The idea of the exhibition is to introduce people to the beauty of bonsai, and not necessarily the highest end trees in the world. There are a range of trees, varieties, ages and styles. To some in the bonsai community, trees may look unworked or young. This is deliberate. Some people may see dirty or fallen leaves, again, this is deliberate. Everything about the show has been carefully thought out and done with a purpose in mind, from the positioning of the objects to the colour co-ordination and the views around the gallery. Some of the combinations work very well. Some are not as successful and may not be to everyone’s taste. The sculptures add an accent of the abstract and the possibilities of bonsai as a medium.
These are not professionally taken photographs and some angles cannot truly represent what is a three-dimensional art, so with your understanding, please enjoy…the first Natural Flux exhibition. You can see more on our blog if you want to.]]>
Click below for some of the pictures from the set up. A full run down of all the exhibition pieces tomorrow.]]>
For the last few years an idea had been gnawing away in the back of my mind; how to make bonsai more contemporary, more interesting to the non bonsai enthusiast and to do something which was an evolutionary step without losing the essence of the art form in which I undertook a traditional education. Tradition is the foundation upon which we can develop new ideas and take what has been done and reinvent. In most cases this is simply a reiteration of what was done by previous generations and in many ways, this project is exactly the same as the activities of the early Japanese bonsai world.
After the Meiji Revolution in 1868 the arts in Japan began to flourish and bonsai began to find a new audience and new practices. Bonsai enthusiasts and professionals began to explore possibilities; using ceramics from China, adopting rustic container lids as pots, collaborating with master cabinet makers to create display stands and requesting pots from the established ceramic artists of the time.
In order to create a contemporary bonsai culture and new western aesthetic appreciation of bonsai then who better to copy than the Japanese pioneers and simply repeat that which has gone before, an extra iteration with more modern ideas and artists.
After the crystallisation of the idea, a location was found and a search for artists who would complement the aims of the as yet unnamed project was undertaken. Everybody jumped in despite my assurances of there being no guarantee of any success.
A lengthy though process went into the naming of the project and in the end and despite some advice against it, I used one of my favourite words which I picked up from my Astrophysics days, Flux.
It is not an often used word but it describes the state of flowing, a constant change which surrounds us every day and in every way. This idea was put forward by the ancient philosopher Heraclitus who said,
We both step and do not step in the same rivers. We are and are not
Nature itself is change, hot becomes cold, wet becomes dry, rivers flow and are never the same. Human existence is in a state of constant change and evolution, a flow from birth to death. We step into the river and step out as different people, never to be the same again.
This idea of constant change is fundamental to the appreciation of bonsai and is a central tenet of Japanese philosophy. Mujo, or the concept of impermanence is a daily feature of bonsai where life and death are intertwined with each other and the changing of the seasons. As a bonsai artist one soon becomes aware of the transience of existence, a reason it appealed to the Japanese.
The current of the flowing river does not cease, and yet the water is not the same water as before. The foam that floats on stagnant pools, now vanishing, now forming, never stays the same for long. So, too, it is with the people and dwellings of the world.
Personally, the whole idea of constant change fascinates me and has driven me to pursue bonsai, so it seemed fitting to use the name “Natural Flux” to describe a change and evolution in it.
For those with an engineering understanding then the name holds a double meaning as flux is a cleaning and purifying agent used in the fusion of two metals or the smelting process. Again perfectly appropriate for the aims of the project.
For those with a medical background or an interest in archaic terms…lets skip over that.]]>
It is a shame that Jo’s involvement has come so late but this is proof that in some way the idea behind Natural flux is working, to search out new possibilities and opportunities for combining bonsai with contemporary art.
In her own words…
I’m a ceramics and concrete specialist based in London and create objects that challenge perceptions of form, space and materiality. My work is inspired by contemporary and traditional architecture and research I carried out in Asia. Through combining subtle tensions between soft curves, mechanical edges and natural surface textures I aim to create organic geometry.
Japanese modes of thinking and design have a deep influence on my practice. I lived in Japan for 4 years, where I established a ceramics studio and trained in the tea ceremony. I have recently started to work with concrete to capture the raw materiality and the rich colours and textures of the beautiful clay that I used in Shigaraki, Japan. I am excited and curious to be part of the Natural Flux show.
Please visit www.jowoffinden.com
Rather than take this as a possible criticism, I kind of looked on it as being half the reason for doing it.
What is the point of it all? Why do bonsai at all? Does it have any relevance whatsoever in the modern world for people outside the obsessive few who already do bonsai, and more importantly does it have any relevance within the modern art world?
I think only once the exhibition has taken place will those questions be answered. Perhaps bonsai will be viewed by the public as an art form in the same way as sculpture, painting and photograph. On the other hand it may be immediately dismissed as extreme gardening with no place in a contemporary world. Without attempting to make it contemporary and worthy of being appreciated in an art gallery then we will never know.
Some people may think that I am trying to reinvent the wheel or turning my back on tradition, ignoring my Japanese training. This could not be any further from the truth. Creating something contemporaneous is at the heart of traditional practice; what we see today as traditional is the result of successive generations of artists making something contemporary, building on ideas that were there before them with slight adjustments in taste, technique and knowledge which appealed to the desired audience of the day. Despite all the changes over the relatively short history of bonsai, the fundamental idea remains the same, it is still just a tree in a pot.
What Natural Flux is proposing to do is a progression of an idea which dates back over 150 years in Japanese bonsai, asking artists and craftsmen, particularly talented ceramicists, to make something which can be used in the medium of bonsai to create something beautiful. Examples of this are the exquisite bonsai pots created by the potter, Makuzu Kozan in the late 19th/early 20th century , or the more recent “Bonsai no utsuwa-ten” (below) which was sponsored by the Takagi Bonsai Museum during the 1990′s and early 2000′s. I was fortunate enough to see the final exhibition in person and it would appear that it left an indelible mark on my memory.
Asking artists to come up with something that can be of use for bonsai requires a certain amount of flexibility from both parties. As a bonsai artist and the instigator of Natural Flux, I placed as few restrictions on the ceramic artists involved as possible other than to make sure a tree can survive in the pot. To dictate style would run the risk of falling into pre-existing formulae and restrict innovation. To allow a free hand may result in work which is unsuitable. Potential failure is part of anything new and experimental.
Although perhaps that part of the show shows no originality, one area where the progression is taken further is with the use of bonsai as inspiration or part of other art forms. The scultpures of Kevin Bielicki or the photography of Shinichi Adachi for example will be a novel experience, allowing us to see how other artists see bonsai and how it relates to the modern world.
On the surface it may seem vague and a little pointless, but one clear objective is to see where we can take contemporary bonsai and what outside influences and aesthetic ideas can bring to the art. Another objective is to gauge reaction from both an audience geared towards art appreciation and one geared towards bonsai appreciation. This may end as an embarrassing folly or it may end as one of the first steps in a new direction which many artists in the bonsai community are heading towards. With the Artisans Cup being held in the Portland Museum of Modern Art, pieces displayed in galleries in Delaware, New South Wales and across Europe, bonsai must continue to evolve and carve out a niche in the contemporary western art world. This is simply one step on that journey.]]>
After a relatively good summer wasting, working hard on various projects, time has been focused onto the creation of this website. This is planned as a showcase for the artists involved in Natural Flux and also as an explanation as to the meaning of bonsai in a modern world.
This whole project is an experiment in accelerated evolution, to force an issue which has been been slowly bubbling away at the back of my mind. How does a traditional art form like bonsai relate to the modern world, especially the multi cultural and eclectic art community in London and then by extension the rest of the world?
Throughout my career as a solo bonsai artist I have been putting into practice that which I learnt in Japan as an apprentice and contrary to preconceptions, that was not based entirely in rigid conformity and in a state of complete artistic or cultural stagnation. I was told that in order to make it meaningful, it had to be made relevant and made from the heart.
And so, I find myself here, ready for lift off…onwards and upwards. Hopefully over the course of the next few months running up to the exhibition in November and then further on you will see bonsai, blacksmithery, sculpture, photography and ceramic art that is not only meaningful, relevant and made from the heart but also beautiful.]]>