Article 70 – ‘Design: a discussion’ Part 2

Hi, welcome to Taiga Bonzai in this article we discuss the complexities of design, it’s meaning and message what the designer or artist is attempting to impart with their perspective and to attempt to make sense of it all in a rational manner.

Introduction – the term bonsai (bon ‘pot’ and sai ‘tree’) refers to the joining or marriage of the two components regardless of style be they single, twin or multiple trunked trees and/or forest plantations. There are no figurines, independent rocks or miniature structures, displays where such artifacts are used come under different categories. In Japan they are referred to as ‘Bonkei’ and ‘Saikei‘, but there is a distinct difference between the two ‘Bonkei‘ does not use ‘live’ material of any description whereas ‘Saikei‘ does. The Vietnamese version of ‘Saikei‘ miniature landscape is called ‘Hón Non Bộ‘. We will discuss the bonsai forest landscape first then move on to the other designs.

In bonsai Yose ue – Forest describes a planting of many trees, typically an odd number, the pot is shallow to emphasize the height of the trees, alternatively a flat slab of rock may be used. The trees are usually of the same species, with a variety of heights employed to add visual interest and to reflect the age differences encountered in mature forests. (For mixed-species plantings refer to the Japanese art of saikei) The aim is to portray a view into a forest with different perspective effects such as placing the smallest trees toward the rear to create depth.

If you are contemplating planting a forest you need to gather all the hardware materials before hand for example. The pot or flat slab of rock, wiring needed to anchor the plants, adhesives, wire mesh to create contours, moss, fertilizer pellets, drainage mats and correct soil medium. As for the design, a stroll in a forest with a camera will give you some idea, if this is not possible troll through the world-wide-web to get some inspiration; planning is vitally important to make the display work. (shown below)

A Trident Maple (Acer buergerianum) bonsai, North American Collection courtesy of Author Sage Ross

Bonkei – in Japan’s historical Shōsōin, housing seventh, eight and ninth century artifacts is an elaborate miniature tree display composed of a shallow wooden base, with carved wooden mountains and sand portraying a river and surrounding land. Small silver metal tree sculptures are placed in the sand to produce a table top design of a tree landscape. (shown below)

The earliest illustration of Penjing – Bonkei is found in the Qianling mausoleum murals at the Tang Dynasty tomb of Crown Prince Zhanghuai, dating to 706.

A ‘bonkei’ display is a temporary or permanent three-dimensional depiction of a landscape in miniature, portrayed using mainly dry materials for example. Wire, artificial plant making material, rock, papier-mâché, adhesives or cement mixtures and sand in a shallow tray as shown below.

Utagawa Yoshishige (1848)

‘Saikei’ is a Japanese art form derived from creating miniature landscapes and is quite similar to the Chinese art form of Penjing and Vietnamese Hòn Non Bộ wherein tray landscapes are made using soil, water and rocks on a single container or tray. The container is usually a large ceramic tray that has low edges and within are soil, rocks and pebbles arranged carefully to create a natural landscape. Some artists model their creations from actual landscapes such as a seaside, garden or mountain with living trees and forests. (shown below)

Saikei display courtesy of Wikipedia free encyclopedia

However, Saikei displays have become much larger and intricate through time and to give you some idea as to their creation, here are is a link where you can see Japanese master Masahiko Kimura creating one of his masterpieces. – 6:41 min.

Hón Non Bộ – is the Vietnamese version of Saikei and displays can be extremely large needing a small army to move them, but many table top varieties are in existence. Arguably Hón Non Bộ is the most sort after due to the Vietnamese attention to the finest detail, this is not to say that the Japanese version Saikei and the Chinese Penjing are not without the highest praise, after all it was the latter who were the first to create such works of art. Below are images of Hón Non Bộ.

Hón Non bộ

Are these designs a representation of reality or imagination what is conceived in the mind of the artist, there are many natural wonders in existence especially in the far east which entice designers to mimic for example, Vietnam’s islands and Phang Nga Bay, Thailand. Arguably it matters not from whence the inspiration came, because Penjing, BonkeiSaikei and Hón Non Bộ are marvels of design all having meaning and message. Until next time when we continue this discussion, BW, Nik.

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