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Chinese Gardens VII (Pavilions)                                




The pavilion, playing the role in the Chinese garden often played in the gardens and parks of the West by summerhouses, gazeboes, and ruins; shelter, rest, focal point and feature - mutatis mutandis.


Pavilions, set apart like a scattering of many-faceted jewels, set in green velvet. A constellation of stars in the green night. Or connected to other dwellings, to each other, by an intricate spider’s web of covered walkways,


Inside. From inside. Shelter from sun, rain and snow – and simultaneously the means of enjoying these elements. A place to listen to the rain. To inhale the perfume of the rain-washed flowers at night. To capture and enjoy whatever sensory aspect of Nature it is we value. Without being stung by the elements.


Focal point. Object. A place that frames -that enframes- the views all around. A repetition and reconfirmation of our inner screen; our image making and (recording) apparatus. Remaking itself out of matter, the better to record matter. The frames of the pavilion as viewpoint are a repetition of the eye and its zoning, its conferral of value, its geometric preferences, its projected parts (its repertoire, the repertoire of the eye: up/down, left/right, centre/margin, the grounds, light and dark, direction of light and shadow). No longer the measure of objective space, but felt place, subjective and giving back value. The inset gemstone of the pavilion makes of Nature an intricate sculpture of precious metals; as if the green and grey of stone and leaf had momentarily become the silver and gold of an otherworldly paradise. A paradise itself conceived as if wrought from our most precious metals and their role in object and identity exchange (gold coins and golden crowns). Much is invested indeed in the making of gardens. Making gardens into art, the work of art, Art’s work. Training the eye for looking at painting, for making painting, for constituting the world of the image as reproduction. Extending the natural zones and encultured aspects of vision, of the received map of the eye, extending them across the entirety of our field of vision.


Focal point. Subject. And the encircling frames isolate the sitter. As the encircling frames the self. Enframes the self…as the panoptic centre of these encircling frames. A performance, repetition, representation, of self as centre. As centre of our experience, origin our being, of our being present to ourselves… the frame of our ego, its hot house (it is a weak flower) or conservatory of the soul…a making solid of the self, its coherence in a network of views, a crystallisation of a fussy matrix made up of pulses, moments of awareness, and their ordering in time. Each frame materialised in the enframed views of the pavilion from the interior, each frame, each delineated view a reminder of our position as the recording angel, present and storing, images which becomes framed in art an photography, become a benchmark of the visual as value, its transformation as into such… Images that become the definition of the past: and so the redefinition of the future, and in the future, recycled in expectation, called up to fill the temporal vacuum, uprooted from their resting place, like ghosts reconjured, to do service in the uncharted realms of the future. A spirit projection made up of past frames, old photographs, faded prints and idealised memories (idealised because framed…). Each frame not only originating in, but also originating; originating the present. Redoubled in its irrevocable immediacy by the presence of the frame. Gift of the present. The present of the frame.


In both directions. Meeting place of the inward and the outward. The winds that blow across the membrane of the self as it sits gazing outwards…  The unstable nature of the self and - seated as it is before its stabilising visual object - the stable Nature of the Garden.


Outside. From outside. The focal point, leader of the eye, jewel in the garden; contrast of culture and nature. The compromise of Art. The Art of the Garden. The pavilion as the figure in the garden. A knot of exterior origin (even if the rest of the garden is equally artificial and only a mimesis of nature, here it has found a willing compatriot). Placed there, the pavilion does not even try to mimic nature (not even as the narrow stems of trees and their sheltering branches, its columns, lintels and eves). Beyond mimesis the pavilion enacts layers of function in the clothing and forms of art, the human art of architecture. The pavilion: carefully coded for its place in the garden, for place, performed as such, marked out as such.  Fitting in with and completing the task of Nature. But also coded for period, for style (is it a Tang, or a Qing pavilion)? Product of a long co-evolution; with style, epoch, dynasty. And the parallel evolution of the Garden itself; from the Tang to the Song (and in the South, the Southern Song) to the Ming and so on to the Qing dynasties. (In pavilions in the use of double eaves, usually of Qing provenance but perhaps evoking the vanished architecture of the Spring and Autumn, or Warring States periods, in the use of the Song juzhe or ‘raising and depression’ introducing a curve to soften the straight gable roof, and the shengqi, the raising of the eaves ends at the corners as compared with the straight roofs of wooden architecture in the Ming and Qing epochs, sometimes with expensive carvings and bright colours, and, in the South, fire-blocking gables used for artistic effect. In Gardens, the opposition of North and South, and Imperial and Scholar forms…)


Yet, like a path that takes us to a place we already thought we knew well, the reconfirmation of the self implicit in the panoptic prism of the pavilion also leads to yet another version of our identity, of our familiar obsession (our favourite game).


And where there is identity there is rituality. And time is the spring with which rituality is wound. In our time a little bit other, a little bit of other time… to set our time. As if from without. Set by the watchmaker’s hand. A clock set (as if) from without; set to run, to identify the time, our time, into the future.


The pavilion as ritual moment. Parallels in ritual. Parallel rituals of the garden. Enter. Experience the inside, then leave. Exchanging exterior everyday time for a special time - felt partly to be out of time- at least by its being defined against everyday time, which is then sought on return. Parallel again with the entrance, siting within, and leaving of the pavilion. A box within a box, frame within a frame. And therefore a further intensification of the experience involved, further refinements of temporal effects… more contemplative, nearer to the dream world, in aspect nearer to the heavens, in the emptying out of the self, touching Nirvana. All in all making up a linear, even narrative sequence, outside and back again, replete with the semantics of narrative as renewal (showing narrative as ritual, the ritual aspect of narrative). Then the return as continuation, where we left off… The World returned.


Repetition of frames and stages involves evocation; convokes an increase in intensity. As in hyperbole and meiosis in statuary and in gardening, a simple quantitative trope yields magnified effects on the symbolic level of our perception (its second meaning, the quality it produces). On all accounts this involving invokes forms of sacrality. Forms of temporality, become elevated in the presence of a special form of matter (that which interfaces with the immaterial or otherworldly, its site of convocation). Not so much by invoking past and future, through the symbolic potential of their outer horizons and beyond, and so accessing the semantics of eternity, but more directly through the ever-present portal of the eternal present, the (illusion of the) eternal in the present. Our sense of always being there, our persistence. Persistence of the impossibility of a first hand experience of our death, of our absence to ourselves. Magnified.


 Do we have here an interesting example of non-periodic rituality (visits not linked to ritual cycles)? Or is it rather a question of being a part of the ritual fabric of life, as a visit will typically occur at certain times, on certain days, parts of the week, at the onset and end, the climatic and botanical highlights of the seasons. A part of everyday rituality; a less public periodicity as opposed to the grand temporal markers of public festivals.





Copyright 2005 Peter Nesteruk