Chashitsu, the Japanese tea hut

Recently, Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto unveiled a glass Chashitsu (Japanese tea hut) at the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale. He titled  it “Mondrian”, after the  famous Dutch painter. It is easy to make the connection, considering Mondrian’s use of what one might label “negative space” or “empty space” in his paintings, though it may be more appropriate to call it empty form, rather than empty space. The phrase “empty form” offers a glimpse into the Japanese word (Ma) for space (whereas “space” and “void” might be considered equal in English, there is a separate term for the concept of void in Japanese). As I am a non-Japanese speaker, it is beyond my ability to fully articulate its meaning (you can read an article about it here), though it seems that it is less concerned with three-dimensional space* as it is interested in relational, temporal, and experiential space. In fact, the word ma makes up part of the word tokonoma, or display alcove, which is considered the most honored space in a Japanese tea hut. This space not only defines the physical, but also reflects the relational space between tea host and guest.

Hiroshi Sugimoto's Mondrian, 2014

Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Mondrian, 2014

Piet Mondrian, Tableau 2, oil on canvas, 1922

Piet Mondrian, Tableau 2, oil on canvas, 1922

 

Tokujin Yoshioka's Glass Tea House, 2011

Tokujin Yoshioka’s Glass Tea House, 2011

Japanese designer Tokujin Yoshioka designed another glass tea hut for Glastress 2011, which made me wonder what glass has to do with tea. Consider two traditional Chashitsu, or Japanese tea huts:

Konnichian, built by Sen Sotan (1578-1658)

Konnichian, built by Sen Sotan (1578-1658)

Tai-an, built in 1582-3 by Sen no Rikyu

Tai-an, built in 1582-3 by Sen no Rikyu

What immediately stands out to me is how both of these revered tea huts do NOT stand out, meaning, the space in which they are placed is literally overlapped by the surrounding garden, breaking up the building’s silhouette. It seems that there are at least two parallels going on between contemporary tea huts made of glass and traditional ones. First, the tea huts are built to reflect, or resonate with their surrounding environments, not be independent of them. A philosophical connection with nature is evident, in conjunction with an attitude of humility. This is further supported by fundamental aspects of the tea ceremony itself. Second, the “space” of the Chashitsu is meant both as a spatial dimension and a temporal one. The design of the tea hut is meant not only to delineate a small place, but also a brief period of time, to appreciate the moment-by-moment experiences of life.

*according to Nitschke’s above-mentioned article, three-dimensional space is a somewhat recent addition to the Japanese vocabulary, having been imported by the West, and is defined using a compound word meaning “empty place”. And while in English “space” can separately refer to an interval of time, Nitschke states that the word ma synchronizes time and space: “The dual relation of ma to space and time is not simply semantic. It reflects the fact that all experience of space is a time-structured process, and all experience of time is a space-structured process”.

 

 

Milkweed, Monarchs, and More

Welcome! I’m working on a project (currently I’m calling it the Chrysalis) that combines a native Ca butterfly/tea garden with the practice of the Japanese tea ceremony. Within the garden (planted in the fall of 2013) there is a twenty-foot stretch of Narrow-leaved Milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis, to feed Monarch butterfly caterpillars. (I sprouted the milkweed from seed in September 2012, and planted them into the ground last fall, so they are in their second summer… they didn’t bloom their first summer). Since Monarch caterpillars exclusively feed on milkweeds, I imagined it would be a feast for caterpillars. Little did I know, they wouldn’t be the only ones. I knew certain aphids are attracted to Asclepias, but didn’t realize it would soon become an ecological free-for-all.

invasive Oleander Aphids, having a great time on the milkweed

invasive Oleander Aphids, having a great time on the milkweed

Opinions differ about how to handle aphids, since most attempts to kill the aphids may also kill caterpillars. I’ve got a secret weapon in mind, and if it works, will post about it in the future. Recently, Ladybugs have somehow discovered the infestation, and are feasting away on the aphids. Though I’ve heard they will also eat small caterpillars if they find them, I’m letting it go, and seeing what will happen.

Skipper butterfly (probably an Umber Skipper) on Globe Gilia, with a couple ladybug nymphs. The Gilia was planted in between the milkweeds.

Skipper butterfly (probably an Umber Skipper, Poanes melane) on Globe Gilia, with a couple ladybug nymphs. The Gilia was planted in-between the Milkweeds.

Milkweed, in its second year, in bloom, and producing seed pods (I drew a rectangle around them)

Milkweed, in bloom, and producing seed pods (I drew a rectangle around them). 

Wasp, probably Sphex ichneumoneus, aphids, and a red milkweed bug, probably Lygaeus kalmii

Wasp, (possibly Sphex ichneumoneus?), aphids, and a red milkweed bug, (possibly Lygaeus kalmii?) which will also occasionally prey upon Monarch caterpillars.

That’s not to say there haven’t been Monarch butterflies. It has been common to see at least one or two gliding about every time I’ve been at the garden, and they have laid several rounds of eggs since April . However, the survival rate of the caterpillars seems to have dipped since all the other unexpected guests arrived. As fascinating as it has been to see all these organisms take advantage of this single species of plant, this human organism may soon enter into the fray.

Despite the new challenges, a few Monarch caterpillars (a newly molted one is in the center of the photo) are still making their way. Nearby, ladybug nymphs are happily munching away at the aphids.

Despite the new challenges, a few Monarch caterpillars (a newly molted one is in the center of the photo) are still making their way. On the far right and left, ladybug nymphs are happily hunting aphids; in the bottom left corner is a ladybug pupa.