land Art. While responding to concrete environmental issues pertinent to the operation of social-ecological systems, the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale and the Geumgang Nature Art Biennale both attempt to create localised alternatives to dominant epistemologies associated with global (Western) art discourses. But the question is if these practices are capable of challenging the established geopolitics of ecological art and conventional hierarchies of power between the local and the global embodied by the institutional framework of the eco-art biennale.
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