The Gardener    修鍊 [su ryeon]

A study on ancient East-Asian gardens with a focus on the role of the gardener. 

A durational performance was created by using ancient scripts about East-Asian gardeners as event and performance scores. The performance included gardening, talking, writing, serving tea and dancing inside the Listening Garden installation. Los Angeles. February 2017. 


A set of three durational performances were created inside the Listening Garden installation at the Show+Tell Projects. 

Each performance lasted around 8 hours during regular gallery hours and investigated my role as a gardener, friend, curator, facilitator and collaborator at and for the Listening Garden.


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 group exhibition 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 ‘curatorial’ 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 build but ‘curates’ a garden, nurturing the things that were already given to us by nature. The concept of the heaven(天) encompasses all energy that is intangible. The sound installation by Greg Lenczycki, sounds of people moving, breathing and talking inside the garden, even the sounds of the plants that will grow and fade throughout the 5 week exhibition period - all of this belongs to the intangible spectrum (氣의 無形적 상태) of the Listening Garden. On the other hand, the concept of the earth (地) encompasses all energy that is tangible. Grace Eunchong Lee’s Seek Ceramic vessels, Kiyomi Fukui’s embroidered mushrooms and Shea Vititow’s paintings belong to the tangible spectrum (氣의 基形적 상태) of the garden. However the artworks inherent values, hopes and dreams are being located in this garden in the form of intangible energy.

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. 

natalie mik gardener peformance