Saturday, 1 June 2013

Sionna Garden, Limerick, Ireland. Part 1/3

The Myth of Sionna

Seven hazel nut trees ring a pool of dark water, the seven trees represent the seven branches of Knowledge, the seven schools of Wisdom of the De Danann tribe (rulers of the Western Ocean, people of the Godess Danu, the Godess of Life). The hazel nuts that fall into the water contain the entire knowledge of the De Danann tribe. The De Danann came under threat from a tribe of outsiders and when they realised they would have to leave their homeland (the World of Men), it was decided to leave their knowledge as a legacy for future generations.

The hazel trees were ritually imbued with the collective knowledge of the tribe by a small group of druids, or holy men. As the trees matured the nuts would drop silently into the black viscous pool, creating but a single ripple.

Sionna, mistress of the Tuatha De Danann, manages to locate the sacred pool, and decides to catch one of the hazel nuts as they fall. When she manages to capture a nut that has just fallen into the pool, the pool erupts into a solid column of silver. The water column has transformed itself into a ferocious water spirit. Sionna rushes to make good her escape clutching the single nut in her hand and the water spirit gives chase. Sionna runs south towards the sea knowing that salt will protect her from the antagonised guardian spirit of the pool.

At one point as she flees she stops momentarily to look behind her at her pursuer. She sees a giant man-shaped liquid figure, Silver skinned, and teeth of crystal with eyes blazing with a terrible fire. As she fatefully pauses, the water spirit falls upon her.

As the spirit overcomes Sionna, its form dissolves, water explodes with great violence across the land sweeping all before it into the sea. Sionna screams and the river takes her voice, consuming and absorbing her soul and spirit into itself.

When the Tuatha De Danann approach the river they can hear her voice in the water and are aware of the magical powers in the flowing depths. They name the river after the maid whose ‘greed and curiosity’ caused the river’s birth. The river also now known as Shannon.

The river knows no time, it flows, is received and flows again without ceasing.

The River Gods, Michael Scott (1991)

Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, Limerick University, Ireland

Architect: Daniel Cordier

The Commission:

In 2009 as part of the construction of the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance building on the campus of Limerick University, a garden in the Japanese Zen style was commissioned by the University. The garden described below is the garden that resulted. The garden was constructed in early 2010 by Robert Ketchell and a team from Nordon Landscapes.

The garden at IWAoMD takes the fundamental design principles of the karesansui garden as set out in numerous Zen temples in Japan, and seeks to employ them in a way that reaches beyond the specific boundaries of the culture in which it developed. In particular the garden makes play of the element of the garden tradition that allows for the engagement of the viewer through the means of utilising a narrative quality within the garden. By weaving a narrative element into the garden Thus the ‘theme’ or ‘narrative’ on which the garden is based is the mythological story of the coming into being of the river Shannon (which runs but a few hundred yards from the building, and the garden itself).

As in Chinese landscape paintings, the garden is set out in three distinct, yet complimentary parts.
(i) The Foreground:

This is the section of the garden that extends immediately from the glass wall separating the garden area from the building foyer, and includes the principal 3 stone arrangement. The 3-stone arrangement represents the figure of Sionna, at the moment when the river is born. The triad is the most fundamental unit of composition in nearly all the arts of Japan (it underpins painting, music, flower arrangement, poetry, etc). Elements of visual composition are arranged according to the use of asymmetrical triangles. In the principle group, set on the left of the foreground, the tall standing stone at nearly 1.8m above ground is the tallest stone in the entire garden. It has a complex, worn texture and is deep green in colour (the stones for the garden were mainly sourced from a glacial deposit near Cookstown, County Tyrone). The stone looms majestically up out of the earth, the stone itself is over 2.5 tons in weight. In the Eastern view a stone represents permanence, solidity and integrity. The precise setting of the stone, in terms of its orientation, height, and angle of repose, took nearly two hours to complete; and from this ‘axis mundi’, all the other stones in the garden have been arranged in relation.

Set close to and slightly overlapping the principal stone (to the right side, when viewed from the lobby) is a strongly contrasting purple slate standing stone. The juxtaposition of the two stones also allows their overall shape to be read as one. The contrasting textures of the two stones, is intended to give play to the complex interaction of yin and yang energies. Also, to hint at the psychological complexity of the character of Sionna herself. The third stone of the immediate arrangement lies lower down to the left of the two standing stones. The attitude of this stone is supplicatory toward the two other standing pieces. The powerful, thrusting vertical force is therefore tempered, rooted, by the more horizontally inclined stone. In this way the arrangement is harmonised internally, also an implied sense of movement and harmony may also be appreciated by the viewer. There is a stillness within the movement.

The space between the two principal areas of the foreground are separated and joined by intended to imply that the river/sea flows through into the lobby area and by implication beyond that. The garden space is not simply defined by the physical space it occupies, but attempts to reach beyond, out into the greater space. Between the  intended to imply that the river/sea flows through into the lobby area and by implication beyond that. The garden space is not simply defined by the physical space it occupies, but attempts to reach beyond, out into the greater space. Between the viewer and the garden is glass, which is a barrier, yet not a barrier, where the key to ‘dissolving’ that dichotomy lies in the imagination of the viewer him or herself.

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