Sagi Baron, Juniper Procumbens Nana
The Art of Bonsai
April 3 - April 30, 2011
Curator: Sagi Baron
The Japanese word "bonsai" (盆栽) is written with two Chinese characters: 'bon' meaning tray, and ‘sai' meaning planting - i.e. ‘planting in a tray'.
'Bonsai' is not a species of miniature tree, as many tend to think, but an art form employing many varieties of trees and shrubs. These species are not mutations or plants that have undergone genetic manipulation in order to remain dwarfed in old age. Nor do they stay small due to hormones or chemicals of any kind. In fact, bonsai trees are the same trees that grow naturally, which have been collected by bonsai growers who then begin to design and cultivate them. By pruning, clipping, directing stems and branches, breeders mimic natural forces. As a result, the trees mature in structure, but remain small in size.
With proper treatment, a bonsai tree can outlive its equivalent in nature by many years. Bonsai care routines include maintaining soil quality to nourish the tree, regular watering, removing parasites, and other strategies that, apart from the artistic aspect, preserve the plant's vitality.
The art of bonsai began in courtyards of monasteries in ancient China some three thousand years ago. The monks used to collect small rocks reminding them of sacred mountains and placed them in bowls of water. These bowls were set at the corners of their personal prayer spots. This art was called 'bu-shan-lu' (magic mountain).
In the second century CE, Buddhist monks who came to China from India brought their medical knowledge with them. Among their utensils they carried bowls in which they grew herbs. These plants that remained in the bowls for extended periods began to look like stunted trees. Thus, China developed an art form, creating landscape templates and integrating the magic mountains and other medicinal plants and species of shrubs and trees. This art was called 'fenging'.
In the Kamakura period (1185-1333), Japan adopted many arts from China. Among these art forms that became part of daily life in the Japanese monasteries and among the local aristocracy were architecture, poetry, calligraphy and ‘fenging'. The art of cultivating a single tree in a flat vessel captivated the Japanese and, with time, art, and philosophy, was integrated into a symbol of harmony between man, nature and spirit. The early Japanese masters described bonsai as the essence of nature's beauty, and pursuing the art of bonsai was considered an odyssey in which man encounters aspects of the universe and the power of nature.
In the mid-19th century, after 250 years of seclusion, Japan opened its gates to the West. Japan's first visitors were impressed by the beauty of the bonsai trees and carried them across the world. After World War II the demand for bonsai trees grew in the West, and bonsai artists established plant nurseries where they grew bonsai trees commercially in order to supply the demand.
In recent years, bonsai art has become popular worldwide. People grow bonsai in order to reflect on Far Eastern philosophies, to enjoy the beauty of the living statue or the challenge of creating a tree that will win global recognition or bring a special ‘piece' of nature into their homes.
Bonsai reached Israel about forty years ago, but only in the last decade has bonsai art penetrated the public's awareness. Currently there are two bonsai clubs, dozens of independent amateurs, bonsai plant nurseries and centres for studying the art of bonsai. The trees displayed in this exhibition are the work of Israeli bonsai growers from all strata of society, some of whom are established bonsai artists and others are talented amateurs, involved in the field for only a few years.
The magic of bonsai is its embodiment of the captivating, exciting and uplifting power of nature. The bonsai, carried in a tray, is nature's ambassador to mankind. It is a constant reminder of the wonderful world in which we live, offering us a deep and lasting experience that assimilates the precious qualities and values of love, patience and compassion.