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 Post subject: The creator speaks...
PostPosted: Wed Apr 20, 2005 8:38 pm 
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In a private email, Nick sent some thoughts about this composition and invited me to post them here. These are his words:

The Hideous and Horrid Azalea augmented slightly by Nick Lenz
Once upon a time there was a girl named Mary. When the government released her from the WWII concentration camp for evil-doing Japs, she moved north. She also went to Japan to study with ?old man? Murata. He told her that the secret to bonsai refinement lay in planting bonsai in sieved dust. In Seattle, she founded the first bonsai study group which, in time, became their vicarious bonsai club. But in much time. She also started this unsuitable azalea species for reasons unknown.

I first met Mary 33 years ago. She was a small and demure woman of exceptional beauty, with arthritis. I do not remember this particular azalea bush from my friendship with her, which was limited because her husband, a university professor with a strong association with Hokaido, disapproved of me for class reasons ? I had shunned my PhD.

In time, the arthritis killed her, choking off her breath. I had not been in communication for years because my wife lost half her brain. Months after her demise, the professor called me to ask if I wanted something. I did. It was the azalea that had been planted in the ground years before because the unfortunate woman could not cope with it.

The base was the only attractive thing about it. The species culture would later become a vile burden.

The poor plant existed in mud. It took 2 years to relieve this. In the ground, it had sprouted 4 perfectly radiated giant suckers now identified as evil eyes. I had no compunction in carving and hollowing them as such because I had no faith at all in the potential of the plant.

Many years followed with heavy duty re-bar and grab wires to try to bring the existing elements into something bonsai like. The pruning scars of the plant healed surprisingly quickly, even without a Preparation H equivalent. Thus, I had not needed to carve sinister faces about the four quarters of the Cross. It just happened because I thought the plant was junk.

I decided to rid myself of it for several reasons:
1. It was ugly and I would never be able to refine this awkward species, as I wanted.

2. The growth habit was abominable. This ever-so-cute azalea grows in the following fashion. The bud pops and out comes a shoot, in totally unpredictable direction. If it is weak, it is short, not much over 3 cm. If it is vigorous, the shoot will be 10-14 cm (not good). Only the most vigorous shoots produce budding nodes. But if you cut the shoot down to them, it just dies (the shoot). The azalea blooms on none but the most vigorous shoots, with a 9cm blossom of a color that would make a retired Flarida matron with tinted hair puke. And the flower is 6 cm! The leaves are large, come out very early, and die immediately with the slightest hint of frost. Very bad material.

3. Winter sucks. This azalea didn?t like it at all. I am a half a climate zone away from Mary. No one wishes her labor to be destroyed by the winter. North Leverett is not Seattle.

Thus came the plot to rid myself of a plant I could never bring to the quality of my usual lot. I selected a victim with greenhouse capability, the most charming and American/European I know, to posses it, and conned her into it. As presented online, the tree is a couple of years away from my constant refining and therefore should not reflect upon my ability to create (natural) branch chaos, which I never do.

Someone said that Boon thought the smaller tree would make a great shohin, which my eye followed year after year. Considering the growth habit of this course bush, this would be even more frustrating. Thus, impossible. The growth habit is much too coarse.

And this is exactly what shows in the photograph the chaos which is the will of the species and not the owner.

So you see, dear reader, that you have expounded sound and fury over a plant that never should have been intended as bonsai. The world is like this.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Apr 21, 2005 11:07 am 
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Wonderful story.
Thanks for sharing with us.
It's funny how we assume that the plant would do whatever we require from it.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Apr 21, 2005 12:22 pm 
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Location: Michigan USA
Candy,
Could you show Nick how to log on here? (smiley)
Please relay this short message to him for me, if you would.
Nick,
It would seem that this Azalea has become more than the sum of it's parts. Any plant in a pot that creates the kind of deep discussion and thought that this one has, is indeed art, is indeed bonsai. Please create more that are too impossible to intend to be bonsai.
Will


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Sat Apr 23, 2005 4:38 am 
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Will Heath wrote:
Any plant in a pot that creates the kind of deep discussion and thought that this one has, is indeed art, is indeed bonsai.

Good grief!!
Just because a bunch of incompetents don't mind wasting their time discussing this abomination in terms of bonsai doesn't make it bonsai.
Art?
Maybe.
If you set your sights low enough.
I am glad to discover that Nick and I see eye to eye on this. If youse guys insist on drooling over this piece of ...., I can just imagine what your own trees look like.
I think it would be useful to create a gallery where every participant has to post at least one of his / her bonsai creations before he / she can contribute to the discussion. Establish credibility, in other words.
When I read our 'learned' contributors' effusions, I am impressed indeed. But as long as I don't see deeds to match their lofty words, I really can't take them seriously.
Hic Rhodos, hic salta!
I am from Ontario.
Show me! ;-)
I'll be impressed more by what you can do than by what you can yak.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Apr 23, 2005 11:13 am 
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Location: Michigan USA
Reiner Goebel wrote:
I think it would be useful to create a gallery where every participant has to post at least one of his / her bonsai creations before he / she can contribute to the discussion. Establish credibility, in other words.

You're absolutely right, since I haven't posted any pictures, I should not be saying a thing. After all, who am I, what do I know....
Should I also remove the articles that I have contributed?
On the other hand, I failed to find any pictures of your trees in the gallery either, did you just disqualify yourself from making comments, Reiner?

Reiner Goebel...When I have seen that name in the past, I often associated it with quality bonsai, now I am afraid I am stuck associating it with an arrogant, egotistical, rude jerk who's only redeeming grace is some talent he possesses, another icon squashed.

For the record, I still think Nick's tree has a beauty and a grace that goes beyound the mere placement of the branches, in spite of what has been said. If that makes my efforts, my thoughts, my dog, my friends, my efforts helping to build this forum and my bonsai crap, then so be it. I'd still be proud to have that piece of "crap" on my bench, the story behind it alone makes it worthwhile, in fact the story increases the value. And yes, I still say it's art.

Thank you for the insults and for the education,
incompetently yours,

Will


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Sat Apr 23, 2005 1:14 pm 
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Reiner Goebel wrote:
Just because a bunch of incompetents don't mind wasting their time discussing this abomination in terms of bonsai doesn't make it bonsai.
I'll be impressed more by what you can do than by what you can yak.


Reiner,
Calling the participants of this thread "incompetents" and "yakking" is very insulting to us.

One of the conditions in participating on this forum is to respect others, not to mention refraining from insults.

In this light, please rethink your purpose of participating on this forum. Adopting your style would hinder any constructive communication in these discussions.

P.S.: Your suggestion of "establishing credibility" has nothing to do with the purpose of this forum. It has to do with your ego and desire to reject ideas that are outside your confort zone.

The editors of this forum don't need to prove anything to anybody. This is not a pissing contest as to who can post better trees. We simply want to promote open discussion between people who believe that bonsai is an artform that transcends borders and cultures.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Apr 23, 2005 11:21 pm 
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Quote:
Reiner Goebel...When I have seen that name in the past, I often associated it with quality bonsai, now I am afraid I am stuck associating it with an arrogant, egotistical, rude jerk who's only redeeming grace is some talent he possesses, another icon squashed.

Will, I believe you are being counterproductive as well by saying comments such as these. There is no need for name calling from you or Reiner.

I believe Reiner either failed to recognize the sarcasm in Nick's message, or he himself was using sarcasm. However, from his past posts, I doubt that it was the latter.

Candy, please thank Nick for his amusing story behind this tree. I enjoyed it greatly.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Apr 27, 2005 4:05 am 
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Location: Basel, Switzerland
Now this was a good lesson about eristic!

I do not know whether a little book from the german philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer exists in english, too. If so, the title would be "Eristic Dialectics or how to be right in the end of a discussion". It is a remarkable booklet listing some three dozen eristic tricks. Trick No. 8: Make your opponent angry. He will then loose his advantage out of sight and be confused. To make him angry, say obviously wrong things and behave impertinent. It works, as we have just learned.

However, the topic was the hideous tree itself and the art discussion in general. Now we know how the tree grew to be what it is today. The story is finely written. We feel the designer's sympathy for the tree, that somehow grew with the tree. Actually, the story is kind of a love story, isn't it?

The world is like this the author writes. Why not go a step further and say art happens? An ugly dwarf tree so appealing that you just keep working on it. As time goes by you give up hope and take it from your official list of good bonsai. But you keep it and continue work. Some day it is - something. You do not dare to name it, since you feel puzzled yourself but you know for sure it is something.

And this tree definitely is something! My son, eleven years old, reacts on traditional japanese trees in a rather polite way. He respects what I respect, hardly more. This tree was different: He grabbed for the color copy on my desk, laugehd and pointed out the tree's face. Later that day he pulled me towards my backyard and showed me, on which of my trees he would like me to drill holes... So the tree is a good ambassador for the idea of bonsai in its way. This tree did (without a word) what I have not done in years. Congratulations!

Maybe this is, what this tree is: An extreme position, a borderliner. It has been mentioned already - the proportions are critical, the antropomorph design is critical, the boldness is critical. But the picture made us think, write, even fight. When you see art not only as treasure in a museum but as a starter for al kind of reflections, this is a very effective piece of art.
Oh - I almost forgot: I would not want to stand with a masterpiece in front of a grand jury, as Reiner Goebel suggests. First I would have to wait some boring years and second this suggestion seems strange to me. With any art form you will finde those who like to do it, those who know how to do it, those who just like it and those who mediate it. For some years I have written music critics. Some day, I had the opportunity to talk to Svjatoslav Richter who gave one of his last concerts in our town. When I asked him, what the position of a critic is in his eyes, he answered: ?When I play, you have something to write. When you write, people will come again - and you too. So we both have a pleasant job?. Reiner - lets make a pleasant job!


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Apr 27, 2005 7:54 am 
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Andrew,
A wonderful set of comments! You're right - Nick's words are a sort of love story, intentionally so or otherwise, just as this tree strikes me as maleficent, whatever the artists' intention. The tree works as art, because it moves people, as it did me. Though this seems to have caused some confusion, initial comments aimed to puzzle out why - not to critique the tree within the neoclassical bonsai tradition or to speculate as to the artists' intentions.

I find the story about your son to be particularly interesting. My daughter is much younger, but already taking an interest in my trees. I will show her this picture and see how she responds.
With my best regards,
Carl


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Jan 22, 2006 9:56 pm 
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I have a problem with the word critique, mostly because I am not sure I have the right to critique anyone. Secondly I do not have a problem with a tree portraying a sense of malice or malevolence. If you assume that there is good in life you must also accept that there is evil or the un-good.

However on this effort the tree does not quite measure up to it implied meanness, it is not ominous enough. Those of you that live in North California have probably taken notice of the wonderfully twisted branches of the White Oaks when without leaves.

The great branches reaching skyward all knurled and twisted like giant snakes with twisted fingers. This tree needs to have fingers and hands that seem to threaten and reach for the unsuspecting victim. It needs to be twisted in its branches as it appears to be in its heart. Does any of this make sense?


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Mon Jan 23, 2006 12:54 am 
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Vance Wood wrote:
I have a problem with the word critique, mostly because I am not sure I have the right to critique anyone.

May I suggest that you revisit my earlier post about the role of a critic and purpose of critique? I think you have every right to critique in this sense. (And I think you have every right to do so even in the sense of "criticize.")

Quote:
Secondly I do not have a problem with a tree portraying a sence of malace or malevolence. If you assume that there is good in life you must also accept that there is evil or the un-good.
However on this effort the tree does not quite measure up to it implied meaness, it is not ominous enough. Those of you that live in North California have probably taken notice of the wonderfully twisted branches of the White Oaks when without leaves.
The great branches reaching skyward all knarled and twisted like giant snakes with twisted fingers. This tree needs to have fingers and hands that seem to threaten and reach for the unsupecting victim. It needs to be twisted in its branches as it appears to be in its heart. Does any of this make sense?

That makes a lot of sense --- and it's a very useful critique.
Best regards,
Carl


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Jan 23, 2006 2:52 am 
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At the risk of anthropomorphising even more than others seem to have, this tree would be far more ominous and foreboding if it were preternaturally green and vigorous... The bonsai equivalent of Kudzu, if you will.

To me the tree merely looks as though it's trapped and scared. Rather than maleficent I would suggest it looks rather beset.

I can, in view of what Nick has written about it, understand that his attitude to the tree is the most maleficent thing about the whole story.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Apr 14, 2006 4:25 am 
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Quote:
With this tree, Lenz and Shirey have deployed a set of technical and artistic conventions to capture the archetype of tree as haunted and evil forest spirit. Clearly this archetype is not missing from the bonsai canon due to technical impossibility. Then why is it so rare? Is the evil tree archetype absent from Japanese mythology and cultural consciousness? Is the art of bonsai intended to express and explore more favorable sentiments? Or are bonsai artists simply so enamoured of trees as living entities that they tend to overlook this one rather negative archetype, in favor of the other positive symbolic roles that trees play in our collective consciousness?


First, thank you for posting this thought provoking article, Carl. I have a particular desire (ok, compulsion) to create "spooky" bonsai and haunted forests to complement the tranquil trees in my bonsai collection, based on my love of horror stories and movies. Recall, in addition to the tree of Sleepy Hollow, that tree outside the window in Poltergeist or even the shlock movie "Trees" and the forest in the Blair Witch Project.

While the Japanese fairy tale, "The Wind in the Pine Tree" describes the place in which stands the Pine Tree as "holy and haunted", this does not appear to be an evil haunting. Beyond that, I must defer to others more acquainted with Japanese literature and folk lore.

It is clear from the very polar responses in this thread why such styling is not more common in bonsai; to the point people have even argued they are not bonsai. I agree with those who would include such stylings.

I would be very interested in a deeper discussion about the technical and artistic aspects that could be employed to achieve malevolent, sinister tree-archetypes less ambiguously, as some have had remarkably differing responses to this example tree; and as told above, it was not the intention of the bonsaist. It may not be technically impossible, however I think creating sinister bonsai has not been widely discussed, detailed or even perhaps defined.

Summing up, "What makes a tree scary?" and how can this be achieved well in bonsai? For example, can this be achieved without anthropomorphising the tree? Does it require "messiness" of branch structure? I would posit that remarkable workmanship would be required to achieve the quintessential "spooky" bonsai. :)


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Fri Apr 14, 2006 11:42 am 
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Shane McKenzie wrote:
... can this be achieved without anthropomorphising the tree? Does it require "messiness" of branch structure?


Anthropomorphising...that was my first thought even before reaching the part of your post mentioning this. I think that's the necessary factor in achieving the evil look.

It can also evoke not strictly human creatures, anything that is monster-like in some way, but that is just another way of antromorphism.
Nature is only scary when it reminds us of something scary. And, in order to be scary, it has to look intelligent - because only intelligent beings can do evil on purpose. And earthquake or a tornado can scare us, but it is not haunting and unsettling until we start sensing an intelligent being behind it.

There is another theme that can make an arrangement scary: suggesting the proximity of death and destruction. Broken limbs, charred or stripped branches, suggesting enormous struggle and suffering, can be haunting. This can probably be achieved without anthromorphism, but it is always more powerful if we manage to slip a little bit of that into the picture.
The use of accessories can be very effective in this regard: a pair of broken eyeglasses strategically placed can go a long way to add an eerie spin to the story.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Apr 26, 2006 9:50 pm 
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I had to chuckle after reading Nick Lenz's story. It's a fun story but to fully understand what was said would require an analysis of Faustian proportions. What to believe and not believe, if any of it! Maybe the maleficient tree needs Mephistopheles leading us around tempting and explaining then again maybe the creator is playing Mephistopheles.


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