The Japanese art of ikebana sculpts space and time.
Thursday, May 16, 2002
Photographer: Beverly Corbett
Photo: Out of Thin Air: Beverly Corbett''s arrangement makes use of the white space around the roses and bare branches she found on the beach. "I looked down, and it was just perfect," she says.
Japanese culture places a strong emphasis on the ephemeral aspects of beauty. What is precious is often what is fleeting, and the very brief nature of things like cherry blossoms on a tree is part of what makes them so beautiful.
In that vein, the Monterey Bay Chapter of Ikebana International presents a one-day showing of members'' unique flower sculptures at the La Mirada Museum this Saturday. Ikebana sculptures will take their places beside more conventional three-dimensional art, giving a perspective of seriousness to what, at a glance from the uninformed, would be described as flower arrangement.
Ikebana, however, is a beautiful and long-cultivated art of living sculpture that has its origins in Zen Buddhism. It emphasizes the use of space, on not filling each available spot with flowers but allowing form to take place and nudging lines and curves to follow one another. Unlike western flower arrangement, which is often just bunches of flowers stuffed into a vase, spilling over into beautiful fullness, ikebana elevates the value of sparseness to that of abundance. In ikebana, the emptiness is just as important as the flowers themselves.
"You don''t want to fill the container," says chapter member Swati Mehta. "There must be a balance of space. Don''t use all of it."
Ikebana International''s motto is "Friendship through flowers," and in talking with three of the members of the Monterey Peninsula chapter, the kinship between them is obvious. International conferences spawn lifelong bonds between members of many different backgrounds, simply because those who do ikebana share an esthetic. It''s a philosophical practice as well as a beautiful art, a discipline that requires much training and practice.
There are many different schools of ikebana, three of which will be featured at this show: Sogetsu, Ohara and Ikenobo. Four instructors will give demonstrations of these three disciplines and answer questions between 10am and 6pm. While the different disciplines of ikebana are rather structured, one can move away from the constraints and guidelines of her training as soon as she has gained enough experience. Chapter president Beverly Corbett says, "Everyone is really eager to start improvising."
Both an art form and a spiritual practice, ikebana was introduced in Japan by Chinese monks and adopted into the home over 600 years ago. By the mid-1500s, it had achieved an artistic status separate from its religious roots. There are over 250 Ikebana International chapters in existence all over the world, from Paraguay to South Africa to Australia and the U.S., as well as Asia.
Rather than using whole bunches of vegetation, ikebana practitioners pick grasses, flowers and mosses individually for what they can lend to a sculpture, then carefully place them throughout, maintaining a harmonious balance between absence and filler. "Each flower gets a place of honor," explains Mehta. While many chapter members on the Peninsula go to the street fairs and farmers markets for their flowers, Betty Jetter has a garden designed especially for the cultivation of plants to be used in ikebana.
Jetter got into ikebana during her residence in Japan. She had already nurtured a lifelong interest in arranging flowers, and discovered she greatly enjoyed her ikebana classes in Japan, seeing the art form as a "lifelong learning experience." Upon moving back to the U.S., she discovered the Monterey Chapter and is an active member of it, even going back to Japan for the international conference. She describes the friends she made in that short time as people she felt a real bond with, even though their time together was brief.
One doesn''t have to look far and wide for inspiration and materials to practice ikebana. Plants that naturally grow in ordinary backyards serve admirably; pine boughs and daisies are just as valid choices as reeds and roses. The variety of form that ikebana takes on is also striking. Designs are individual to both the artists and the materials used. Unlike clay, flowers can''t be molded perfectly into shape. An artist must work with their forms and complement each component of a sculpture with its fellows. Containers vary from low and shallow to tall and long-really, the only limits on what one can do with ikebana lie in the imagination. Arrangements vary from the simple to the very complicated, but the ideas of harmony and synergy are always of uppermost importance.
Best about ikebana is its transience, the way it makes one embrace things while they are here. In a world where there is not a great emphasis on living in the moment, these flower sculptures remind us to pay attention to today, for this too shall pass.
Ikebana sculptures show on Saturday at La Mirada Museum, 720 Via Mirada, Monterey.