#21: Seized up in Beauty

Bonzai in his Memory

     The Bonzai’d tree is as wearisome as it is lovely. As romantic as the word seems, bonsai, in Japanese, means nothing more exalted than “planted in a container.” Considering that the bonzai practice—born over a thousand years ago in China and brought to fruition by Japanese Buddhists—is essentially an art of exquisite curtailment, one feels a certain ambivalence about it.  Despite the undeniable allure of the miniature (“The arrested  life of the miniature object,” writes Susan Stewart in her book, On Longing, “places it within a still context of infinite detail”) it’s hard to rise above the idea of the bonsai plant’s having been imprisoned—albeit charmingly.  My first impulse, on encountering a bonsai tree, is to want to give it its freedom.  The left panel of Lee Ka-sing’s stunning two-panel bonsai photo seems to offer some wild, nature-brut alternative (salmon-pink sky, viridian tree) to the bonsai tree in solitary confinement at the right.  Perhaps one photo is the memory of the other.  But which is musing upon which?