Exhibition of Design Proposals for a New Permanent Bonsai Garden

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Re: Exhibition of Design Proposals for a New Permanent Bonsai Garden

Post  Leo Schordje on Sun Dec 21, 2014 5:10 pm

Thanks for the additional pictures.

The design criteria set out by Lynden required visual elements of the surrounding park be incorporated into the design. Your pictures give a better idea of where this display will be. Thanks.

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Re: Exhibition of Design Proposals for a New Permanent Bonsai Garden

Post  kora on Sun Dec 21, 2014 6:02 pm

What a lovely venue for a bonsai display area-no I did not mean to imply, that the display area should simulate a tokonoma display area-it would be inapropriate in an outdoor setting anyway. I was alluding to the irregular,natural post, which every tokonoma has-in other words, my objection to all the designs is their boxiness, their heavy enclosures their sharp edges-it all looks so post modern architecture of the latter part of the 20th century. where are the curves?

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Re: Exhibition of Design Proposals for a New Permanent Bonsai Garden

Post  kevin stoeveken on Sun Dec 21, 2014 10:31 pm

kora wrote:my objection to all the designs is their boxiness, their heavy enclosures their sharp edges-it all looks so post modern architecture of the latter part of the 20th century. where are the curves?

like jim (?) said: the curves are in the trees Wink

and as the post said (i believe), these are just fully realized "ideas", parts of which may or may not be incorporated into the final design... and some of them did incorporate curves, but i personally did not photograph everything as i was only an attendee rather than a documentarian...

but i do speak "out of school" if i speak of the designs specifically as i had no part in any of it.
i am however very supportive of the aim to not have it styled after the norm.

(and just so it's clear that i am not simply drinking the kool-aid being handed to me, i feel most of the designs have a far too "busy" back drop for the trees)

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Re: Exhibition of Design Proposals for a New Permanent Bonsai Garden

Post  kora on Sun Dec 21, 2014 11:00 pm

Please understand, that I am very much in favor of architecture students doing a design exercise-BUT I feel very strongly, that they need to understand something about bonsai-f.i. I am not convinced that the practical aspects of bonsai display are adequately addressed(watering, lighting, the heat in the summer etc.(and there is nothing wrong with looking at what has been done before-it can be a very useful guide to what NOT to do) f.i. Kew in the UK made some dreadful mistakes when they first designed the bonsai garden-as did other collections, which later had to be corrected. I also very much appreciate the fact that this post has been made-it is hoped that the museum will come to fruition in whatever form.

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Aesthetics of the Tokonoma

Post  KyleT on Sun Dec 21, 2014 11:51 pm

Thanks to beer city snake for posting great photos of Lynden garden, which surrounds the proposed bonsai garden. This sets a perfect context for discussing the tokonoma in more detail, as it relates to the proposed bonsai garden. And thanks to kora for bringing up such an interesting issue. The tokonoma (display alcove) that is part of a traditional Japanese house is something the student designers studied carefully. In more general terms, as kora suggests, there is an issue here regarding the right degree of regularity or irregularity, order or asymmetry, straightness or curviness in a bonsai garden. And kora feels that the students' proposals fall too far toward the regular end of the spectrum; too boxy. I'd like to explain why the proposals are the way they are, which was done quite deliberately.

JimLewis comments that the regular frames of the backdrops (what some might call "boxy") make a counterpoint to the curved, irregular lines of bonsai. I think that's on the right track, and I'd like to elaborate on that idea.

The balancing of opposites in an asymmetrical, dynamic unity is a central feature of traditional bonsai aesthetics, and it runs very deep in discussions of bonsai composition, even among those who want to distance themselves from the traditional rules and regulations. The balance of containment and expansiveness, of straight line and curve, happens even among the trunk and branches of a single tree. It also runs through the three elements of the traditional bonsai tokonoma display: the bonsai (tree + pot + stand), the accent plant or object, and the scroll or other background image. These elements also form an asymmetrical unity, a balanced set of unique elements that together resolve their differences and establish a coherent space, which represents an idyllic landscape.

kora also mentions the tokobashira, the guidepost that frames one edge of the tokonoma. Traditionally this post is rough-hewn, retaining some of the irregularity of the tree from which it came. Part of the reason is that the post balances the austere regularity of the space of the tokonoma. So the tokobashira is sculptural and curved, but the rest of the tokonoma, including especially the back surface, which acts as the backdrop for a display, it quite plain, sober and rigidly framed. Again an asymmetrical balance of opposites is at work.

The students' proposed gardens might seem stiffly regular, but if you look more closely, they actually weave together a rich composition of regularity and shifting asymmetry. They make orderly, sober, visually quiet backdrops for the bonsai, since the bonsai need to be the stars. And yet none of the designs are simple symmetrical boxes. They are always shifting the visual balance away from simple symmetries, just as the tokobashira does for the tokonoma.

And there is another layer of asymmetrical balance at work in the design proposals, which only becomes evident when we see them in relationship to the surrounding landscape of Lynden Garden (thanks again to beer city snake for the photos). Lynden Garden was designed in the 19th century in the style of an English Country Garden. It is basically an open expanse of soft, rolling hills covered in smooth, lush green lawns, with trees and sculptures sprinkled about in a deliberately loose fashion. The result is a casual, soft and curvy environment. Now, if we are learning from the tokonoma and its aesthetic principles, we must not stop with a superficial application, making little tokonoma display areas throughout the bonsai garden. If we keep applying the principle, we see that there is a larger three-part composition at work here, one between the bonsai, the bonsai garden, and Lynden Garden. Each is a very different element, and yet they must work together as a unified landscape, balanced and yet retaining a sense of asymmetrical, dynamic life. Lynden Garden is so soft and curved that a counterpoint is desperately needed there, some element of visual regularity in a swimming, open, vague terrain. The bonsai garden offers a sanctuary of sober precision in Lynden Garden. The sharp edge of the bonsai garden balances the curve of Lynden.

Imagine a bonsai that is all curves - sinuous branches and arcing trunk, with soft, rounded foliage pads, in a round, bubble-like pot, on a circular stand. It would be boring. It would be a "one-liner". It would be too easy, not challenging to the eye. It would actually lack the tension of resolved opposites that is so important to a vibrant bonsai composition. The same is true at the scale of a bonsai garden. We need the straight edge among curves, especially on this particular site, which is so soft.





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Re: Exhibition of Design Proposals for a New Permanent Bonsai Garden

Post  kora on Mon Dec 22, 2014 12:27 am

From my point of view, there is nothing innovative about any of the designs, I would hope for more daring innovative designs from young people-but then, that is only one persons point of view, the box idea was best executed by Philip Johnson, in the glass house and that was mid last century. Rolling hills not withstanding, there are too many 90degree angles as far as I am concerned. On a practical matter,design no 1, the storage -for the trees, not the existing house needs to be larger-if you put the stored trees against the wall, they will not get enough air circulation. Thank you Kyle for your explanations-they provide more food for thought.

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Re: Exhibition of Design Proposals for a New Permanent Bonsai Garden

Post  kevin stoeveken on Mon Dec 22, 2014 12:18 pm

KyleT wrote:The tokonoma (display alcove) that is part of a traditional Japanese house is something the student designers studied carefully.  

i stand corrected !
obviously not only the students, but KyleT also, came into this far more informed than i had thought.

KyleT wrote:...and everything else KyleT said...
Shocked Shocked Shocked

time for me to bow out of this discussion... i dont mind admitting that i'm obviously out of my depth.

and hey KyleT !!! whats with this beer city snake crap ??? Rolling Eyes Wink

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Re: Exhibition of Design Proposals for a New Permanent Bonsai Garden

Post  kora on Mon Dec 22, 2014 7:18 pm

One more observation about the designs: It would be nice to have the opportunity to see at least some of the trees from all sides-that can be done in many different ways-but the side views and the back views are equally important-when you look at the sculpture garden, the sculptures can be walked around-bonsai are after all sculptures-3 dimensional, they are not paintings on a wall.

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Re: Exhibition of Design Proposals for a New Permanent Bonsai Garden

Post  Kakejiku on Tue Dec 23, 2014 6:37 pm

Very interesting thoughts and discussions...Bonsaiists in the West tend to think that Japanese art revolves around bonsai...it doesn't...
The 床の間 Toko no Ma, which you translated as display alcove would be better broken down to the individual characters. Toko Floor and Ma Space. (Maybe space of floor is a literal translation).

But what is the Toko no Ma really for in a historical Japanese sense? Not a place to set and display bonsai...In fact I bet you would be hard pressed to see a bonsai set in a Toko no Ma before the Meiji era...Perhaps even Shouwa Jidai would be a more accurate time period.

As for the 床の柱 Toko no Hashira, they are not all curved and vary widely...Picture from my Parents in law home. Sorry for my poor cameramanship...but you get the drift.

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Re: Exhibition of Design Proposals for a New Permanent Bonsai Garden

Post  kora on Tue Dec 23, 2014 7:40 pm

I did not express myself well-I did not imply that the toko no hashira need to be curved-I merely meant to imply, that they are not the same as the other vertical post or for that matter wall.(see Kakejiku's photo) The whole idea I meant to convey, is that the tokonoma not be regular "boxes". When one goes to Shunka-en(Kunio Kobayashi), every tokonoma is different in design and size, and at the bonsai museum in Omiya, the various designs are explained. I also agree, that the museum ought not have tokonomas in the traditional sense-I hope for a modern, new approach of display-I merely expressed my frustration about the "regular" "recurring" design, that was, what I meant by "think outside the box" and look at the toko no hashira.

kora
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Re: Exhibition of Design Proposals for a New Permanent Bonsai Garden

Post  Arthur Joura on Fri Jan 09, 2015 10:43 pm

Kyle, thank you for sharing this information! What a great project to be involved in, and what an inspiration it was for the Milwaukee Bonsai Society to solicit input from you and your students. I see useful ideas in all of the candidates whose work is pictured and I expect there was more in other entries.

How often do we get to witness the genesis of a new public bonsai collection and display area? It is a rare and important development in our American bonsai community.

I was fortunate enough to visit the Lynden Sculpture Garden when I was in Milwaukee last June:



My host, Steve Contney, took me to see the site that was being considered for the bonsai display, and we met Jack Douthitt there. They picked my brain awhile to see what they might glean from my experience leading the team that designed the NC Arboretum's Bonsai Exhibition Garden. I found them to be wide open to different ideas, which is a smart and advantageous posture to take when working on such a significant project. There is so much to be anticipated, to be carefully considered on the front end.

Not surprisingly, I encouraged them to be bold and original in their approach. The partnership with a beautiful, long established, sculpture garden offers a unique possibility to go dramatically beyond what has been done with public bonsai display in the past. Milwaukee has the opportunity to make a statement that can influence the course of bonsai appreciation in the US. Also not surprisingly, I voiced my hope that they would make an American statement, and be completely unconstrained by the prevailing ideas of how bonsai are "supposed" to be presented. I do not know Jack very well, but I respect his reputation, and my image of him is of someone fairly conservative in his bonsai outlook. However, he was completely gracious in hearing me out. Perhaps he is simply a good politician!

In an earlier reply to this thread, Kakejiku said: "Bonsaiists in the West tend to think that Japanese art revolves around bonsai...it doesn't... " and he is correct.

To his statement I would add this, which I think is also correct: "Bonsaiists in the West tend to think that bonsai revolves around Japanese art... it doesn't."

Thanks again, Kyle, and please keep us posted.

Arthur Joura
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Re: Exhibition of Design Proposals for a New Permanent Bonsai Garden

Post  kevin stoeveken on Mon Jan 12, 2015 3:07 pm

Arthur Joura wrote: Not surprisingly, I encouraged them to be bold and original in their approach. The partnership with a beautiful, long established, sculpture garden offers a unique possibility to go dramatically beyond what has been done with public bonsai display in the past. Milwaukee has the opportunity to make a statement that can influence the course of bonsai appreciation in the US. Also not surprisingly, I voiced my hope that they would make an American statement, and be completely unconstrained by the prevailing ideas of how bonsai are "supposed" to be presented. I do not know Jack very well, but I respect his reputation, and my image of him is of someone fairly conservative in his bonsai outlook. However, he was completely gracious in hearing me out. Perhaps he is simply a good politician!

actually arthur, and much to jacks credit, he is pretty emphatic that he does not envision a conservative approach to the display...
he has made it clear to us that he (or i should say the foundation) wants something contemporary over traditional...

to which we say cheers

(come to think of it, that was after your visit, so perhaps you had some influence Wink )


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Re: Exhibition of Design Proposals for a New Permanent Bonsai Garden

Post  Leo Schordje on Mon Jan 12, 2015 5:35 pm

Yes, Jack Douthitt is not as conservative as first impressions might lead one to believe. He was one of the early, and strong proponents in the USA of the view that bonsai is art, and more related to sculpture than any other branch of art. Approaching the Lynden Sculpture Park was his idea, and the board of the Lynden agreed with him that it would be a good fit. Jack's use of Japanese aesthetics when he displays his own trees comes out of his recognition that the Japanese have a fully developed formalized aesthetic of display. It is relatively "easy" to look up the best way to display a tree in that context. But he is definitely able to "think outside the pot", and the Lynden Sculpture Park dictated that the aesthetics of display must be of a North American sensibility. And the designs must incorporate the views of the park, integrate with the existing vistas and the sculptures in the landscape. Designs must be from North American artists or architects. Elements may reference Japanese design, but must be from a North American aesthetic. An example of how I mean "reference Japanese design" - think of how Frank Lloyd Wright references Japanese design in his Prairie School of Architecture. Prairie School is definitely uniquely North American, but elements are borrowed from other design traditions. Hopefully the final design will be uniquely North American, and worthy of the same sorts of praise given to some of Wright's more modest works. (hey - no reason to not set the goals high)

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Design Conservativism

Post  KyleT on Mon Jan 12, 2015 11:28 pm

Thank you Arthur for your encouragement and support. I agree with Kevin and Leo that Jack is very open.

I like Leo's comment about Frank Lloyd Wright and his connection to Japanese architecture. Wright manages to incorporate some Japanese sensibility without duplicating Japanese style. If I channel Wright a bit, though, I think he would be outraged at Leo's suggestion that he "references" Japanese design. (Sorry, Leo, I know you meant this in a good way, but Wright was a flamboyant, easily outraged guy.) Wright would argue, I think, that his work is 100% Wrightian and 100% American. I think Wright had this right. (No pun intended.) Just as there are some common elements in Japanese culture and American culture, there are bound to be some common elements in Japanese bonsai and American bonsai. After all, being "different" doesn't mean mutually exclusive. There are some elements that might be truly Japanese and truly American at the same time, while other elements differ. The students looked at Japanese design, European design, American design, and just about everything in-between. They are naturally global in their perspective, as are so many young people today. They draw inspiration from all over, and filter it through their own values, their own desires, and their own understanding of the locality at hand. What comes out is purely of them, I think, whether or not it might share some characteristics with Japanese stuff. I think this is a healthy process of personal judgment and assimilation.

Despite this, I can say that the students' proposals have predominately been seen as "conservative." I'm curious about this, since they seem quite innovative to me. But I'm looking at it from the inside, and teachers, like parents, are always a bit biased. I wish I could identify the root of this perception of conservatism. Does it come down to the use of straight-edged panels made of wood, rather than curvy and irregularly angled things? Is there something more to what makes it seem traditional or conventional? Any thoughts on this would be appreciated.


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Re: Exhibition of Design Proposals for a New Permanent Bonsai Garden

Post  Leo Schordje on Fri Jan 23, 2015 6:34 pm

I really liked the serpentine display proposal that essential put the bonsai display area on an island at the edge of the pond. No linear edges on that one. Unfortunately I didn't get a good picture, and the model had been damaged during transport to the showing. What I really liked was as you walked through, you would see a tree, then the next space, instead of a tree was an open view of the park, then the next tree. The serpentine shape gave a different view of the sculptures of the park at each location.

Maintenance of the trees would have been more cumbersome, but I felt it was the best proposal in terms of integrating the setting into the design of the display area.

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Re: Exhibition of Design Proposals for a New Permanent Bonsai Garden

Post  elkski on Sat May 16, 2015 7:32 pm

good luck in this endeavor.... I will stop by if I ever travel that way. is there a opening date yet?

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Re: Exhibition of Design Proposals for a New Permanent Bonsai Garden

Post  kevin stoeveken on Sat May 16, 2015 7:43 pm

last i heard, they were hoping to break ground this year, but they may still be hashing out the design end of it...

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Re: Exhibition of Design Proposals for a New Permanent Bonsai Garden

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