Gardens of the East

In the east of China and Japan the gardens are among the major plastic evidences of the constitutive relationship that these cultures have with nature.

Understood here, in a respectful, intimate custom, as a harmonious whole of which one is a part. In consonance with a vision of the world as a universal flow of energy.

With their paradoxical aesthetic of “artificial naturalness” and the tension between opposites, in the context of an analogical thought based on the correspondence between macrocosm and microcosm, these gardens express that flow and the internal coherence of the process.
 They are therefore, at the same time, with just as much evidence, testimony of otherness with respect to our Western thought of distinctions, which celebrates the centrality of man, of the primacy of his point of view of an observer interested in fixing the form, alien and separate nature . And this, however long a laborious, often fruitful dialectic between fascination for that otherness and the possibility of understanding it with the analytical tools of our Western thought has been going on. Or at least to inspire them in a dialogue of multiple and simultaneous possibilities of which gardens are an occasion and a vehicle.

Of this contemporaneity – sometimes simplistically reduced to timeless aesthetics – of a garden that is a catalyst for cultures but alive, in its continuous reinterpretation at the intersection of distant glances, they now recount in two different books, starting from different assumptions.
Following the thread of thought and the narratives of ancient and contemporary Chinese and Japanese writers who have attended, illustrated, theorized, when not conceived gardens, the sinologist Yolaine Escande in the agile volumes of Wisdom Gardens in the East. China and Japan traces the function of guiding the wisdom that they, though changed in appearance and nature over the centuries, continue to perform (Deriveapprodi, pp. 90, € 12.00, in the Habitus series where it has recently appeared, in dialogue ideal, the corresponding Gardens of Wisdom in the West by the historian of the Hervé Brunon gardens). With the warning that, in the constant interconnection with literary writing, landscape painting, ceramics, tea ceremony, calligraphy …, “in matters of gardens theory and philosophy of reference seem essentially come from China, while the most innovative achievements, together to the conservation of the various forms of ancient gardens from different periods, they seem to be on Japanese territory “.

 As an art historian, but especially a multi-award-winning young garden designer, Sophie Walker proposes an analysis of her historical evolution in the richly illustrated volume dedicated to The Japanese Garden . Undoubtedly articulated in the field of aesthetics and traditional culture – following the multiple lines of development, types and variations in a review of the aesthetic principles and landscape elements that those principles in the different contexts do – but with an eye to their intertemporality, ranging from the ancient Shinto shrines to the gardens of Buddhist temples, the imperial shrines and, through the waterless gardens, those of tea, or those inside the courtyards and patios invisible from the street , to consider the most recent contemporary urban projects, or the gardens of embassies and art museums (Phaidon-L’Ippocampo, pp. 304, € 39.90).
It is no coincidence that in photographic documentation – printed on gray paper, an effective meditative patina is laid out – together with the cards illustrating one hundred of the main gardens in Japan, occasions and figures of visitors, artists and scholars are emphasized. Westerners whose work was influenced by the Japanese garden. From Frank Lloyd Wright to Walter Gropius from Kyoto’s Ryoanji to Le Corbusier in 1954, from Yves Klein to David Chipperfield, Sam Francis, David Hockney, to John Cage and his Where R = Ryoanji from 1983, to Richard Long of A Line In Japan , up to Isamu Noguchi.
 In contrast, the Walker then calls short essays by guest authors, personalities from the current world of art, architecture, design, from the Tadao Ando of the invisible architectures of Naoshima, which grow together with the landscape, the essay on the gardens of Kyoto by the minimalist Korean painter Lee Ufan, to Anish Kapoor of the considerations on the void as an object in power.

Despite the diversity of the approach, in the two volumes it emerges as a common background as the art of the gardens of this East contemplates, in the mystical dimension founded on the practice of meditation, a strong spiritual component. Resulting, albeit in various ways, beyond the formal technical aspects, a privileged tool for the transformation of oneself according to a specific cognitive procedure.
A process where the designer becomes a choreographer of the physical and spiritual space, implying the visitor who, through his experience, “completes the effects of the garden on his senses”. In gardens to be traveled physically, involving the body in a performative practice where actively taking part makes us aware (for example, by changing floorings) or, mentally, in the face of inaccessible spaces, to be contemplated only through the framed views of square openings (the Illusion window) and round windows (the illumination window). Essential spaces, often so abstract – especially in the dry or karesansui garden – that invite to free the imagination, evoking the invisible, the hidden, or by analogy the implicit and imagined: according to the way of thought of the mite , for which, knowing how to capture something different in the elements of the garden, for example the raked gravel is meant for water. A concept that, through the technique of “borrowed landscape” ( shakkei ), expands to understand the views beyond the border, beyond the physical space of the garden, in the surrounding landscapes, as well as recalling known scenarios or imagined views, but also the light of the elusive moon to admire from special terraces ( tsukimidai ).

An expansion of the knowledge that passes through a live network of elements that the garden invents. Portals, pavilions, bridges, as well as the ubiquitous presence of the stones, the twisted trees to capture energy, the pervasive use of the mosses to account for the infinitely small change of perspective.
Growth of awareness, in solitude as in the relationship with others, where the continuous postponement between interior and exterior, interiority and macrocosm, makes the garden a means of access to wisdom.
As Yolaine Escande argues, a wisdom, that learned in the garden, lived as a shared experience.
In a process of empathy with the flow of the living towards the becoming of a revelation ( satori ).
That is reflected in the conceptual minimalism of the Sixties of the Mono-ha or in the mate proposed in 2002 by Tatsuo Miyajima’s Time Garden in Osaka, as already, transmigrating beyond the latitudes of the gardens of this east, in the essential lines of the recollected postcard that Walter Gropius writes from the Ryoanji rock garden to Le Corbusier: “Dear Corbu, everything we fought for has its parallel in ancient Japanese culture. This rocky garden of the 13th century Zen monks – stones and raked white gravel – may have been designed by Arp or Brancusi, an inebriating corner of peace “.