Landscape - Wound - Making a Garden
Lee Young-Wook Art Critic
It cannot be exaggerated that the land of Korea was covered by gardens in the not so distant past. Nowadays this landscape has been torn up, overdeveloped and overspread with apartment buildings. Lee Gi-bong, a Korean geographer once remarked that Korean gardens were fewer in numbers than Chinese or Japanese gardens because the beauty of the natural environment in Korea composed gardens without any artificial arrangements. While each garden culture has unique features, Korean gardens were rather naturally merged with an undulating, irregular and asymmetrical nature. In addition to this natural condition, there were numbers of JungJa (Korean style pavilion) for enjoying and appreciating the surrounding views. Even recently, alongside the highways in Korea we often find the JungJa positioned at varied spots with its own view of the mountains and meadows. Derived from the gifts of the natural environment, the JungJa served as places of relaxation or enjoyment in either a cultivated garden or a natural area.
It is a common idea that the East Asian cultural tradition has a more intimate connectivity with nature than the Western world. Convincing but also vague, the idea leaves us a few ambiguities in relation to the real. Gilles Deleuze questioned the landscape taking root on thought, what he refers to as the concept Image de la pensée. According to Deleuze, the landscape is immanent as the flux of sensory, bodily and lived experience within every space. This is the landscape that gives us a sense of immediacy as a pure and primordial experience. However, because this experience is in the region of non-belonging, the horizon of something transcendent is reestablished, and the landscape functions as the passive synthesis of imagination and thought.
I believe that the concept of Feng Shui (geomantic principles) in the East Asian tradition is what could be comparable with Deleuzes Image de la pensée. Feng Shui is the system for perceiving the shape of earth and water in an engagement with the four signs of lifes fortune (propitiousness, ominousness, evil and luck). The concept of Feng Shui is the immanence in the representational world of the ideal image that is the so-called favorable land (propitious site). In the East Asian tradition, people see the landscape through this ideal image, which corresponds with an instinctive necessity in search of tranquility, embraces the infinite metaphysical imagination and embodies the aesthetic achievement. Thus, the immanence of the ideal image has operated within the landscape as well as our perception.
Asian landscape painting is another example of embodying the primordial image. The image is immanent in every landscape painting. As an artistic representation, landscape painting has flourished the idea of the primordial image by using its own accumulated technique, processed with concrete contexts in reality. The audience or people who struggle in their mundane world therefore recall and withdraw into the landscape to soothe their tiredness, imbalance and instability of mind. The cardinal importance of the East Asian tradition is often understood as comforting, harmonizing and calming ones mind and surroundings in the real world. On this account, Asian landscape painting can be defined as a catalyst that interlinks the ideal status of the landscape with the human mind to lead it into the ideal status in real life. The same must go for gardening.
The cultural matrix that possibly realized the East Asian primordial image has been destroyed these days. The old system of perceiving and sensing the landscape based on the ideal image has been weakened or changed (loss of aura). Far from nature, artificial systems and virtual construction are covering our everyday space. In the areas exposed to rapid development and continual urbanization, lands are torn up to build roads; structures and cities are crossing the landscape and revealing their wounds. Therefore, life within this landscape seems is getting lost, detached, and ruptured, lacking harmony from day to day. Sandra Lee, during her visits to her parents homeland in South Korea and her travels in China, may have sensed these changes. How could all these elements be perceived and registered in her body and mind--the old East Asian tradition operated with the primordial landscape and the reality with its destruction, but nevertheless a deformed and operating system in the real world. I am sure that her choice of gardening as a topic for her project must be a natural move forward in her life.
For me, Lees gardening project, is about the practical research for finding a new possibility of gardening through her encounters with the changed and wounded landscape. Observing varied examples of gardening traditions, she researched contexts that constitute gardening, identified varied directions immanent in gardens, expanded the concept of gardening, and suggests new possibilities in her work.
Lee represents varied kinds of gardens in this project. In her photographs, we can observe a traditional garden, potted plants in windowsills and roadsides, a pile of stones at a corner of temple and grasses grown in devastated land.
She also makes different kinds of gardens herself. In Seeds in a Wild Garden, she collects and piles found materials from local construction sites, such as rubble, bricks and chunks of concrete. Above this green garden, there are yellow, red, pink, purple and orange nails and brick fragments scattered just like wild flowers in the field. Two Waters and MountainMountain recall a pond garden. On the surface of this pond made with overlapping dark blue acrylic pieces, there is a minature garden that seems like a floating island. MountainMountain contains a small mountain out of stones and brick fragments that she collected from the seashore in Xiamen, China. In Two Waters, there are small handmade building-like structures with a slate roof and two separated chairs. Inside of each frame, small mountains are placed.
Her gardening links to the traditional gardening ways in the life of Mincho, grass roots people here. Despite inhospitable circumstances, or because of their toughness, they make a greater effort to make their gardens. Lees gardens, composed with piles of stones and wild grasses, indicate the spontaneous healing process despite poor surroundings in our daily lives. The materials she adopts for her gardening arent conventionally beautiful or ideal for gardening. They are rather fragments left over from our everyday lives and from our construction sites. As brick fragments worn away and refined by water, the poor materials from these environments that encounter such nature may be a prayer for healing for our lives.
Therefore, her performative practice includes the collecting of wounded materials, painting on the surfaces, putting the elements in certain positions, and piling them up towards creating a place. In this place there are small mountains, ponds, towers and so forth.
As mentioned above, the East Asian traditional gardening was made for a kind of re-enactment of the ideal landscape and a practical way of finding peace, balance and stability for the human mind. The stability of mind can only be achieved through a very complex mental process including commitment, self-awareness, self-reflection and enjoyment. But Lees gardening does not force either commitment or enjoyment. It rather requires self-awareness and self-reflection. Her garden is open. The landscape comprising small mountains, towers and ponds, in a way, is transitory yet detached.
Her gardening seems to invite a tranquil passion to emerge from our minds and fill all the rifts. As a part of this project, Deep Waters (Pacific) is a collage created from pieces of Korean newspaper that visualizes the Pacific Ocean. For this time, I sense that the deep water is moving, deepening and expanding itself.