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karesansui

 

 

Zerstörte Welten, Kunstraum Dornbirn, Austria, 2006.
Destroyed worlds, Center For Contemporary Art Aarhus, Denmark, 2006
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Originating with my examinations of procedural changes to landscape and my efforts to not pay too much attention to my private procedural changes by practicing Zen every day, my special interest is the dry gardens (Karesansui) of the Japanese Zen monasteries, particularly since I am living in Japan. Karesansui are, if you look at it in a conventional way, like art works - more precisely speaking like paintings, which are usually separated from their environment through a frame. A principle of composition, which is intrinsically inconceivable for other Japanese gardens, is implemented at the Karesansui: a symmetric, exactely rectangular surface, which is bordered by brick walls or blocks of stone. This practise is called „kire“ in Japanese, meaning „cut“. Everything within this bordered surface area, is „cut“ from the natural surroundings, not only optically by the brick wall or blocks of stone, but also emotionally distinguished through its geometrical - and by no means - natural framing. One of the oldest gardens in this vein is the rock garden of the Ryoan Temple in Kyoto. A certain range, cut of the natur, separated from the surrounding, and in order of the principle of „kire“
thus will be raised to an „art work“. The welfare of the monks is of course not the object of the Zen monasteries, yet these rock gardens are designed for the monks, or at least for their use. But it's not in the Karesansui that the monks practise their Zen. The area of pebbles – the Karesansui - means an areas of practicing possibilities. These areas have to be raked in a traditional way and made anew very precisely every day.
The choral singing of the Zen master Hakuin does say: „For such as, reflecting within themselves, Testify to the truth of Self-nature, To the truth that Self-nature is no-nature, They have really gone beyond the ken of sophistry.“ It's about shaping the unshaped, it's about an utopia of the (re)construction. The Japanese word Karesansui can literally be translated as „dessicated mountain-riverlandscape“ („kare“ = dessicated, wilted; „sansui“ = mountain-river-landscape). For the spoken word „kare“ however there is another character, which means „tentatively“ or „provisional“. This second meaning of „kare“ indicates, that there has been something constructed which does not represent itself, but should be considered a nonliteral substitute for something else. If you contemplate a desert from the distance of an airplane, you see a dry landscape. But this dry landscape is the dessert, and does not simply represent it. One can perceive its nature only if one strides around it, walks it, and thereby experiences it. In a „Karesansui“ you can just see dry material too, pebbles larger stones, arranged alone or in groups. But there is something happening with these materials. The surface covered with sieved pebbles, raked in waveforms, which look like an ocean or a meandering river when looked at from a height. The larger stones inbetween give the impression of mountains or islands. The rocks do not just allegorize themselves by their beauty. Rather, they appear as mountains or islands. Pebbles do not just lie as dry material, what it is intrinsically, but rather seem like flowing water. This „seems to be like“ comprehends the potential of procedural changes into „it is as“. And
similar to the answer of a „koan“ in contemplating this surface in deep meditation, you might come to the conclusion, that in the nature of a stone or a simple pebble lies also the nature of a mountain or of water and further that these substances contain the nature and the origin of one's own and the universal being. One of the oldest Karesansui-gardens, as mentioned, is the rock garden of the Ryoan Temple in Kyoto. As part of my ongoing project of procedural changes to landscape, I am going to
reconstruct the rock garden of the Ryoan Temple to the scale of 1:5, which corresponds with a size of 6 m x 2 m (or 1:4 and 1:3 respectively), to reframe it within the context of an art exhibition. The full scale miniaturisation is not just about reflecting the shift from the authentic to
the artificial, but also reflects - a reduction in the sense of the procedural, which would cause the dissolution of the existing in the last consequence. In doing so, the aesthetics of perceiving the real Karesansui of the Ryoan Temple should remain and even be enhanced, by an additional reduction into a surface consisting solely of heaped up cones of pebbles which replace the rocks. This 'art gimmick' makes the artificial appear authentic, by transforming it into an art work. Henceforth it is no longer necessary to have the Karesansui-garden of the Ryoan Temple in
mind; the re-construction quasi tells its own tale. As a part of the concept and assuming that one can perceive the landscapes nature only if one
strides around it, walks it, and thereby experiences it, are the visitors asked to create their own landscape. For that reason, there is 8 instructive demands placed in front of the installation, which one can follow virtually in a sense of poetic action.

 

 

 

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© 2012 Toni Kleinlercher