By Todd Forrest, Vice President for Horticulture and Living Collections, New York Botanical Garden
As one who has dedicated his life to the study and appreciation of plants in nature and in gardens, I would never have believed it possible to evoke the vitality and mystery of nature through art. Two sculptures that Tetsunori Kawana created for The New York Botanical Garden completely changed my perspective. Using only freshly harvested timber bamboo, Kawana-san created works of art that radiated the energy of life. Kawana-san created his sculptures in the central courtyard of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory in 2007 and 2008 as part of the Botanical Garden’s annual chrysanthemum exhibition. The challenge was substantial: create works of art that would relate to the scale of the soaring Victorian-era glasshouse while still prisoning an intimate experience for visitors interested in the Japanese tradition of training chrysanthemums into elaborate forms. Kawana-san rose to the challenge, using green timber bamboo to create monumental scriptures that were as captivating in their details of movement, light, and shadow as they were breathtaking to behold from afar. I had the pleasure of participating in the creation of both sculptures. The first, completed in October 2007, was an organic form with ethereal wands of spirit bamboo emerging from a massive central framework of timber bamboo poles. The split bamboo danced with the slightest breeze, mesmerizing viewers with sound and motion. The second, completed in October 2008, evoked low clouds passing through a bamboo forest. Visitors could walk through the poles and experience a sense of complete immersion and quiet, with the sky framed by a bold pattern of bamboo poles and the ground marked by intricate and changing shadows. Using the same material in the same space, Kawana-san created two entirely different experiences, both delightful and compelling. While substantial artistic imagination and technical ability are necessary to imagine and create such work, I believe there is something more to Kawana-san’s art. When I viewed each piece, I felt somehow more aware of nature’s energy–powerful evidence of the deep and sophisticated connection to nature that informs the work of a great artist.