This is the seed of one of Pierre’s prime pithy, playful, paradoxical petriverses. “Nothing”—just on its own, it triggers any number of associations and ideas. (For some, that number might be zero, of course, but such people are not the pedestrians Pierre prays for.) Nothing connotes silence, death, peace, the void, zen/buddhist wisdom, refusal, stasis, origin, mystery…. Pierre placed it in the yard as a koan, a kind of question—with the notion that the enigma held an answer, like a clue in a crossword: the correct response being “Nothing is written in stone.”
Over the next weeks, the seed clue grew: first, to “Nothing is…,” a phrase that, by proclaiming nothing to be something palpable, perpetuates paradoxical ponders—nothing means non-existence, so what does the existence of non-existence mean? In “The Snowman,” Wallace Stevens posits a person who, “nothing himself, beholds/Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.” A pedestrian beholder gazing on the Nothing stones might begin to question not only the existence of things but of him/herself…. The ellipses only made the clue more elliptical (both brief and obscure), but perhaps it stirred beholders to fill in the rest of the phrase, hopefully with a chortle of surprise and delight.
The clue grew next into “Nothing is written….” The tautological truth of the phrase—it demonstrates its own meaning to be true, since nothing is indeed written there—brings nothing, the blankness of absence, into the realm of writing, the presence of letters….
Finally, the full phrase was rendered, but with a twist or two: Jardin used the plant to plant a seed of doubt in the viewer—does it say “NOTHING is written in stone?” or “is NOTHING written in stone?” The question mark evokes the questions that the petriverse provokes—because it is written in stone, the phrase is true—nothing is written in stone. Yet, when not written with rocks, the aphorism means that there is never anything that is written in stone—it states that something is never the case. Yet here, it is the case (that nothing is written in stone).
Does Pierre think too much about nothing? Possibly…. And the culprit probably planting these seeds in Pierre’s brain is a professor who teaches a course about nothing and wrote a user’s manual for nothing in a special issue of an academic journal about nothing….
In the end though, after all the hubbub died down, there was a simple solution to what the petriverse means when placed in The Petriverse of Pierre Jardin: in the rock garden where things keep changing, where new rocks and words and plants keep cropping up, nothing is permanent, and that is of course the basic sense of the aphorism “nothing is written in stone.” Pierre didn’t need his professor pal to point out this solution—he had already learned it from his feline friend ….