Carved Alive: What Living Tree Icons in Japan (Tachikibutsu) May Be Telling Us

The Graduate Students’ Association for East Asian Studies cordially invites you to a guest lecture by Professor Gregory Levine, Department of History of Art in UC Berkeley. 

Buddhist Icons have been carved into living trees in Japan for centuries.  In such icons we find dense and lively convergences: numinous trees and arboreal material, plant physiology and human presencing of the divine, ritual and soteriology, and human and more-than-human lives, inter-relationships, and contingencies.  We find worlds brought into contact at blade’s edge in visualization, wounding, and healing.  A sharp politics, if you will, of human incisions into biota and in the religious and visual-material systems that constitute the iconic.  What might such trees carved alive, and trees-as-trees, disclose to us as we (re)imagine the ecological arts and humanities, Buddhist iconicity, and Buddhist environmentalism? 

Greg Levine is Professor and recent Chair (Fall 2020-2023) of the Department of History of Art, UC Berkeley.  His current book project is, A Tree and A Buddha: Imagining an Arboreal Humanism, and he is at work on a projected trilogy: Long Strange Journey: On Modern Zen, Zen Art, and Other Predicaments (2017); Buddha Heads: Fragments and Landscapes; and other Buddhas: White Supremacy and Buddhist Visual Culture.  The recipient of a Guggenheim and other fellowships, he is an editorial board member of Artibus Asiae and the Journal of Art Historiography.  His courses introduce global Buddhist visual cultures; eco art history; plunder, iconoclasm, and forgery; and the fragment in visual-material culture.