Western Display Concepts

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I believe Bill Valvanis put forward the first formal attempt (that I know of) to have Western - meaning not overtly Japanese - displays on exhibit. I confess I didn't get it at first. But that was a year ago, and a lot can change in a year or even days. After reading everything Smoke has been putting up about alcove display in recent days, I've been finding myself dwelling on what that could look like for us as Westerners.

I don't think there is a thing wrong with using Eastern visual art modalities to express familiar Western concepts... so I've been playing with this in my mind for days now, and wanted to open it up to see if anyone else has been thinking of this as well. So by example, using something like a sumi painting style to express indigenous landscapes/things/vegetation is acceptable.

I think the problem with understanding good traditional display is often the concepts that ground them. If you are versed in Japanese/Asian culture and you know what the symbolism is... then you can appreciate it. And while I can enjoy a display without having to get into its subtleties, it is easier to let the mind lose itself within the artist’s expression if you can. So thinking of Western concepts... I tried to think of what I would put together if availability of objects was no limit. I’m not trying to anything too high-minded yet. I’m not that evolved. :p

I'd love to read what other people would conceive of as meaningful to them. I actually came up with more concepts than I'll list... but here are a few descriptions that I played with in my imagination.


Winter -

Tree – Fagus (Beech) or other white barked deciduous tree... planted in a white-ish pot oval pot - no rim - no fancy feet, on a very dark stand. Subdued and muted... the quietness of winter in its contrast.

Scroll - A very spare sumi painting of a snow angel. Something so subtle it is suggested more by its shadows made in the indentations than the outline itself.

Accent - a small bronze artwork of a child's mittens (the kind attached to each other by a string between) haphazardly dropped on the floor. Resting on a very low but slightly formal oval stand.

Inspiration: A child looks at winter with the most wonder... in his/her excitement to get out into the snow and cold to play... they've left their mittens at home on the floor. And they couldn't care less... because the magic of winter snow erases all other considerations. I can just see the child’s mother looking at those dropped mittens with amused exasperation.

(cont.)
 
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Spring -

Tree: Prunus (plum/cherry) - gnarly and ramified - with deadwood - in an unglazed pot (I'm not married to a shape - but the aesthetic should be feminine and ornate - so rimmed with scrolled feet) on a rich dark table reflective of her dignity. It would be just breaking bud to push fourth it's flowers - or the flowers just breaking.

Scroll: Painting of an open mouthed Robin flying towards the tree... the first bird to sing in spring.

Accent: Crocus... the first flower to emerge from the cold of winter to add color again to our lives. Planted in a glazed accent pot (of differing shape to the tree's) to compliment whatever color of crocus is planted.

Inspiration: "Winter's Back Is Broken" The promise of warmer spring weather always generates a thrill for me. Hearing the robins call in the morning is a signal for me as much as the breaking of branches and crocuses. The tree has seen many springs... she is venerable and wise, and yet still greets spring with beauty and enthusiasm.


Summer -
(Display is listed as it would be shown from left to right)

Accent: Grass (costal variety – sedge – etc) in a rustic unglazed non-bon or a custom sea inspired accent pot like one I have from Dick Ryerson (I’ll post a photo if someone wants to see it). The flow of the Ryerson pot would be to have the flow move to the right like a wave towards the shore. Placed on a flat oval disc or maybe a staggered plank – I’d have to play with it.

Scroll: Painting of a West coast beach bluff. NW coasts are dotted with haystack formations in the water, and high cliffs. Again… more the suggestion of an image than a literal image.

Tree: Pinus Contorta Contorta (Shore Pine) - Windswept style (foliage direction will flow right with the direction of wind coming in from the sea - and the trunk will lean seawards towards the left to show it’s strength). Old flaky bark – spare foliage. Unglazed rectangle – conservative in decoration. Table will be conservative – low – masculine to show the tree is firmly rooted despite the wind.

Inspiration: This is my world. I love the sea and our coast above all things.


Summer #2 –

Tree: Willow in a light blue oval pot with long tendrils of dripping foliage you could imagine are just skimming the edge of the water. On a elegant and feminine stand.

Scroll: An otter swimming on his back… looking amused and self satisfied.

Accent: A reedy grass that reminds you of the tall cattail grasses by ponds.

I think the scroll could also be a cattail image – with a small bronze of an otter on its back “swimming” on a flat black oval disk. So it’s interchangeable in my mind.

Inspiration: I grew up on a farm with an otter family on the pond. I spent hours watching them in the summer… Otters are playful, and love life… they are an expression of being present in the moment to me. I loved that time of my life… when a day felt like a year… though I might not have loved it as much back then as I do now.


I have more in my head… these were a few of my favorites though and I do actually have to get some work done. I believe thinking like this will help one to be more creative with what one does have available, or is able to conceive of something they could commission from an artist to create. Maybe I’m even thinking of this all wrong… ?? I’m no expert… that much is certain, but it was fun to think about.

Kindest regards,

Victrinia
 

Bill S

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Lets see if this works if it does check this display and tell me what you think.



http://midatlanticbonsai.freeservers.com/exhibit2009.htm - takes you to the page the pix resides. Look down to the third row center photo.

A lot of the people that went liked the display, the Japanese artist we had in said it went against all the aspects of proper display.
 

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garywood

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Hi V,
if there is a direction? It must be taken and threads like this and Al’s makes for a good foundation. The one thing I think people overlook when talking about tradition is; The Japanese have a long history of uninterrupted isolation. Their reverence of nature is not surpassed by many cultures. The art or craft of display (alcoves) has been practiced by the masses for hundreds of years and that degree of refinement won’t happen very quickly here. I personally look forward to a westernized direction that suits my sensibilities. Until then I personally don’t like bastardized versions where neither is done justice. I like your thought process on displays.
Wood
 

rockm

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Vic,

the concepts you talk about are common throughout Japanese AND western culture believe it or not.

For instance, your thoughts on the snow angel and mittens in winter suggesting wonder correlates with a scroll I once saw with a painting of a tiger's tracks in the snow (not the tiger :D) disappearing over a nighttime ridge--the same suggestion is there--unseen wonder.

Also your idea of a flying signing robin marking springtime has a direct comparison to a traditional Japanese spring image-a singing cuckoo flying in a nighttime sky with the spring moon:
http://www.hotei-japanese-prints.co...07-019/4/Imao_Keinen_(1845-1924)_?p=paintings

As for the self-satisfied otter--look up "racoon dog and moon:"

http://jyuluck-do.com/SS50015.html

The Tanuki (raccoon dog) has much the same playful, mischievous reputation as our otter...

I think there are common powerful images of the natural world that cross cultures. The secret to employing "western" images into displays is to do it without being obvious, or too clever. I think the dream catcher and the bear fetish is forced (to me at least) as it only supplants one culture's images for another's. To bridge the cultural gaps, a display should speak in images and objects that are familiar in one way or another to the viewer regardless of culture...I don't think that means using exclusively Western, nor exclusively Eastern images and objects...both can add to the picture.
 
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HotAction

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I too have been pondering the whole display thing lately. While I certainly enjoy a nice tokonoma display, I think a western display can have some merit.

I think everyone is missing a major point to this, however. There are no rules for a western display. We have the opportunity to create it from an idea. This discussion seems to be more about how to westernize an eastern display. Don't get me wrong, these too, can make very pleasing displays.

Do we need scrolls? Do we need a substitute for a scroll? Have you ever written or painted on a scroll? Should you have an accent, what about a triangle. For me, I could care less about what you put in your display. If it pleases me to look at it, and it triggers an emotion/memory/feeling, then in my mind the display does the job.

Ron Lang won second place for formal Western display at the first national exhibition. His display had no scroll or accent. It was simply a juniper potted in an unusual custom pot. The pot was "cubist" in nature and presented the feleing of a desert mountain ledge.

So, I say think outside the box. Display how you want to. If it is good art people will sit and look, if not nothing ventured nothing gained. Don't be constrained by convention, but learn from it at the same time. Let the imagination flow and don't look back. The future is wide open.

Dave


p.s. Vic I think your ideas would make lovely displays. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on how and why you made the decisions you did.
 

cbobgo

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Vic's ideas sound beautiful, but to me they do not describe a Western style display. They describe a traditional Eastern style display, but using elements that are more culturally relevant to people from the west.

I don't know what a "Western Style Display" would be. Do we have a distinct way of displaying art in the West? If I think about the museums I have been to, sculpture (which is the closest thing in the art world to compare to bonsai) is typically displayed on a pedestal with a spotlight.

sculpture gallery in athens

There's no accent pieces, there's no scrolls. Just the item being displayed. So that's the traditional way of displaying artsy things in general in the west. Should we display our bonsai like that?

There is no "traditional" way of displaying bonsai in the West, except for copying the way it's done in the East. I don't think there is anything wrong with that. And using elements from Western culture as the accents is a fine thing to do, but I don't think that really makes it a Western display.

So do we need to find some different way of displaying bonsai in the West? I think it would be interesting to do so, but I think it would have to be created de novo, somewhat arbitrarily, as we have no deep cultural well to draw from in regards to Western bonsai.

- bob
 

Walter Pall

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Bob,

here is my exhibit at BMW headquarters in Munich, Germany. it lasts for three months and is called 'tree sculptures' because the word bonsai sounded cheap to the marketing people there. This is explicitly an art exhibit, not a bonsai exhibit. In the same place they recently had a Giacometti sculptures exhibit. This is what I call western style exhibit, showing the trees like sculptures would be shown.
 

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Here are the images
 

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cbobgo

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Thanks Walter, that's just what I was referring to in my post.

Should this be the standard for displaying bonsai in the West? (rhetorical question not necessarily directed at Walter) It would certainly help the non-bonsai people to understand that it is "art" that they are looking at.

Can we come up with anything better?

- bob
 

Ross

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Vic's ideas sound beautiful, but to me they do not describe a Western style display. They describe a traditional Eastern style display, but using elements that are more culturally relevant to people from the west.

I don't know what a "Western Style Display" would be. Do we have a distinct way of displaying art in the West? If I think about the museums I have been to, sculpture (which is the closest thing in the art world to compare to bonsai) is typically displayed on a pedestal with a spotlight.

sculpture gallery in athens

There's no accent pieces, there's no scrolls. Just the item being displayed. So that's the traditional way of displaying artsy things in general in the west. Should we display our bonsai like that?

There is no "traditional" way of displaying bonsai in the West, except for copying the way it's done in the East. I don't think there is anything wrong with that. And using elements from Western culture as the accents is a fine thing to do, but I don't think that really makes it a Western display.

So do we need to find some different way of displaying bonsai in the West? I think it would be interesting to do so, but I think it would have to be created de novo, somewhat arbitrarily, as we have no deep cultural well to draw from in regards to Western bonsai.

- bob

Sculpture is traditionally displayed on a pedestal with a spotlight trained on it, and I think it is a good western alternative to the traditional tokonoma display. I love Walter's displays on the pedestals, in front of the huge paintings, and I love John's display in this other thread.




I'm no garden expert in general, but I feel like gardens and plants in Texas, and the south in general, are often displayed with "garden tours" where people go and see gardens and landscaping at a group of preselected homes. I think that would be a cool display alternative instead of the traditional indoor venues. I would like to see more frequent, but smaller shows hosted at people's homes, in their gardens, outside in nature where it just feels right. People who want to display could bring their trees over a bit before the get-together and put them on the benches, tables, whatever. Everyone byob and someone fire up a grill and now we're talking! I don't know about you guys, but my favorite times in bonsai are in my garden on a nice day, looking at good, healthy trees with the sun shining on them. I dunno...just a thought. :)
 
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Ross

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Ok, how's this idea? Underneath a tree in your yard, you put a large birdbath that's part water (so it's still functional) but part pot, so you can plant a little tree in it. Underneath the little tree, you landscape with moss and place another, smaller, mini-birdbath with an even smaller little tree in it. :) Or how about this one? My mom had an old school bicycle in our backyard with the wire basket on the front. In the basket, she lined it with sphagnum moss and planted flowers in it. Instead of the flowers, you could plant a little tree, and under that tree you could place a small little model bicycle with a wire basket on the front, with an even smaller little tree planted in that!
 
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Ross

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Ok, one more, sorry! What about a tree in a pot, with a little model house and car, small bushes to scale in the flowerbeds, and small pink lawn flamingos in the yard! :)
 

subnet_rx

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I don't have a whole lot to add, but I do have a lot of interest in this topic. The western displays that I have seen have not been that great, but they are a start. I love the sunset painting with bonsai above. I think paintings would have a place in a western display, even though a lot of bonsai artists would probably resist having to buy paintings for a display. It could join the art world and bonsai world in western countries.
 

Yamadori

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Vic,
How about the pictures in your gallery from the Pacific Rim Collection? That is a different type of diplay with the pottery. I found it to be quite interesting. http://bonsainut.com/forums/photopost/showgallery.php/cat/500/ppuser/53/sl/v

There was a post by Treecutter on Facebook of a showing of student art work with bonsai. It was also unique and interesting. Very western. Not attempting to be Japanese at all. Here are a few of his pictures.
 

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Jrbrown4

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Vic,
How about the pictures in your gallery from the Pacific Rim Collection? That is a different type of diplay with the pottery. I found it to be quite interesting. http://bonsainut.com/forums/photopost/showgallery.php/cat/500/ppuser/53/sl/v

There was a post by Treecutter on Facebook of a showing of student art work with bonsai. It was also unique and interesting. Very western. Not attempting to be Japanese at all. Here are a few of his pictures.


In looking at the pictures posted by Yamadori I think I see what is trying to be accomplished however I am not sure it will work in all cases. Although the pairing on Bonsai and Art is a great concept it can be problematic when both pieces are competing for attention. In the first two pictures the individual items seem to detract from one another rather than form a cohesive unit. It could be that the pictures did not do the display justice but from what I see I don't know that the display works for me. However I think the third picture has possibilities because the art element is somewhat muted and it, in a sense, follows the "display rule" by providing a simple backdrop and performing the function similar to a scroll. I think overall a more western display can and would work but it will take changing expectations and there will be a steep learning curve. I think the much easier way to incorporate western elements into a display is to make a detailed landscape which reflects areas that a western audience can relate to.
 

Yamadori

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In the first two pictures the individual items seem to detract from one another rather than form a cohesive unit. However I think the third picture has possibilities because the art element is somewhat muted and it, in a sense, follows the "display rule" by providing a simple backdrop and performing the function similar to a scroll.

I think the much easier way to incorporate western elements into a display is to make a detailed landscape which reflects areas that a western audience can relate to.

I agree with your comments. I posted these images to show someone's attempts to share bonsai with a western audience. I appreciate what was done.

I also think incorporating our famous landscapes into display, rather than Fuji, might help our western audience relate. I would love a scroll with Half Dome or Yosemite Falls. Displaying that in my neck of the woods would capture the audience. The Yosemite meadows are such an important part of the valley. A very effective keido style tokonoma could be created completely reflecting Yosemite. Folks in the north east could have an image of Niagra Falls.

What other American landscape images would be recognised by either a national or at least a regional audience?
 

rockm

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For what it's worth, Yosemite and other Western landmarks have long been the subjects of Japanese art:
http://www.hanga.com/viewimage.cfm?ID=11
http://www.theartofjapan.com/ArtDetail.asp?Inv=11071548
http://www.artnet.com/artwork/425995249/113381/toshi-yoshida-mt-holy-cross-vail-colorado.html
http://www.castlefinearts.com/Japanese_fine_arts_woodblock_prints/Chiura_Obata_Biography.aspx
http://www.hanga.com/prints.cfm?ID=53

This blend of Asian and Western art began at the turn of the last century as Japanese artists adapted Western concepts to a very traditional Japanese art--the Ukiyoe woodblock print. The style was called "shin hanga."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shin_hanga

Shin hanga points the way, I think, to how we in the West could adapt the Japanese display style to our sensibilities without losing the spirit of either...
 
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