Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Beneath The Skin

Koto-in, Kyoto
If one is looking for the roots of the aesthetic experience of the Japanese garden tradition, then it pays to take a close look at Chinese landscape painting. Strangely very few writers on Japanese gardens have elucidated much information on this fascinating aspect. Yet it is the case that the closer one looks then the more apparent the connections are. Perhaps it is a case of spending more time looking and describing the outward forms, and missing to look beneath the skin. If we are to absorb fresh ideas from looking at the Japanese garden tradition in such a way as to how to absorb and adapt their manners and ways to garden making beyond Japan, then it pays to study in as great a depth as possible. The forms of the gardens themselves are essentially simple, in particular if we take karesansui ('dry landscape) gardens, the elements are simplicity themselves. Arrangements of stone, gravel, space and planting.
Sesshu. 'Autumn/Winter Landscape'
Sesshū Tōyō (雪舟 等楊) (1420-1506) is regarded as a master of the style of painting known as  haboku sansuiga, or ‘broken ink painting. In this style the application of ink on paper verges on the abstract, rather than effecting a more detailed and precise approach to the depiction of landscape. It is typically Zen like in its paring down of the motif to a few vigourous brushstrokes, much use being made of white space (yohaku), and allowing the imagination of the viewer room to fill in the details of the landscape. The gardens like Ryoan -ji and other  karesansui gardens owe much to this style of painting and its associated aesthetic concerns.

A garden, as a painting is usually composed of three distinct parts:

1. Foreground

2. Middleground

3. Background

Shisendo, Kyoto
Vertical lines suggest the relative position of forms and imply depth to the composition. Horizontal planes establish stability and breadth. Transitions and connections  in perspective relationships are established by diagonal lines.

Line and mass is set off and balanced by establishing areas of 'empty space', yohaku.

The garden composition uses the interactive quality of duality in Nature to create a richness of textures. This relates to interactive qualities expressed through the Yin-Yang system , male/female, light/dark, open/closed, etc. .Through the interplay of these qualities, energy will be generated within the composition . The generation of 'energy'  is one of the fundamental requisites of the garden composition.
Enko-in, Kyoto
The pairing of in-yang concepts implies their very interdependence and interaction; their combinations and permutations guarantee infinite change, as well as ultimate harmony in the Universe. Where change is not allowed to occur it is regarded as leading to a state of stagnation and decay. Harmony is not a state of stasis, where movement and change is denied or negated; is in the recognition that within the condition of duality there is a mutual dependancy in definition.

It is the small that makes the large look large, the bright that makes the dark look deeper and more mysterious; the incomplete that allows us to imagine the complete.
Gio-ji, Kyoto
Balance and dynamism are further enhanced through the use of asymmetrical composition. Within asymmetrical composition the movement of energy is encouraged and change will occur naturally.

The garden, like a painting, represents an idealised or conceptual vision of the landscape as a whole. It does not seek to copy Nature directly, rather it seeks out the 'heart', shin, of Nature. The artist/gardener filters his vision of Nature through his experience, thus the work he creates is imbued with a part of his own spirit. In this way there is no division between the gardener and Nature itself.

The four key aesthetic concepts in painting and gardening, based on the Oriental model are:
1. Suggestion.
2. Irregularity.
3. Simplicity.
4. Perishability.

The preference in Oriental art is for monochrome, because it is felt that the greatest degreee of suggestivness can be gained, the imagination of the viewer may be more fuly engaged this way. 

Scale may be regarded as being a flexible concept in the hands of the garden designer, or artist. The eye of the viewer will be subtly guided around the scenery, being lead from one focal point on to the next. This establishes a rythmn and sense of order to the composition, this is refered to as 'episodic progression'. In this way the composition will be gradually unfolded to the viewer, it is rare that the whole composition will be presented in its entirety. Obviously, the concept of, episodic progression, will introduce the concept of time into the composition, and likewise lead furthermore to the generation of energy. This works equally in the garden types that are intended to be seen from fixed viewing positions, as well as within the stroll type garden.
Okochi Sanso, Arashiyama
False perspective is also employed in composition. For example, the placement of tall elements in the foreground and similar smaller elements in the background, will increase the sense of depth. Bold detail in the foreground will appear to bring the forms closer to the eye, whist blurred detail and softer outlines will appear to recede into the distance.

A composition is complete when not one element further may be added, nor one element taken away, without destroying the sense of harmony and unity.

In a Japanese garden, space is usually implied, and yet not defined by enclosure. Enclosure is nearly always used, but in a way so as to create a separation of the garden space from the 'everyday world', in small spaces the size of elements are not necessarily scaled down to suit the size of the area. The implied space is both intended to hold the viewer's attention within the space, and also take the viewer beyond any physical boundries.

 Simplicity, rather than elaboration, is more likely to lay bare the soul of what is being presented. Elaborate decoration will draw attention to itself, thus the viewer's attention will remain on the surface. The intention is to present the viewer with enough visual clues in order that his imagination will come into play. The role of the viewer is crucial to this kind of garden.The garden may be said to remain incomplete until the viewer is present in the garden space. The garden then becomes complete by the interaction of the imagination of the viewer with the garden design as presented to that imagination.
Shimabara, Kyoto
Through these means the garden design is presented as a series of visual keys that are then brought to a more complete fruition within the imagination of the viewer.

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