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Hortus Conclusus


Curator:Chen Kuang-Yi

Artists:Chang Ting-Ya/ Tung Hsin-Ru/ Hsiao Mei/ Chueh Pei-Yu

Exhibition time: Wed. 4th July 2018 –  Wed. 8th Aug.

Opening and Art Forum: Sat. 14th July 2018

Exhibition Introduction:

The word 'garden' evolved from the Latin hortus gardinus, meaning "enclosed garden". A garden is thus a space protected by walls, which is also mentioned in Song of Solomon, "a garden shut up (hortus conclusus) is my sister, my bride...” The term horus conclusus is translated as "a secret garden" as well. The Italian giardino segreto means little gardens enclosed by walls near villas or castles. Those walls block outsiders and only allow those who get invited to be in.

The secret, enclosed garden is away from the hustle and bustle. In the Song of Solomon, the sentence describing Sulamith becomes a symbol of the Virgin Mary's purity. Le Jardin de Paradis by an anonymous painter in the Middle Ages describing a blossoming lush garden where the Virgin Mary sits, reading, the Child plays the harp, and women pick and scoop water. The garden in which numerous flowers blossom and butterflies, dragonflies, and thirteen types of birds fly around brings viewers into paradise. But this image is in fact contrary to medieval wars, plagues, famine, and large population decline. The tranquil garden seems an ideal place for people to escape from reality mentally. After 1400 CE, this type of painting became popular. The Virgin Mary's purity was transformed into "roses without thorns (rose sans épines)". A garden was a metaphor for a spiritual path and was changed into nature which is away from harm brought by civilization and produces everything. Therefore, female images interlace with gardens.

Gradually, jardin secret doesn't mean a physical garden anymore in modern French, but a spiritual space protected by walls and storing secrets, mysteries, or one's own emotional world. Though Niki de Saint Phalle's secret garden went from paintings to an exaggerated Tarot Garden in Garavicchio (Jardin des Tarots) after all  and Domenico Paladino created Hortus Conclusus at the monastery in Benevento telling people its relationship with "life, time, and nature, based on magical thinking instead of rationality," most artists take just one painting to open the doors to their enclosed secret gardens.

Having travelled a lot, Hsiao Mei can only create through travels, but she doesn't paint the scenery she saw. She created eccentric primeval gardens we couldn't locate them in time and space–the dimly scenery is like chaos where Pangu separated the sky and the earth, having various angle of view and no fixed proportions. The plants are lush but not specific enough to be recognized as any particular species. Seeing the giant flying birds, viewers feel like being in the Jurassic Park; however, the naked little guys strolling in the park seem a metaphor for the Garden of Eden. Her unique color sense, sometimes sharp, sometimes round, brings a distinctive light sense, which makes her paintings mysterious and dreamy. Even though the Macao scenery is the only recognizable one, it is so powerful and creative that it returns to nature from human culture.

Tung Hsin-Ru's garden is also very mysterious. She uses vermilion, ochre, azurite, and malachite on rich basis, outlining the multilayered mountains, forests, waters, stones, flowers, and grass, providing viewers a special opportunity to stroll gardens with a microscope's field of view. She is good at creating a deep, subtle, and imaginary space by laying layers of flat wash, adding delicate washes of ink, and now and then decorating with details of grass flowers or plants, which shows dreamlike exquisite emotion and a feminine touch. But the title is the Ordovician, the second geologic period of the Paleozoic Era! Hence Tung’s fine grass flowers do not sprout up in a quiet and secluded garden, but float and grow freely in a geopark at the dawn of univers, surviving under threat of meteoric showers, storms, tsunamis, lightning and thunder. The rotation of light and darkness, the full and void, the real and the imaginary, chaos and order, is like a heart-shattering Creation Symphony composed by Tung with her brushstrokes and thick ink and colors.

Chang Ting-ya rediscovered Chinese landscape paintings through printmaking techniques. She took out "travel while lying at ease" by Zong Bing (375-443) and "rather live and play than walk and see" by Guo Xi (1020-1090). "Travelling while lying at ease" is not physical labor, but a free mind; "live and play" means having nature in your life through artificial procedures. Scholars express their emotions through paintings, the rich imitate nature by building park and garden; both are ways of escaping the hustle and bustle. Chang takes it one step further and practices how to turn an ideal garden located in her inner world into a light, delicate toy with which you can play. Her hortus conclusus is really closed and restricted, but you might find a new wolrd after walkng along those weird paths. Supports bear the layers and weight of park and garden. Modern lighting and light fittings reveal they are artificial landscaping. Viewers can frolic in the unusual and dreamy world. This "Garden Wandering" assembles life, culture, and imagination, where the landscape, parks and gardens, pavilions, and pergolas all come from the secret drawers in her memory.

Fair-skinned Chueh Pei-Yu is younger than the three above. Attracted by the description of a snow scene in Dream of the Red Chamber, "... he gazed round. All was white...," she constructed her gardens on snow-covered lands. Her Grand View Garden is in decline and fall after rising to peak and being flourishing. The view finally became "all that’s left is emptiness and a great void". "Snow" and "white" are equal to not only clean, but also empty. Her snow-covered gardens are full of loneliness, but there is not nothing on the snow-covered ground. Birds lying or curling up are not in deep hibernation, but frozen to death. They don’t give vitality to the garden, and what’s worse is that they are metaphors for death. Her painting skills translated "iced over" things. What she locked in her secret gardens is doubtlessly the most private emotion preserved in her childhood memories. She is not ready to unlock the gardens.

Though female images in art history are definitely associated with gardens, they are always objects painted by male painters. "Women in the Garden" is not only the title of a famous painting by Monet, but also a typical theme for garden painting since the Middle Ages. In the gardens of Hsiao Mei, Tung Hsin-Ru, Chang Ting-ya, and Chueh Pei-Yu, there is no human being, not to mention women, but the gardens showcase the most complicated and perceptive enclosed secret garden in women's hearts.