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Its been a busy start to the year and as a result the posts to this blog have been a little slow. Hopefully in the coming weeks I will get a bit more spare time and will be able to update more regularly.

One bonsai related thing I was able to attend was an exhibition that featured a work by Makoto Azuma. I am sure many of you have seen works by him already as they do pop up from time to time on various bonsai blogs and websites, but for those that don’t know of his work it may be worth having a look at his site linked above.

His work is interesting from a bonsai perspective because he creates botanical sculptures that challenge ideas of controlled growth, display and the interaction between nature and man. His works often utilise bonsai in various states, frozen, dissected and scientifically maintained.

In the case of the exhibition I visited he had created a sealed container that automated all phases of a plants growth, and in this case the plant happened to be a bonsai which in its self had been highly manipulated to create its form.

The contained bonsai

The contained bonsai

The container watered the bonsai, controlled the fertiliser, humidity, temperature, airflow and light that the bonsai received while also serving as a means of displaying the bonsai in what almost looks like a museums scientific glass specimen case.

Humidity and temperature monitor.

Humidity and temperature monitor.

Although the bonsai inside the case was not the best example of a black pine I have seen, what I did find interesting was the way that when a bonsai was displayed inside a container that made visible all the manipulations to growing conditions that modern practices use, it highlighted the stylistic manipulation that we as bonsai growers do and that the plant inside the box had received. It really got me thinking about what it is we do as bonsai artists.

So often the discussion about our art revolves around styling differences and the bonsai it-self. I tend to think that the display arrangement and or the environment in which it is displayed says as much about the overall composition as whether or not you subscribe to ‘natural’ or ‘cookie cutter’ schools.

The bonsai in a box.

The bonsai in a box.

It is interesting that when you see this exhibit that the bonsai takes somewhat of a back seat in the overall composition and the object as a whole (glass case, bonsai and gallery room) all work together to present what was to me a new way of looking at the art we do.

Will you see similar displays at your local show any time soon? Probably not. But it does raise interesting questions about how we present our trees and in turn what stories those presentations tell. What can our bonsai represent? What does combining our trees with other objects say?  Perhaps it is time to start thinking outside the box in terms of what it is we wish to convey to the viewer when we exhibit out bonsai and try something outlandish from time to time.  If you look at contemporary art, the space and arrangement of the art objects is as important as the objects themselves and perhaps it is this aspect that we as bonsai artists struggle with.

I recently visited MONA in Tasmania and came across a room full of tribal masks. Each mask was lit by spot light which alternated from one to another in an otherwise dark room. After flicking through several masks the light stopped on a Picasso portrait. It was this juxtaposition between the masks and the portrait that hinted at where the Picasso painting had possibly taken its inspiration from. It had combined many works that individually were all impressive in their own right into a collection of works that once combined told the viewer more that what the individual works could tell on their own. An interesting concept when thinking about bonsai display.

For those wishing to see it ‘in the bark’ the exhibition is on until the 20th of this month at ‘Broached East‘ gallery Level 7 388 Bourke Street, Melbourne, Australia. If your in the area I think it is well worth a visit.

Some more info about the show is HERE


The Display

At the recent AABC convention I displayed two trees. One was a Chinese Elm and the other a Trident Maple.

To get these two trees to this state actually took a whole lot of work and time. I didn’t think it would take so long but it took me roughly 2 weekends to prepare these two trees.

Chinese Elm Pre-work

The Chinese Elm had the following done to it:

  • First, I defoliated. This took a long time. there are A LOT of small leaves on this small tree and they are all difficult to get at with a pair of scissors.
  • Next I cleaned up the trunk and did a basic pruning to refine the outline of the silhouette.
  • Then I had to select a pot for the tree (in this case an old Yamaaki pot) and re-pot the tree.
  • Then I mossed the tree
  • Then oiled the pot.

Chinese Elm as displayed.

The tree came up nicely. It improves each year as it’s canopy becomes denser. I think the new pot is a big improvement over its old container. Looking at the above image, it makes me wish I had a more delicate stand for it, but that can wait.

Trident Maple pre-work

Next came the trident Maple. It under went pretty much the same process as the Elm although it was not re-potted. I had considered changing into an antique chinese container but in the end I thought the blue pot was a good match.

This tree took most of a day to moss. The mossing was the easy part and only took a few hours. It was the finding of the moss that took the time. I had to hunt all over the neighborhood to find enough moss. No gutter was spared. Every time I thought I had enough I would go home to start applying it only to find the moss was either not good enough quality of that after trimming out the bad parts I didn’t have near enough to finish the job, so back out onto the streets I would go. I repeated this process several times, each time heading out to further gutters in search of the perfect moss patch. I didn’t find it, instead I had to collect many small pieces from many gutters.


Trident maple as displayed

I finally got the tree mossed and selected the only stand I had that came close to suiting it.

All in all I was pretty happy with how the display ended up but of course like many things in bonsai I saw many areas in which I could improve it.Both trees will look better in a few more years, but when is that not the case?

I guess that is part of the draw of growing bonsai, they are ever-growing, changing and shifting and you are forever adjusting to match the tree’s changing form. Some times you get it right and sometimes you don’t but always if you think about the decisions you are making along the way you will learn something new.


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