Written in Stone: Opening of the Studio for Lodging the Mind at the Huntington

The Studio for Lodging the Mind and the Flowery Brush Library look like vaulted study rooms in an academy of the prophets, monastic and mystical chambers tucked away inside a floating castle, or somewhere in the MCU where wisdom could be won. In fact, it’s not that far. These are the evocative names of the newly opened creative space and exhibition gallery at Huntington’s Chinese Garden, where the first exhibition A garden of words: calligraphy by Liu Fang Yuan open to the public in August.

Huntington’s passionately loved Liu Fang Yuan (流芳 園) – or the equally picturesque Garden of Fluid Fragrance – spans over 15 acres of carefully cultivated and space-crafted nature and architecture, directly inspired by the famous Suzhou Gardens, China. During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the upper classes of Suzhou designed private gardens combining architecture, living water features, flourishes of rock assemblages, intentionally symbolic plants and – more particularly for our purposes here – a abundant calligraphy.

“Calligraphy is fundamental in a Chinese garden, but it is a characteristic that is often overlooked by visitors, especially those who cannot read Chinese,” said Phillip Bloom, curator of the Chinese garden and director of the Center for East Asian Garden Studies. . The new presence of the Studio for Lodging the Mind on campus aims to correct this oversight; its beginnings coincide with the botanical and literary expansion of the lands themselves. His first exhibition is rightly imbued not only with the centuries-old cultural practices that inspired the garden, but also with specific calligraphic elements of the place itself.

As is common in classical Suzhou-style gardens, Liu Fang Yuan has long been filled with text. Each building and courtyard is named and announced on written scrolls, and dozens of impressive personality-filled boulders across the terrain have thoughts and poems written in Chinese characters inscribed on their surfaces. These calligraphic inscriptions were composed by more than 30 contemporary artists from mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the United States and the United Kingdom – all commissioned over the past decade and a half by the Huntington for this purpose. It is precisely a selection of original works on paper produced by 21 of these commissioned artists that is currently on display at A garden of words.

Using this extended family of Huntington calligraphers as a starting point, the exhibit does more than reveal the creative process behind the alluring rock inscriptions on site. As Bloom explains, the selection further illuminates four distinct entry points through which to gain a deeper understanding of calligraphy as an art form that is both ancient and ever-evolving – these are its messages, its materials. , its basic styles and its possible futures.

Beginning by taking a closer look at how content functions as both informational and aesthetic – information and expression – in calligraphic / pictographic writing, the exhibition then examines the materiality of the medium through an in-depth examination of the parameters of choice of its papers, inks and tools. Next, the show presents a concise lesson in the main stylistic typographic genres of calligraphy: seal, clerical, regular, fluent, and cursive. Each has its own visual specificities, themselves imprinted with cultural references and defined by rules guiding their uses. By including several examples of the same text rendered in different styles, the show shows how meaning is affected and embodied and the artist’s emotional and narrative intentions expressed in their unique relationship to “rules.”

Speaking of ‘rules’, the final and most exciting element of the exhibition is a vivid look at the practices of several renowned contemporary calligraphers, represented by captivating works of art as well as by short videos shown in the exhibition. gallery in which they explain their individual and often strained relationships with tradition and innovation. Modern responses and updates to this oldest and most fundamental art form range from sampling classic works for new contexts, to playing with meaning through the linguistic / pictographic dimensions of texts and texts. characters written themselves.

The titles of the works and their translations give an idea of ​​this range, from short but imaginative phrases like “Jeweled Blossoms Slope” by Xue Longchun and “Listening to the Pines” by Lo Ch’ing, to more esoteric ones. Many refer to well-known poems or passages of lyrical prose like “A flower from the vase falls on the ink stone, its scent returns to the characters” and “The relaxed conversation and languid laughter are worthy of bamboo and rocks. ; the beautiful days of spring and fall go hand in hand with mugs and tumblers.

An accompanying pavilion facing the studio, the Flowery Brush Library (筆 花 書房), is designed in the style of a 17th-century Chinese scholar’s studio – an enchanting wood and glass folly traditionally set in a garden like this and used for painting, poetry, music and of course, calligraphy. Writing demonstrations are planned to activate the new structure, starting with a presentation by Terry Yuan on Saturday October 16. In the meantime, its fine and intricate craftsmanship occupies the courtyard like a monumental artisan sculpture and hints behind its large bay windows and slatted shutters. to the promise of a revisited past.

The first part of A garden of words: calligraphy by Liu Fang Yuan (書苑 —— 流芳 園 典藏 書法 作子) in the Studio for Lodging the Mind (寓意 齋) is visible until December 13; the second part opens on January 29. For more information visit: huntington.org.

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