by Kathleen Linn

The early Greek philosopher Pythagoras is widely seen within Western thought as the first to postulate a concept of the Cosmos. The Cosmos sits in opposition to Chaos, forming order in our universe. This compression of the elements of the universe into something more fathomable has fascinated artists, scholars and musicians over hundreds of years and across different cultures and geographical areas. 

The garden can be seen as an ordered form that sits in opposition to wild, disordered or untended landscapes. It, too, forms a compression of a much larger universe into something comprehensible. The physical space of the garden has fulfilled various functions, in the West it has served early religious and devotional roles. The strict, formal gardens of Western Europe attest to royal importance and the will to bend nature to fit human desires. Images of gardens have been used across the world to illustrate metaphysical wonderings and to assist us to conceptualise our world.

Chinese and Japanese gardens allow for meandering paths, a harmony with natural shapes and the discovery of hidden views; they have long held significance as places of reflection, meditation and a space for sharing and discussing ideas. Historically, the garden in China has been an important meeting place for painters, poets and calligraphers. These groups of gentlemen scholars, often referred to as the Literati, would view each other’s work while savouring cups of tea in the garden. This can be seen as forming perhaps one of the earliest examples of creative and artistic exchange and sharing.

Johnson Chang, a curator and co-founder of the Asian Art Archive in Hong Kong, has proposed the model of the Chinese garden as a curatorial approach, drawing upon its history of sharing and artistic exchange. He has called this mode of display the Yellow Box, it forms an alternative to the western conventions of the White Cube and suggests a form of display, audience interaction and notions of creativity that attempt to bridge the cultural divide.

For Cindy Yuen-Zhe Chen and Kristel Smits aspects of Chinese and Japanese gardens have provided a source of inspiration as well as a conceptual path of enquiry in their work. Miniature Cosmos intends to delve a little deeper into this and other aspects of these two emerging artists’ practices.

Kristel Smits’ mixed-media works on paper draw on childhood experiences and personal interpretations of place. Her work in Miniature Cosmos is inspired by visits to Japanese gardens, both in the Sydney suburb of Auburn and in the Netherlands. The Sydney inspired works are primarily rendered in sepia tones and hint at old photographs. They are strongly evocative of memory, possessing a mysterious, dream-like quality. Through a delicate and meticulous working process, that she has been developing since 2007, a softness and gentle interplay of fine line and shadow is created.

Smits’ second series of highly coloured works draws on a recent trip to the Netherlands and a fortuitous visit to a Japanese garden in The Hague. Smits has commented that she was “struck by the intoxicating magic of the autumnal gardens and its strong contradiction to the vertical grandeur of the Dutch woodland backdrop.” For this series Smits has taken inspiration from botanical studies to create detailed renderings of individual plants and carefully chosen and edited garden views. Smits proposes the garden to be the original artwork and the gardener an artist. Her drawings will be exhibited alongside bonsai specimens, adding to the depth perceptions within her work.

In Japan, Zen gardens with their immaculate raked pebbles provide a place for meditation and contemplation. They are intended as places for the cultivation of spaces of the mind, perhaps somewhere that the chaos and disorder of the world can be stripped away.

For Miniature Cosmos, Cindy Yuen-Zhe Chen is showing a new series of drawings called A drawn out moment - 5:55AM. Taking Japanese ink on Chinese paper as her working medium, Chen has created an installation of hanging drawings that reflect on a dawn duet by two birds, heard by the artist on the threshold of consciousness. These drawings form a visual response to an aural event and further Chen’s exploration of the inner line of things that have no form. Her drawings can be understood as an abstracted form of musical graphic notation. For this show Chen has included the addition of pebbles on the gallery floor - through the crunching sound of the viewer’s own footsteps their sense of emplacement and awareness of their body’s movement between the artworks is enhanced. The installation of Chen’s drawings in the gallery space encourages viewers to stroll amongst her works. 

For the opening night of the show Chen will embark on creating her first performance piece based on her drawings. Titled Modulation 1, Chen, along with performance artists Kate Brown and Alison Bennett, will explore the process of creative exchange and the modulation of a drawing into a musical piece, returning Chen’s work once again to the aural realm.