After releasing the idea of Natural Flux to an unsuspecting world, it has been interesting to see the response. It has been pretty much positive as expected (although we live in a world that only has a “like” button). One thing however was pointed out to me by a close friend and respected colleague…”I like the aesthetic but it all seems a bit vague…what is the point?”
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.