Portland art blog + news + exhibition reviews + galleries + contemporary northwest art

recent entries

Resist: Inauguration at Una Gallery
Early February links
First Thursday Picks February 2017
Dead tree media & dead horse flogging news
Post Snowpocalypse Weekend Picks
More Disjecta'd
New Year opportunities
Monday Integrity Links
First Thursday Picks January 2017
Jason Berlin + Alanna Risse at Rainmaker
Saying goodby to 2016
Mid December Links

recent comments

Dewey Webster
rnewton
jnewton
kmazz

categories

 

Book Review
Calls for Artists
Design Review
Essays
Interviews
News
Openings & Events
Photoblogs
Reviews
Video
Links
About PORT

regular contributors

 

Tori Abernathy
Amy Bernstein
Katherine Bovee
Emily Cappa
Patrick Collier
Arcy Douglass
Megan Driscoll
Jesse Hayward
Sarah Henderson
Jeff Jahn
Kelly Kutchko
Drew Lenihan
Victor Maldonado
Christopher Moon
Jascha Owens
Alex Rauch
Gary Wiseman

archives

 

Guest Contributors
Past Contributors
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005

contact us

 

Contact us

search

 


syndicate

 

Atom
RSS

powered by

 

Movable Type 3.16

This site is licensed under a

 

Creative Commons License

Tuesday 06.17.08

« Eliza Ferdinand Installation | Main | Portlandia in Comics »

The Design and Construction of the Japanese Garden: A Lecture by Shiro Nakane



Nakane_Kinkaku-Snow.jpg
Kinkaku-ji or the Golden Pavillion in the snow, Kyoto


Shiro Nakane of Nakane and Associates spoke at PNCA on Tuesday night. In an excellent lecture that was co-sponsored with the Portland Japanese Garden, his talk was called "Honoring the Past and Envisioning the Future" and was the last part of the PNCA + Five: Idea Studios program for this year. It was a privilege to get an introduction to the design of Japanese gardens by the preeminent landscape architect of our time whose family has actually restored some of the most prominent gardens in Japan. It is hard to find a western equivalent for the temples and gardens of Kyoto and Mr. Nakane's role in their restoration. The closest I could think of would be if the cathedrals of Western Europe were somehow all within walking distance to one another in a small town and his family has been responsible for not only the restoration of the older ones but also the construction of new cathedrals as well.


Nakane_Katsura.jpg
Shisen-do in Kyoto demonstrating the relationship between the interior and exterior spaces


Mr. Nakane's introduction to the Japanese garden was extraordinary. He isolated what seemed to be three major themes in the design of gardens. The first was the integration of the inside and outside. Japanese gardens are separated by thin Shoji doors that can be opened to allow the interior space of the temple to be extended into the garden outside. The garden is an essential part of the experience of living in these temples. As he said "We Japanese live with the rhythms and cycles of the natural world." Second, there is the desire for the major landmark elements, like Mt. Fuji, to be symbolically recreated in the form of the garden. He showed slides of a garden that he has recently completed that echoed Niagara Falls. He also showed a slides of some scrolls from the 11th century that were about the secret teachings of garden design. The scrolls were described as a memory of how nature presented itself and how the garden designer should always learn as much as possible from nature. As I understood it, the third theme is a bit more subtle but was the implied relationship between the microcosm and macrocosm. The microcosm might be the actual physical size of the garden and the size of the plants. It is everything that could be measured with a tape measure. The macrocosm is the way the garden is perceived by the viewer and might suggest something much larger. The result is that you can have an extremely large landscape in a very small space. An example of this would be at Daisen-in where a rock resembles a boat and the small graveled courtyard suggests a vast ocean. As we experience the garden, we are constantly moving between the two polarities of large and small.


Nakane_Daisenin.jpg
Daitoku-ji subtemple Daisen-in, Kyoto


Mr. Nakane is following in the footsteps of his father who also designed and restored gardens in Kyoto. His father restored some of the most famous Zen gardens in the world, including Ryoan-ji, Saiho-ji and Kinkaku-ji. I was impressed that when the Nakanes were asked to a restore a garden, they looked at the way the garden has changed over hundreds of years as it was recorded in books and drawings. A central concept to the design of a Japanese garden is the concept of the "borrowed view." It is the way that the garden incorporates nearby mountains or trees in the design of the garden. The surrounding views of the garden are sometimes as important as what is created by the garden designer. In one of Mr. Nakane's gardens, one of his clients purchased the whole side of a mountain to protect the borrowed view of the mountain forever. These gardens are designed to last hundreds, if not thousands, of years. While under the right conditions the stones might not change very much during that period, even the best cared for plants live for only a fraction of that time. Plants simply do not live as long as rocks. Over time, as the plants grow, eventually die and new plants begin the cycle again, the experience of the garden subtly changes. For example Ryoan-ji, probably the most famous Zen garden, or as the Japanese would say karesansui (dry landscape garden), was famous in the 15th century for a cherry tree that used to bloom every spring in the courtyard. Today it is famous for the extraordinary arrangement of its stones. Even more amazing is that these gardens are old enough that you compare the experience of the present garden to how it was 50 or 100, and in some cases even 400 years ago. In other words, as Willem De kooning said, they have to change to stay the same.


Nakane_Ryoanji.jpg
The karesansui of Ryoan-ji, Kyoto


The lesson for me was that if you understand and are respectful toward the history and the intentions of a place, then there is no need to fear change. Mr. Nakane even went further and said that "A garden is an object to be changed." A garden is a dynamic environment so change is inevitable. Every garden exists between the patterns and cycles of the natural world. There is the gentle cycle of day and night as well as the different weather patterns between the more dramatic changes of the seasons. The garden designer is able to collect and focus the energy of these patterns so that it reveals something essential about the experience of the garden. The garden designer strives for harmony above all else. Mr. Nakane's father made the decision to change the sand at Ryoan-ji to the gravel that we see today. The lines that are raked into the garden are softened by the larger size and texture of the gravel. It is a subtle change that makes a huge perceptual difference. His father also restored the gardens at Daisen-in, where he also changed the moss ground cover to a field of moss to suggest an ocean and the garden. At Saiho-ji and Kinkaku-ji, which were both restored by Mr. Nakane's father, they were able to learn some very old techniques in constructing a garden.


Nakane_Saihoji.jpg
Saiho-ji or the Moss Temple, Kyoto


Mr. Nakane is a great advocate of traditional techniques of garden construction. It is important to realize that everything is designed in a Japanese garden. Even though everything looks natural in a garden, nothing is natural. He learned that at Saiho-ji wood logs and sticks were used to support some of the rock arrangements. Wood will easily rot in a few years when it is exposed to continuous wet and dry cycles that might exist on the edge of a pond. He was reminded that if a piece of wood is entirely submerged in mud or water, as it is at Saiho-ji, it will probably last for a thousand years. In a funny exchange, he talked about a Japanese contractor who had used concrete under water in one project and had thereby "lost honor" because the rock arrangement would only last for 50 to 100 years that way. The techniques of the older garden designers not only work better because they will last for a long time, but also they are ecologically sound in that they use local, natural materials. At the Sento Imperial Palace in Kyoto, his assistants removed, counted, cleaned and replaced by hand approximately 153,000 stones along the edge of a lake in the middle of the garden. He then commented that he thought the quality in the garden was not up to usual imperial standards because it was made for a retired rather than current Emperor.


Nakane_Sento.jpg
A few of the 153,000 stones that were cleaned and replaced by Mr. Nakane's assistants
at the Sento Imperial Palace, Kyoto


It was amazing to see the slides of the restoration of these magnificent gardens. Ultimately, it is the job of the Japanese garden designer to become invisible. It is ironic that even though Mr. Nakane is one of the best garden designers in the world, if he does his job correctly, his work becomes invisible in the sense that it looks like it was made by nature. There is an amazing amount of modesty and humility that such incredible skill, time and labor are expended, yet they are invisible in the final result because it looks completely natural. His gardens are designed to last hundreds of years. Even more remarkable is that most buildings look best when they are brand new. Gardens on the other hand, really do not find their form until five or ten years after completion. He was very adamant that the quality of the present will influence the future. He said that we need to have quality in the present if we are going to inspire younger generations to create quality in the future. These ideas are just a few of the highlights of the lecture. It was a great honor to be given an introduction to the design of Japanese gardens by one of its most accomplished masters.


Nakane_Gold-Pavillion.jpg
Kinkaku-ji or the Golden Pavillion in the Summer, Kyoto


Posted by Arcy Douglass on June 17, 2008 at 15:19 | Comments (4)


Comments

Great post, Arcy. I suspect Nakane was not easy to grasp by everyone in the audience because of his humble, non-pedantic style of presentation. I'll admit I had to snap my brain into reorganizing his comments along very linear Western lines to create a thread I could follow. And it was worth the effort!

Posted by: kmazz [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 18, 2008 08:14 AM

Nice, Arcy.
It really was fascinating to see these world renowned sites commented on so knowledgeably (and so casually, as in "...and then my father and I worked on Kinkaku-ji..."). You've pulled the themes together very nicely and your comment on the Ryoan-ji work, "a subtle change that makes a huge perceptual difference," speaks volumes about the subject matter and the lecture as well.

Posted by: jnewton [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 18, 2008 09:41 AM

arcy,
that's some in depth analysis, sir. wish you'd have been giving the lecture. though reading this and talking with you after the event has given me a much better understanding and appreciation of nakane's art. it's pretty phenomenal work. and very cool seeing the landscape sensei in person.
speaking of landscapes, you should pop down to eugene and the white lotus gallery. they're having a landscape show and my bro, jnewton, has a couple of killer pieces in it.
cheers.

Posted by: rnewton [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 19, 2008 02:12 PM

Thank you this post, those of us who could not make the talk appreciate it.

One minor discrepancy: the second photo is not of Katsura, but of Shisen-do in Kyoto.

Posted by: Dewey Webster [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 26, 2008 03:17 PM

Post a comment

Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)


Remember me?


s p o n s o r s
Site Design: Jennifer Armbrust   •   Site Development: Philippe Blanc & Katherine Bovee