Listening Garden 天地에 귀를 기울이다 [cheonjie gwireul gwiurida]
A performative archive of "acts of listening". The archive consisted of growing and fading plants, ancient scripts about East-Asian gardens, poems, dance, tea, sound, conversations with guest artists and audience. Los Angeles. January 2017.
Listening Garden was a performative installation which grew into an archive of old and new conversations, actions and thoughts on how we can connect with other people with the help of nature. As its initial concept, it presented a contemporary translation of the ancient Chinese, Japanese and Korean tea gardens, where artists, scholars, and poets met over tea to meditate on life, art and nature. For more than two thousand years, these gardens were a physical extension of the people’s outlook on the world and a microcosm that was not to be merely a reproduction of the universe in miniature but a poetic, lyrical and artistic interpretation of it with its own vital spirit. As the gardener, I invited composer Gregory Lenczycki and visual artists Kiyomi Fukui, Shea Vititow and Grace Eunchong from Seek Ceramics to step inside and respond to the garden. Listening Garden took place at the Show+Tell Projects.
Listening Garden cultivated an air of romantic mysticism and intimacy in today’s fast-paced culture. It was much of a living art form in itself that was activated by the imaginative force of the artists, the growing and fading plants, and ultimately by the visitors who located their thoughts and energy inside this garden. In the Listening Garden, ‘listening’ means ‘paying true attention’ to ourselves and our surroundings. The environment allowed new ideas and connections to develop and raised questions of what is means for us to connect. Furthermore, Listening Garden was a transformation of the art gallery into a place for rest, touch, feel, drink, smell, drink and listen without typical gallery limitations. The garden required some attention and delicacy from the audience. In this respect, Listening Garden was also an indicator of social connection and codes of public behavior.
Listening Garden (天地에 귀를 기울이다), 2016
天 覆也, 地 載也 (from the Book of Rites 禮經, written before 300 BC). These 6 characters tell the story of how ancient people in East Asia have understood the beginning of our universe. It reads ‘the heaven covers and the earth carries’, referring to the reproduction process of nature when heaven gives rain and earth conceives new life. Based on this concept of a metaphysical communion between heaven and earth, with each forming the primary (in)tangible manifestations of yin (earth) and yang (heaven), humans have understood their own reproduction process as a microcosmic sequence of nature’s larger course when the man gave his semen and the woman conceived new life in her womb. The beginning of the universe was therefore not a starting point in time and space. It was more understood as an intercourse and a process that eliminated the notion of beginning and end. A process of communing (connectedness), a process of forming a deep intimacy with two oppositional energies thriving to become one and yearning to fully understand each other on a metaphysical level. For more than two thousand years East Asian gardens were places that strived to manifest this idea of the universe to highest forms as they served the visitors as excellent contemplative environments to meditate on life, and served the gardener as places to curate an environment that was a physical extension of the human’s outlook on the world and a microcosm that was not to be merely a reproduction of the universe in miniature but a poetic, lyrical and artistic interpretation of it with its own vital spirit.
Listening Garden is such an artistic interpretation and contemporary translation of the ancient gardens, where artists, scholars, musicians and poets met to contemplate over life, nature and art. It provided me with a chance to take up a new role as the gardener whose primary goal was to cultivate an environment for contemplation and meditation. From the beginnings of conceptualizing the project to the choice of the first four people who were invited to unfold their thoughts inside the garden, from the direction of our conversations to the implementation of the exhibition’s visual elements - I reminded myself to approach the process from the perspective of a gardener whose role is to grow and foster the garden based on readings of ancient texts that document the practice and philosophy of gardening in China, Korea and Japan dating back thousands of years. Interestingly, in traditional East Asian context, a gardener does not create or build but ‘curates’ a garden, nurturing the things that were already given to us by nature. Before the gardener curates the garden, she listens to the sound of the heaven and the earth. Where are we and who are we? Fetching a feeling that cultivates an air of romantic mysticism, the garden is a place that welcomes each one of us to rediscover the value of intimacy in our fast-paced culture and to exercise how to pay attention. Building intimacy starts with listening. In the Listening Garden, careful listening (귀를 기울이다) means ‘paying true attention and respect’ to ourselves and our surroundings. Listening Garden as an environment hopes to allow new ideas and connections to develop and raise questions of what nature and art is. It is also a transformation of the art gallery space into a place for rest without typical gallery limitations. The garden requires some attention and delicacy from the audience. In this respect, Listening Garden is also an indicator of social connection and codes of public behavior. Every Saturday, I will be inside the garden and be performing the role as the gardener by grooming and watering the plants, sweeping the floor, writing poems, meditating, and leading visitors to a contemplative viewing and listening experience.
Oppositional Harmonics - Sound Installation for Two Speakers, 2016
Opposites by nature do not exist alone. The propagation of any sound wave is the compression and rarefraction of displaced air molecules. The periodic collective excitation of these molecules in vibrational motion, through space in entirely proportional and opposite directions until the force of power driving the sound wave decays, creates what we hear. The smallest fibers, nerves and membranes that make up our hearing apparatus sympathetically vibrate in phase with the displacement cycles of air molecules, as do the membranes of loudspeakers and microphones. Although, depending upon whether there is sound generation or audio reception, the phase of these vibrations may be inverted. In music, we abstract and transliterate the changing frequency of this molecular displacement as musical notes and formally arrange those notes into specific groupings known as scales. By doing so, the performance of music is a physical intervention to define the oppositional states of sound waves in an intentional manner, translating human expression to a dialogue between cognition and the physical laws of sound. Oppositional Harmonics - Sound Installation for Two Speakers is such an intentional intervention. Filtered through a singular principle, it is a discourse between myself, the space in which it is presented and the listener as it plays out over five weeks. By utilizing only two esoteric pentatonic scales dating back to the 11th century AD, Ryo and Ritsu, found in Shōmyō chanting among the Tendai and Shingon Buddhist schools, I created a series of musical works that attempt to define the oppositional tension of both the physical phenomena these scales create in the listener and the metaphysically suggestive qualities attributed to them. As they are perceived in a space that is itself an abstracted representation of something as equally present and non-existent, the Listening Garden, this tension is heightened. Named for the rivers that circumnavigate the mountain containing the monastery where these scales where first used, the Ryo and Ritsu rivers themselves are inversions of each other with one being calm and gentle while the other rushing and full of rapids. The Ryo and Ritsu scales are identical except for one note. In Shōmyō chanting, this one pivotal note evokes a plethora of physical and abstract references that involve contrary states. The duality of Yin and Yang are directly associated with the Ryo and Ritsu scales, with Ryo identified as Yin and Ritsu as Yang. One can extrapolate the vast dualities associated with these scales within the scope of Yin and Yang dichotomies to encompass the entirety of this philosophical approach, but, in working with these scales, I found myself instinctively drawn to their inherent sense of oneness. The scales do not exist alone but are inverted reflections. A coherency does not arise without an in-coherency. And while I almost exclusively compose music without any tonal restrictions, not from scales, and approach the entire spectrum of audible and inaudible frequencies as a means of shaping an instinct into a form of musical expression, finding myself "restricted" in this manner to five notes forced upon me an approach to composition I had basically abandoned. Atypically, I engaged less in the physics of sound as an approach to music creation and instead was drawn to explore the metaphysical history of these scales. In doing so, I began to associate each note with a mental state, an emotion or philosophical concept in an attempt to discover why these scales have been so codified over the course of time. The conclusions that are presented in this installation do not arrive at the same corollaries I read about in my research upon these scales and the chanting practices that utilizes them. In a sense they can easily be considered in opposition to them because of their appropriated, abstracted and transliterated genesis and my relative lack of social and cultural reference to them. Perhaps only in the exclusive use these five note scales did I touch upon their known histories. While it is neither coincidence nor without intent that these pentatonic scales and their five sole notes are considered analogous to the principles of the five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal and water) found in East Asian philosophies, that the length of the Listening Garden installation is five weeks and that I will be presenting a new piece each week over the course of the show. However, by the nature of oppositions, these musical works are an engagement that also extends beyond this context. Hear them as conversations in the Listening Garden developing between yourself, your environment and those about you.
Listening Garden (Photos by Kelly Hamilton)
Sunset Sound Performance (Photos by Tim Hsiung / Video by Teresa T. Pleman)