Saturday, 15 March 2014

Shifting Light: Musings On The Japanese Garden

Shifting patterns of light
Something that becomes obvious in viewing a Japanese garden is that the garden appears to exude a quality that is more than simply the sum of its parts. As a viewer we become engaged with the garden, seemingly drawn into a relationship with it. We do not simply view the garden from the outside, rather we are drawn inexorably into the fabric of the garden. As the viewer we observe the garden, and the garden forms itself within us. For the most part, viewing Western gardens does not embody this same quality to the same degree. The likelihood on experiencing a Western garden is that we and the garden remain apart. We observe the beauty of the garden as if we are standing outside of it.

The garden brings Nature into our daily lives

There is in the creation of a Japanese garden a deliberate attempt to break down the barrier between subject and object. There are multiple focal points which draw the eye to certain places. These can be stone arrangements, stone ornaments such as lanterns set within the composition, or view lines through the garden and even beyond to the landscape outside of the garden space. The garden composition is carefully contrived to engage the eye of the viewer. Providing movement and flow, the very same organic processes that we carry within us. Emphasis is placed on the textural qualities of the materials, be it plants, stone or water. Composition with regard to the whole visual field is also important, where all the elements of the composition play a role in supporting each other.

Shifting patterns of colour
All this calls for intention on behalf of the garden creator, a keen eye for detail and a sensitivity to the manner in which the garden unveils itself as an inclusive experience. Intention is important, for what the garden creator carries within will become part of the fabric of the garden itself, and as such will inevitably become part of the matrix of the embodied experience of the viewer. Thus if the garden creator seeks to install a sense of harmony and stillness into a composition then those very qualities must be held in the heart of the garden creator. In this way a garden creator becomes a gateway through which the garden manifests itself. Not through the force of will, for that implies the dominance of the ego in the process, but rather the garden creator is the guiding medium through which the work emerges from disorder into order.

A waterbasin as a focal point
Gardens are rarely seen and approached as works of art. Perhaps this is partly because their form can never be fixed. In creating a painting the artist lays down colour and line, and these do not necessary change and alter to any particular degree. A sculptor assembles or releases form from material, again once fixed by the hand of the artist these forms do not alter significantly. A garden creator on the other hand is working with dynamic, ever shifting, patterns of energy that are ever shape-shifting and transforming. A plant is an obvious example of this, as it responds both to time and fluctuating environmental conditions. Even stones set in the garden are patterns of energy that shift, and transform, albeit at a much slower pace than a tree or shrub. Is it perhaps this very quality of changeability that precludes a garden from being seen as a work of art.? Does that quality make it too ephemeral to be monetised, too ''unfixed' to be assigned value?

Empty space defines form

The Japanese garden is a means of connecting with spirit of Nature. Connecting with the essence of that by which we are supported, and enabled to  take our place on the stage of life. Nature and landscape are essentially non judgemental, as they are ego-less. A tree is a tree, a rock embodies the quality of stone, and water flows. The outer forms of the gardens it manifests itself is peculiar to the cultural conditions that gave birth to those forms, yet within those forms are encapsulated qualities that are beyond cultural limitations. If the garden creator digs deep enough into that soil, all manner of treasures can be revealed.

Beauty in Nature is ephemeral

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