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Chinese Gardens VIII (Seven Stars Park, Guilin).                  




The Seven Stars Park, Qi xing gong yuan, in Guilin, Guangshi Province (a part of South China famous for its landscapes as for their impact on art) can be dated back to the Sui dynasty.


Morning. Misty, grey and green-blue, a contemplative mood. Few people, only slightly more of the landscape; a lack of over-view, no long view, of the famous landscape, desire of the visitor. Who must be consoled with their own inner vision; the effect of interiority brought about by limited vision and in a space known for its vision. A personal experience. Almost private (there are a few other visitors occasionally lurching into vision out of the morning mists). Spurred on by fleeting glimpses of gorges and pinnacles, rivers and pools.


Everything in miniature. Trees, become shrubs; become floating gardens; become Bonsai in pots. Mountains, on a park scale, a miniaturised landscape, right down to models (reframed) in pots, themselves containing figures, houses, people. Lakes, become pools, replete with miniature waterfalls and islands – and then these are again repeated in large pots or as sculptures. Rocks surrounded by water, complete with miniature trees... All reformed in miniature. And all formalised in the process; all enacting, performing the transformation of nature into culture, with nature itself tamed to human, yet also spiritual ends and proportions (super nature as a cultural construct designed to support itself, denying its cultural contingency). All reproduced... a representation of nature, and therefore tamed...  All enframed in a background of reduced mountains, tamed, which form the park, which frame the park (like western statues). But which also are framed by the park, by its borders - as if framed in pictures, those further reproductions and stylisations of landscape, themselves framed by the institutional space of the art gallery.


(Like a field of pots the: mise en abime effect of the final repetition that is the Bonsai tradition; miniature trees and mountains. Often found within parks ((a park within a park)) a miniaturisation within a miniaturisation...).


Everything curves and winds. There are no straight lines. No grand alleys, no angles, no avenues, nor climaxes, a culmination in a figure or statue... Long viewpoints are all rising, therefore, no broad vistas, only a natural curving hypsosis (slow rise of eyes to the sky). No tunnels (or tunnelled vision, although, at the base of the 'mountains', there are plenty of caves....). Perspectival lines of sight are not quadrated, not extended, not mapping, then, but seeking, in a performance of enlightenment, of the path to enlightenment, a ritual experience. Vision rises to site of geographic feature, strong sense of place, to pavilion, to temple, site of beauty, site of vision....


The repeated trope of euphemism. Culture-making, taming, a reduction in scale, as in terror, in awe-making, in the quality of the sublime... the sublime borrowed, repeated by Beauty. Itself evoked by the trope of meiosis, where all is reduced (opposite to hyperbole, the guiding trope of temples where giant Buddhas and other colossal Others lurk amid the smoke of incense and the chanting of prayers). Everywhere there is the repeated trope of making smaller, that is, of making tame (of making euphemistic) of making (sic) culture (as making is culture). Again, the very opposite of the inflation that is making the super nature of the temple Buddhas and other deities of the Buddhist and Daoist pantheon as of their representation in the art that these have produced. Making culture; making new and extra meaning by these operations. Making bigger; meaning more… evoking the (status of the) immortals. Making smaller: making mean more… evoking paradise (bringing it down to earth) evoking paradise by building paradise on earth.


In the afternoon the sun breaks through... and someone turns on the fountains and waterfalls! People accumulate; all sparkles. A playful public atmosphere now predominates - but still one mindful of a certain degree of respect and admiration.





                                                            Copyright 2005 Peter Nesteruk