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Current time:0:00Total duration:8:50

Master of the (Fishing) Nets Garden

Video transcript

[Music] we've walked through a warren of back alleys to find the entranceway to what was once a private garden in the city of Sioux Joe known as the master of the fishing nets the name was inspired by this idyllic life of a fisherman that name came later came in the 18th century but the site itself dates to the 12th century back to the southern Song Dynasty but this is a garden that has been continuously reworked over the years now we should say that a contemplative Chinese garden is not what we think of in the West when we think of the formal gardens of their size for example or the lush overgrown gardens of the manor houses in England this is completely man-made this was a place where people lived it's an estate the modern city of Sue Joe has more than 50 surviving gardens in part because this area has always been an important place of Commerce and great wealth but also because it is steeped historically in highly intellectual culture sue Jo was known as the ancient region of Wu this idea of Suzhou as a Grand Canal city was also very important it was a place that was in between networks of trade and the city profited over the years and still even today is one of the prominent economic cities in China the Grand Canal links north and south and was one of the great engineering feats of ancient China and through the Ming Dynasty it was still a bustling center for trade a very cosmopolitan city so the idea of a garden within a metropolis is a place of respite it's a place of contemplation it's a place into which one can retreat to call it a garden it's hard to see that in the first few steps you see built spaces walls and buildings glimpses of courtyards along either side it's important to understand that the garden is in fact fully constructed there is nothing natural here everything is planned everything is purposeful as we enter into the garden we move through a series of halls that is small buildings punctuated by even smaller courtyards creating a rhythm of in closed open enclosed spaces we progress through these different structures their reception halls we get glimpses of the natural world as its drawn in through windows and doors we've just walked northward through a series of buildings in a series of courtyards and we've entered into our first really open space it's this beautiful interior court that is paved with a begonia pattern and then there are small islands in the corner of rocks of plantings and when you look at the bamboo for example having looked at so many Chinese ink paintings when I look at these leaves I almost see the individual strokes of the paintbrush they draw you back to the rocks these vertical stone slabs these are bamboo rocks fake look like stalks of bamboo following your eye down to a cluster of long leaves of grass that seem to echo that verticality and then we have these wonderful grottoes these rocks that are perforated pierced with all these wonderful hooks that are incredibly complicated they've been carved naturally by the water in Lake Tai but have been enhanced by the hand of the men who constructed this garden we have texts on constructing gardens that date to the 17th century this idea of crafting a garden how many groupings how many rocks which way they should lay all of this was laid out very carefully so this idea that a garden is a natural place is not quite right this is a distillation of the qualities of nature that have been made more potent very much the way that a painting will pick and choose elements of nature to create a specific kind of composition and in fact when we look at some of the plantings against this beautiful dirty white wall with its cracks we get a sense of the two dimensionality of Chinese landscape painting it's a really a presentation of contrasts it allows you to see these variations there are so many contemplatively seasons in the foliage but then you also have a sense of the Eternity suggested by the great age of the rocks that are here this is rock that has been sculpted by water over eons that things change but at different scales of time he's very old rocks and these very young tender branches of bamboo then the garden look entirely different from wheat week in month the month of every year we've moved into the northern part of the carton which is associated with intellectual pursuits and in fact we're in the five peaks library so first we've gone from this area that's very public to now at the very private area at the very contemplative realm of the garden we see windows that open to big views of stone Gardens rockery and walls that are ornamented with trees with foliage with windows glimpses through to the other buildings it's true this hall the five peaks library is surrounded on its two long sides by rockeries with immense stone and the stones here feel powerful it feels concentrated it feels a little more intense this would be a great place to study to read and to write we've just rounded a bend and look through a wooden doorway through a moon gate into this wonderful surprise this pond in the center of the garden this is only about an acre this entire garden is quite small but it's so artfully presented we go from even just looking at the ground that we're walking on these rocks that are laid in patterns of triangles and hexagonal x' and then we step up and over a little ledge which is part of the moon window leading us into this organic realm of the pond I love the fact that the paving changes from courtyard to courtyard and in this case would almost look like shards of broken glass all reflected in the latticework of the doors that framed that courtyard we've walked around the edge of the pond into a little six-sided pavilion that seems to cantilever over the water it seems like the water is so expansive creeping and meandering beneath the buildings and they seem to float on top of it this particular pavilion is named in reference to a column and diverse that it recalls reads the Twilight brings the autumn and the breeze sends the moon here so this idea of the end of the day the darkening of autumn I love the ephemeral a vocation and also the literary reference that the pond is referring back to literature which would be known by the people that would inhabit this space every one of the buildings every one of the views all of the sites all have names you'll see buildings inscribed with poetic couplets will see rocks with hints at verses this connection between all of the media that we've been studying and we spent the last few days looking at ink painting and it really helps me see the compositions that are intended here throughout the architecture of the garden there are framed windows there are screens that setup very particular views in this miniaturized intensified landscape along one side of the pond would be the area where intellectual activities would take place down to the other side would be more for social areas you can see larger halls spaces where perhaps poems would be read where painting might be appreciated where guests might come to hear music although the garden of course is three-dimensional there is that collapsing of space with rocks and foliage against those white walls creating a kind of two dimensionality and yet at the same time we're asked to wander a paths that rise up into rock formation so that we can get views and begin to see this very small garden from a whole different set of perspectives you get the sense that the people who designed this garden over generations were intensifying the qualities of nature in order to provoke a kind of intensified creativity for their own literature for their own poetry and for their own painting so if the garden functions as a refuge what were the creators of this garden protecting themselves from what were they turning their backs away from well oftentimes these were sites of retirement of course their sites of leisure their private worlds of these scholars places for them to entertain their guests and to meet with others they often had careers at court some of them in other contexts were merchants in this case most of the hands that this passed through they were officials this idea of having this Confucian self-cultivation this idea of perfecting your calligraphy the things that they had been studying since they were young children sitting for their examinations trying to get into the civil service cultivating that lifelong talent and then writing to each other admiring calligraphy and painting together but it wasn't just about skill it was about moral cultivation that calligraphy literature the making of gardens the making of paintings these are all things that helped one perfect oneself to rise to a higher level [Music]