Thursday, 31 March 2016

Correspondences between Chinese Landscape Painting and Japanese Gardens Part 4

4. Layering Of Views

kei no sōka

Landscape scenery, Devon, England.
The layering of a view is an important device used by painters to indicate depth in a composition. In the garden context it is used both for spatial purposes, but also to act as a means of defining a view from a particular point. It will be noted that when one moves about a stroll garden in Japan, there is a sense of views being opened and closed as the viewer traverses through the garden. The sum of the garden is not taken in from one point, but is a gradual accumulation of experiences gained by the viewer. This works in a couple of different ways. Firstly a view can be composed of a distinct (yet often subtly executed) arrangement of foreground- middle ground- background sections. The garden at Tenryū-ji near Kyoto is constructed in this way. Looking out from the hōjō (Main Hall) the near shoreline disappears from view, but the rocky peninsula that juts into the pond from the right side becomes prominent. As the eye lifts upward the far shore line the section of the composition that defines the dry (karesansui) waterfall comes into focus, forming the mid ground of the composition. Then as the eye lifts again the line of hills beyond the garden form a seamless backdrop (and frame) to the intimacy of the pond garden.
Tenryū-ji, Arashiyama. 14th C. 

A second way layering works in the garden setting is where the focal point of the view is arrived at by the eye being encouraged to ‘travel’ (or guided perhaps) towards its goal. This can be seen in the tiny garden space at Reiun-in (a sub temple within the Myoshin-ji complex, Kyoto). Here the focal point of the view is the tall upright rock set in the background. Between the rock and the viewer are layers of foliage that alternately frame the focal point, but also create a visual pathway towards the focal point. We are shown the ‘destination’ and also the path towards the destination is hinted at for the viewer. To reach the goal we are encouraged to travel through the landscape being represented. This accords with an important role of painting elucidated and exploited by Chinese landscape painters, in that the landscapes depicted are created to draw the viewer into an engagement with those landscapes. The viewer becomes integrated with the landscape whether depicted as a painting or a garden, thereby dissolving the separation between the two. Subject and object are interwoven to the point of dissolution, ultimately there no longer exists the duality of seer and seen, and so the ‘truth’ of the landscape is revealed as an existential experience. As François Jullien so succinctly puts it: “It is not in respect to what we pass through or what we contemplate, but where we walk, where we live, that the world’s embrace of us is most complete, hence its presence in us is most intense, and that the vital aspiration at the source of the landscape, through our connection to it is satisfied.”[1]

Reiun-in. Kyoto. 16th C.

Ma Yuan. 13th C
'Dancing and Singing Peasants Returning from Work
In landscape paintings layering can often be depicted as veils of cloud or mist that appear to separate sections of the painting. The equivalent of the film editors’ dissolve from one scene to the next. Layering in this way evokes depth in a two dimensional context, and in both paintings and gardens it also has the role of introducing the principle of time. Layering reveals process, the transformation of one space/time to the next, one moment to the next, whist always holding to the recognition of the ultimate interconnectivity of all things. The word Ma () is used in Japanese to describe the interval (in space and time) between things, of which there is no real equivalent in the English language. Ma is not empty or a void, but a point of transformation, and so it is a point of potential at it most full, bursting as it were with a fullness that can no longer be contained, so making transformation an inevitable condition of continuation; the movement of yin into yang and into yang into yin. In the garden one way this device is sustained by careful and finely considered regular maintenance of the plantings. The pruning of plants involves the opening up of spaces between the branch structure, separating the screen of leaves to create ma, which in turn provides definition of form whilst also allowing the eye to move through the planting too. The opening and closing of space in a rhythmical manner to provide a bridge to link the interior and exterior, between mountain scenery (the external) with the experience of landscape (the interior), between the mundane and the spiritual.

The concept of layering outlined above is very closely related to the idea of ‘Hide and Reveal’ (見え隠 , miegakure), which will be the subject of a separate post in the current series. I should point out once more that all the correspondences between painting and garden creation are so closely interrelated in a composition as to make the separation of ideas artificial in a sense. The justification for doing so is to illuminate them (so to bring them into our awareness as processes), in what is expressed through painting or garden in an often very subtle manner. An interesting point is that these concepts are most frequently applied in an unconscious way, they are simply part of the process of creating a painting in the Chinese manner or in the creation of a garden in the Japanese style.

[1] ‘The Great Image Has No Form or On the Nonobject through Painting.,’ François Jullien. University of Chicago Press. 2009.