Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Wabi Sabi – the Japanese art of impermanence

Wabi Sabi – the Japanese art of impermanence
Andrew Juniper

Japanese culture, art and aesthetics have had a major influence on my artwork. There is a term called Wabi Sabi that can not be directly translated into English but refers to a type of aesthetic influenced by a number of factors. It stemmed from Zen Buddhism, that in turn was influenced by Chinese Taoism. Zen Buddhist monks were interested in artistic practices because they saw artistry in every aspect of life. The term seishintouistu refers to a meditative state that your mind enters when it has a single mined focus on one activity and as a result a loss of ego occurs. 
The monks could only afford cheap, humble natural materials and grew to notice the qualities in natural materials like bamboo. Inconsistencies symbolised something called mujo or impermanence. Wabi-sabi was also a backlash against the highly ornate, expensive, perfect Chinese objects.

As Wikipedia states, Wabi-sabi () represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete". It is a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence (三法印 sanbōin), specifically impermanence (無常 mujō), the other two being suffering ( ku) and emptiness or absence of self-nature ( ).

Juniper states the term Wabi sabi suggests such qualities as impermanence, humility, asymmetry, and imperfection. Pg2
These were the aspects investigated in Zen Buddhism. The monks saw Wab-sabi as a way to communicate spiritual messages.

I see Wabi-sabi as a respect for natural materials, finding beauty in the inconsistencies and as a result seeing it as a metaphor for the impermanence of our existence. Within this book Juniper discusses how modern Japan may be losing the influence of the traditional Wabi-sabi aesthetic but the subliminal influence is still significant in contemporary society.

I have been meditating for about 15 years now, not totally consistently but have experienced the benefits, one of which is better access to my creative mind and ideas. I also feel similar benefits when I enter my studio and get absorbed in the art making process.

It was also interesting in this book the list of design principles that Wabi-sabi adhered to such as;

- organic, natural materials
- no shiny materials
- materials that show the passage of time
- materials whose devolution is expressive and attractive
- the form dictated by materials
- asymmetrical or irregular
- artlessness not artistry
- evolves naturally, not forced
- no symbolism
- texture is rough and uneven
- variegated and random
- natural sporadic texture
- disregard for conventional beauty
- beauty in the smallest imperceptible details
- no harsh or strong colours, natural colours favoured
- subdued lighting
- matte, murky, lacking uniformity colours
- no embellishment or ostentation
- unrefined and raw
- use freely available materials
- areas of unused space
- observe physical balances as found in nature
- no formula or regular shapes
- unforced balance
- be sensitive of impermanence
- be humble, sincere, personal

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Dada – Art and Anti Art. Hans Richter.

In his book Dada - Art and Anti Art, Hans Richter (1965) discusses the element of chance within the art movement DADA. I think the element of chance relates quite highly to error and serendipitous mistakes. Richter thought it was quite central to Dada art and opened up new areas to art that had not been explored before and gave a new sense of freedom to the process.

The Dadaists asked the question what is chance and where does it lie within us? Dada artists read Jung who discussed coincidence, synchronicity, causality. They saw chance as a magical way of entering the unconscious mind or the soul. They saw is as a way to restore art back to it's primevel powerful state.
We were fated to live with the paradoxical necessity of entrusting ourselves to chance while at the same time remembering that we were conscious beings working towards conscious goals. This contradiction between the rational and the irrational opened a bottomless pit over which we had to walk.  Pg 61
Humour and laughter was also an important part of their art. Dada arose as a backlash of the times when the War had such a serious impact on society.
I see the connection to chance within art to primitive urges and animism. Tapping into the unconscious, entering into chance and accepting primitve urges are all realted. I want to encourge more chance within my artwork. I am very interested as to where it will take me.

Animate/Inanimate Symposium

Sunday 1 September  2013 11.00am - 5.00pm

A day of lively discussions about the meanings, histories and vulnerabilities of the natural and animal worlds through the eyes of artists, cultural theorists and environmental scientists, this symposium coincides with the exhibition Animate/Inanimate at the TarraWarra Museum of Art and will be held in the enchanting Brolga Room at Healesville Sanctuary.

12.00noon - Keynote presentation: Professor Barbara Creed
Barbara Creed is Professor of Screen Cultures at the University of Melbourne and director of the 'Human Rights and Animal Ethics' research network.
In Search of Sensation in the Nineteenth Century Zoological Park

Professor Creed explores the uncanny tension between animate/inanimate and human/animal in relation to the entrapment of animals in zoos and travelling menageries of the nineteenth century. She will also explore the aesthetics of shock in relation to the human/animal border as well as the role of this aesthetic in art

3.45pm - Keynote presentation: Professor Deborah Bird Rose
Deborah Bird Rose is a Professor in the Centre for Research on Social Inclusion at Macquarie University, Sydney. Professor Rose writes across several disciplines, including anthropology, history, philosophy, cultural studies and religious studies, and has worked with Aboriginal people in their claims to land and in other decolonising contexts. She has written numerous books and essays including Wild Dog Dreaming.
Animism, Art, and the Breath of Life
Art’s special magic is to knock us out of familiar enclosures. ‘We tell ourselves stories in order to live’, Joan Didion famously tells us. In this time of mass extinctions, art has the power to open new stories, breathing life into new meanings of our place in the life of planet earth.

I had seen this symposium advertised and was caught first by the title of the exhibition; Animate/Inanimate. Then on reading a bit more about the speakers I saw that animism was going to be discussed by Professor Deborah Bird Rose. Her talk was quite interesting but did not delve too deeply into art.

The first speaker Professor Barbara Creed’s discussion was the most interesting and relevant to me. She discussed the notion of the uncanny as attractive and repulsive and as both familiar and unfamiliar. She showed Henri Rousseau’s painting The Dream, 1910 and discussed how he had never left Paris but continued to paint jungles and exotic locations. He painted at the Paris Zoo which led onto a discussion about zoos. Around the time of his painting (1910) you could say that the zoo was a symbol of Imperialism, as a way to bring nature under control. Creed also mentioned the natural history museums and how they held rooms full of skeletons, stuffed animals, the uncanny living dead.

A significant reference was Freud’s The Emotions of Man and Animals. She also discussed the artwork by Emmanuel Frémiet, Gorilla Carrying off a Woman, 1887. There was a fascination in society with wild animals and in a zoo it was possible to get up close to them. People were both scared and attracted, they craved the excitement. They were in search of sensation. Around those times they feared loss of control to a more primitive state.
I really enjoyed her connections with the uncanny, zoos, animals and art. I can understand why around those times that wild animals, zoos and natural history museums were the new sensation. The above mentioned artworks I find quite inspiring but I see my artwork touching on a more contemporary sensation. Digital technology, robots, animations and contemporary materials are what I am trying depict new sensation through. Perhaps the interent, robots and new technology could be seen as a scary gorilla? Not as a primitive threat but more as a digital threat to civilisation.  Maybe my wheeled concrete robots could wheel off unsuspecting ladies?

I also really enjoyed listening to artist, Louise Weaver speak. I have always loved her artwork but had never heard her speak. She came across at thoughtful, articulate, subtle and alluring, just as her artwork is.