Heterotopeum

2018 solo exhibition at the National Arboretum Canberra, Australia.

Traditionally, bonsai (living tree sculptures) are exhibited in hyper-minimalistic displays within the formal Japanese display alcove, or tokonoma. The visual and symbolic minimalism of these displays, built in a discrete, delineated, and strictly-defined area, create an aesthetic and conceptual limbo – a sort of other-worldly ‘no-where space’ which charges the traditional formal Japanese bonsai display with a tremendous emotive power.

 

Heterotopium focuses on this sense of spatial and conceptual limbo, drawing a parallel with another other-worldly no-where space glimpsed only fleetingly in deep-sea photography. It builds on physical and visual similarities between elements in the bonsai medium, and marine life, to imagine a surreal underwater world inhabited by ligneous creatures.

 

Heterotopium presents this world through the mediating experience of the underwater room often seen in public aquariums – a heterotopic space where one is temporarily inserted into a parallel world, forever secluded behind sheets of glass and masses of water; infinitely fascinating, but eternally out of our reach.

 

The National Arboretum Canberra installation comprised two pieces, displayed within the aquarium context – a jellyfish tank populated with small juniper bonsai; and a photograph of a marine-scape inhabited by a ficus tree and various small creatures found in the bonsai workshop. In both pieces, compositions remain true to traditional bonsai display, and in the case of the photograph – the piece was built physically without any digital photo manipulation. The photographic medium retains its documentative nature, in presenting an actual image of an imagined world.

Installation view

Panoramic view of the 2-piece installation in the National Arboretum Canberra, with each piece displayed at the opposite end of a darkened room.

Detail

Physical composition of objects from around the bonsai studio, photographed and exhibited on a light box, without digital manipulation.

Concept art for full-scale installation.

Concept art - detail

© 2019 by Ofer Grunwald

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