Friday, 25 April 2014

Narrative and the Japanese Garden

Creating a garden is to recreate the Universe, it is the re-imagining of time and space in one’s own image. This is so for gardens of any hue or colour. I see it as an exercise of two distinct parts. In the first I imagine the garden, as I see it emerging from my unconscious mind. Its physical form floats free from a clouded background, as voluminous energy coalesces and settles into forms. Order, appearing out of Chaos. Drawing on the energy of the rock, the flowing of water, thrusting, light seeking, plant forms. The static and the dynamic, each enhancing the other; the hard against the soft, light and its spectrum existing because of the all consuming depths of shade. Some thing becoming itself, as much as because of what it is not. The secret of yohaku, space before form allowing form to be seen.

In the second stage, the second wave of recognition, I hear voices coming together; for a song, a story, begins to emerge from that which is before me. It is no longer a question of searching for answers, as coming to listen to what the garden itself is asking for. A garden, above all, desires to be heard. Beauty requires its moment. In China, the pulsing of energy through the earth was known as ‘dragon veins’. Landscape was alive, fecund, and constantly recreating itself according to cyclical sweeps of time that emptied spring into summer, and winter back into spring. In 10th century Japan they wrote poetry and wept into their draped sleeves. For the very seasonality of the garden emphasised the passage of time, the diaphanous conceit that everything returns to its source.

“It was late in the Third Month. Murasaki’s garden was coming ever more to life with blossoms and singing birds. Elsewhere spring had departed, said the other ladies, and why should it remain here ? Genji thought it a pity that the young women should only have a distant glimpses of the moss on the island, a deeper shade of green each day. He had the carpenters at work on Chinese pleasure boats, and on the day they were launched he summoned palace musicians for water music. Princes and high courtiers came crowding to hear.” Tale of Genji,  源氏物語. Murasaki Shikibu, early 11th C.

It is by narrative that I navigate through this world. Setting my compass by the ‘story’ I create and re-create endlessly, it becomes possible to distinguish value from up to down, inside to out. A common narrative theme in the gardens of Japan is the idea of the ‘Isles of the Blessed’. The paradisial islands of the gods, that fissure in the earth’ s crust from which the sacred escapes into the everyday air. And by association with something as ephemeral as an idea, the garden space becomes that which is born in the intention of the garden creator, another equally formless space. This recognises the most fundamental knowing of the garden. Chinese philosophy, Japanese perception. What of all this I have come to understand, is that the language is as universal as music. I can find the words to fit the song that desires to be heard through my hands.

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