Wind, Stones, Time

Southern California continues to receive comparatively little rain from the storms that have brought snow and rain to areas to the north, but as January fliDSCF7110pped to February, we experienced powerful winds up to 50 mph in Long Beach.  Serious damage in the LA basin included downed power lines and many trees falling on cars and even a pedestrian.  In its humble way, the Petriverse serves as a weather barometer.  Pierre Jardin is always curious to see what stone stacks stand strong under different conditions.  It was no surprise that the gusting winds toppled several cairns, but it was rather mysterious to find that the one pictured here survived intact.  The stone on top is light; it has a small hole in the bottom that allows it to rest on the rounded top of the stone below.  Given how many heavier, less precariously balanced rocks succumbed to the storm–not to mention a shrub torn out and being turned into a tumbleweed–it must be that the this stone was aligned almost perfectly with the wind direction, which blew left to right along the top stone.   And so, if one looks at it as a bellwether, the Petriverse can be used to register rainfall and wind strength and direction.

Pierre Jardin sees in stone stacks an intersection between the ephemeral and the geological, between human daily lived time and the deep tectonic time of the earth.  Stone stacks, like us mere mortals, stay upright for an uncertain amount of time, minuscule in comparison to geologic ages.  The powerful winds issue from global weather patterns, and so their effects on the garden also mark an intersection between planetary processes and the local lived time of this specific environment.

The coverage El Nino receives on a daily basis reminds us that we live in a geologic now–that human history and natural history are no longer separable from one another.  For Pierre Jardin, this marks a major change in his relation to time.  Growing up, geology and earth history generally were a kind of pre-history: cycles of ice house and green house, glaciation and global warming, were all part of ancient times that had passed, paving the way for a temperate climate convenient for humans.  Extreme climates still existed at the poles and in equatorial deserts, but generally the earth had settled into comfortable stasis.  The naive feeling Pierre Jardin had about time was that nature’s history preceded human history; fossils, dinosaurs, geologic strata, mountains, meteor crates were all almost mythic elements in a past so long, so deep, it no longer had a discernible history or chronology–it all was a sort of abyss of deep time.

But today, that separation no longer obtains.  Climate change, rising ocean levels, droughts, more frequent and stronger storms, hurricanes and tornadoes–all of these symptoms of planetary processes are part of our daily consciousness and sense of passing time and where things are going.  We are more ecological creatures as a consequence–becoming attuned to our actions and their impact on global scales will hopefully change behaviors destructive to the environment.

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Eye Cue Test

Pierre Jardin’s latest “petriverse” (text written with rocks) sprawls across the central section of the garden, making it difficult to capture well in photos.

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“What U C here is an eye cue test” tells the reader/viewer that what they see when they look at the garden is probably unique: the stones and plants are visual cues for people to respond to as they see fit (literally).  In other words, looking at the garden is a test that everyone passes, because all answers are correct!  Of course, it is a bit of an IQ test for passersby to decode the message (U=you, C=see) and process the pun eye-cue/IQ and understand the sentence’s meaning, and the sentence also has a self-reflexive meaning: “what you see HERE” can refer to the sentence itself; in this case, the rocks making up the message are themselves the “eye cue” to the viewer.

Also displayed now in the garden is a haiku Pierre Jardin wrote about sound to complement the visual emphasis of the “EYE CUE” message:

ZEN GARDEN MUSIC

Rock group harmonies

Tectonic time signatures

Silent stone concert

Rock groups display group harmonies when stones are set in ways that create dynamic tension among them.   Some rocks in the garden are grouped by color, others are distributed along different lines or patterns.  In music, the ‘time signature’ indicates how many beats there are in a measure; it is the time in which you count as you play or listen.  Here, the time of the rock garden is tectonic: rocks emerge from the depths of geological timescales.  The time of the garden is ‘deep time‘ or slow time (as indicated by signposts marking the garden’s boundaries, see below).   “Tectonic time signatures” also connotes the patterns left by the processes that formed the stones–tectonics produce mountain formations and stones, and these geological events leave “signatures” on the rocks from the time they occur.  Finally, you can hear a “silent stone concert” if you look at grouped rocks and see their patterns and ratios as visual rhythms that translate into sonic rhythms.  “Concert” also means accordance or harmony, so the poem’s last line recapitulates the first: the garden is music to the eyes and ears as the stones persist in quiet peace.

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Setting Stones

Pierre Jardin created this petriverse one morning when the garden was cool, shaded, and particularly peaceful.  He was reflecting on how the stones were placed in the landscape, and how the energies and overall tone of the garden change as the rocks get moved around.  Treasuring this moment, when the vibe felt so sweet, Pierre mused and meditated on the mood, and found words to fit the feeling, words that he wrote with stones:

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Later, Pierre realized that these words also address the fundamental questions facing the stone-setter.  “Set” can be read as an imperative verb–the gardener has to ‘set stones at rest,’ and once that is done, they become static.  The effect can feel contrived or organic.  A rock garden can seem too carefully constructed, too formal or rigid in pattern, too overthought or overwrought, like a “set piece.”  The trick is to make what IS a set piece, a carefully orchestrated formal construction of elements, feel like a “set peace,” a totally tranquil collection of things.  The words therefore can be understood to embody the goal of the stone-setter: to make the subjective act of setting stones in a set piece yield in the end a set of stones resting in peace (rest/peace intentionally connoting the quiet of a cemetery).

Pierre Jardin’s stone-setting takes inspiration from his research into Chinese gardens and the Taoist philosophy informing their construction. Since around the 4th or 3rd century BCE, Taoism has expressed a theory of the cosmos as a field of qi, vibrant energies. The tao translates as ‘the way’ but it also means all things (past, present, future) in constant transformation; qi circulates through everything and takes changing forms. Rocks have a special place in this philosophy.  The 12th-century treatise by Du Wan, the Cloud Forest Catalogue of Rocks, begins: “The purest energy of the heaven-earth world coalesces into rock. It emerges, bearing the soil. Its formations are wonderful and fantastic…”  If rocks are concentrated forms of qi, then setting them in a garden creates a specific energy field.  Ji Cheng’s famous 13th century The Craft of Gardens insists that rocks must be situated mindfully because “Rocks are not like trees: once gathered, they gain a new lease on life.”  Viewing stones in a garden this way leads one to experience the landscape in a particular fashion.  As leading contemporary western Sinologist Francois Jullien summarizes: “Not only my own being, as I experience it intuitively, but the entire landscape that surrounds me as well, is continuously flooded by subterranean circulating energy…. The most glorious sites will be those where it is most densely accumulated, where the circulation of the breath is most intense, its transformations most profound…. By rooting one’s dwelling here rather than elsewhere, one locks into the very vitality of the world, taps the energy of things more directly.”

Pierre Jardin does not claim to have mastered the setting of stones.  But some days, he feels a harmony with the garden and rocks that is profoundly peaceful and directly tuned to the landscape and planet and cosmos.  These moments come as gifts, for which Pierre feels great gratitude.

 

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Rockery Reverie #2

Pierre Jardin continues to ruminate on time and stones, particularly the juxtaposition between the ephemeral life of balanced stone stacks and the geological eons in which the stones were shaped.  Here is Pierre’s second Rockery Reverie (a genre Jardin invented) in a planned Reveries-Series (click to enlarge image):

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Stone stacks stay standing in a state of sustained caesura.  Persisting in a prolonged pause, they hover precariously between existing and ceasing to exist, between presence in space and absence in time.  This Rockery Reverie pays homage to these qualities not only by suspending a sentence (a sentence whose completion is suspended by an ellipsis) between the stacks, but also through palindromic (suspended sentence/sentence suspended) and enantiomorphic (rock stacks photographed from back and front, some stones replaced and inverted) elements in the images and words, which are essentially spatial techniques of suspending the progression of linear movement (by creating a mirroring effect) and therefore time (as is the use of parenthetical words to extend sentences).

Stone stacks seemingly teeter-tottering on the edge of falling engender two kinds of wonder in viewers: wonder that the balanced rocks stay upright; suspicious wondering whether glue or some other means is being used to keep them that way.  A well-designed stone stack thus provokes a giddiness, a suspension of disbelief, in the viewer.  Seen this way, the stones suddenly seem somewhat willful, as if stubbornly suspended in their own disbelief, refusing to accept that they are sentenced to tumble down at some imminent date.

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Rockery Reverie #1

Looking at the linear patterns on these stones, Pierre Jardin was awash in thought and adrift in time.  His musings moved among the multiple timelines inscribed on the rocks–geological cycles of subduction and uplift; lunar cycles pulling the ocean over the rocks, tumbling and smoothing them over and over; cerebral cycles of brain states imprinted by dwelling on the stones at length in the dao-now…. Mental concentration and verbal  compression yielded a haiku composition.  Pierre called this petriverse Rockery Reverie #1, in tribute to Chinese literati who would gather and drink and gaze on their prized rocks and write poems about them.

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Find Balance in Rocks

DSCF5680Pierre Jardin took special pride in assembling these stones, bringing them to balance, coalescing them into a configuration. This sculpture is surely the most massive Pierre has made, and the only one hazardous to his health–stabilizing the stones  entailed holding the middle one on the right between his knees, while finding the apt angle to lean the one on the left flush with the bricks on the bottom and the edge of the rock on the top.  The first attempt ended in the pile falling and Pierre narrowly escaping a broken foot.  The second time, Pierre maneuvered the top rock into a leaning-left balance that simultaneously prevents the middle rock from falling to the right.  Individually, the stones were DSCF5671immobile, possessing a ponderous stolidity.  Figuring out how to stack them in a stable yet precarious form proved pedagogical.  Pierre learned that he had to stop fighting the rocks; not to encounter them as a foe but feel them as a flow.  Focusing on the forces coursing through them created a dynamic relationship linking together brain, body, and stone–limbs and rocks moved as a multiplicity, until the stone stack could be safely separated and left solid in its solitude.

Reflecting on this process, Pierre concluded that the lesson learned could be formulated as a petriverse: “FIND BALANCE in rocks.”  The phrase twins together the physical process of finding how to balance rocks and the psychical process of finding mental balance with the rocks.  The phrase’s imperative form–‘find balance in rocks, and that’s an order!’–implies DSCF5683that the one (physical balance) requires the other (psychic balance).  Finally, the words encourage passersby to look around and discover the balance that can be seen in the stone stacks throughout the garden.  Finding the balance requires more than seeing the stones standing up; spectators have to follow lines of force, to feel the ways that stones offset and compensate for one another as they come together.

 

 

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Petroglyphs in the Petriverse

Pierre Jardin coined the term PETRIVERSE:  Noun. 1) A world composed of rocks; e.g., a rock garden.  2) Words composed of rocks; i.e., verse DSCF5699written in stone.

This installation is a sign telling passersby the names of garden and gardener; “blog” invites interested parties to find their way to this very page.  The concentric circle patterns on the sitting stones evoke planetary orbits in solar systems; for Pierre, they appear as petroglyphs produced by the wash of waves.

Since “Petriverse” means rock-world and rock-writing, it is fitting that in the Petriverse the line between natural- and human-drawn lines is fine.  And that is just fine by Pierre, who is trying to give voice to rocks and turn words to stone.

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