Courses / Spring 2020

Spring 2020

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    Course Number: HA 38 | CCN: 32573

    Art, Ecology, and Asia: Ecohumanities and, or Against, the Climate Crisis

    Gregory Levine

    Tuesday, Thursday: 9:30-11:00am

    Are we approaching the “end of the world” and the extinction of our species, indeed most species in the web of life? What can—and should—we do about it? 

    How might we bring together the study of art/architecture, ecology, and history in the midst of climate collapse, injustice, and extinction? How might this combined exploration help us understand what is taking place, why it is happening, and act to change course?

    This Lower Division course, which focuses on the arts and architectures of Asia, is open to students in the humanities, interdisciplinary study, biological and planetary sciences, engineering, and so on. No previous art history preparation is necessary. 

    Overview Now more than ever, artists, artisans, and architects across Asia’s biogeography are confronting the catastrophic destabilization of earth’s climate caused by fossil fuel capitalism and extreme resource extraction, by plastics, chemicals, industrial agriculture, population growth, extreme inequality, and science denial. Many regions of Asia are especially vulnerable to accelerating impacts, and artists and publics are challenging the crisis’s causes and visualizing-imagining solutions and justice in striking acts of visual-material and performative protest.

    In fact, the interrelationship of art and environment goes back to the beginning of art in all regions of human habitation, Asia included—there is thus a longer art history to trace. Even before industrialization, peoples across Asia—a continental and maritime area as vast and diverse geographically and culturally as it is ecologically—have been concerned with the value and power of natural materials and phenomenon, resource and species depletion, and survival on the changing and human-altered land. 

    We find ancient artistic and architectural responses to geology, topography, atmospheric conditions, hydrology, flora and fauna in relation to human ideas and values. Early “naturalists” in Asia identified, recorded, and circulated knowledge of plants and animals and mapped topography and ecology. Artists and architects sought such knowledge for visual and material ends. Landscape painting, and other artistic traditions and practices in Asia were more than simply the depiction of real or imagined natural scenery and reflections of human values—we can learn to see and interpret such artistic traditions in relation to human-geo/biospheric relationships. Among other things, this points us to the materiality of artworks, their dependence on water, geology, and biology; the hand and machine-working of earthly materials, the forces of atmospheric systems, and the presences of nonhuman species in human culture; and the meeting of the sciences and the arts in the recognition of our multispecies planetary inter-reliance. 

    Course Objectives: The goal of the course is to study specific communities and art making in Asia (premodern to modern-contemporary) in their relationships with the land, ecosystems, culture, and the politics of Human and Nature. Lectures, discussion sections, and assignments provide a space to explore works of art and architecture that help us think visually, historically, and ecologically. To that end, the course introduces key concepts, debates, and analytical and interpretive skills in art historical, ecological, and ecocritical inquiry. Our cross-disciplinary exploration will help us understand the fundamental ecological place of humanity and human culture and recognize the ways that the arts can help us act, think, and create in the regenerating—but threatened—web of life.

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