‘Living Art of Bonsai: Elements of Design’: What the Basic Elements of Bonsai Art Are

By Tracy Wang

In the open air of a large forest in Federal Way, Washington, Pacific Bonsai Museum is the only museum dedicated solely to bonsai in the western United States, and it has the ’most geographically-diverse bonsai collection in the country’. Its location in a forest ensures an instant connection with the peace and quiet of the forest and the 50 to 60 bonsai that are displayed at any given time.

To complement a project called the LAB (Living Art of Bonsai), an experimental project that reimagines traditional bonsai practices by resequencing the order of influence between the bonsai artist, ceramicist and standmaker, ‘Living Art of Bonsai: Elements of Design’, the museum’s most recent exhibition which opened on April 21, is set out to become a launching point for its audiences to first understand the basic elements of bonsai design and art.

Running through September 30, 2018, ‘Living Art of Bonsai: Elements of Design’ takes people on a journey through bonsai’s design elements that include line, shape, form, space, color, and texture. Walking from the exhibition section of line to texture, people finish the exhibition in a full circle, and through the bonsai from the museum’s collection, we are presented with a vast variety of bonsai from six countries around the world, and challenged to think of how bonsai as an art affect our emotions or stimulate our thinking processes.

Accompanied by questions in each design element section, we are challenged not only to look at and appreciate these bonsai but also to actively think about the impact they have on us. An interactive process, ‘Living Art of Bonsai: Elements of Design’ has created an opportunity for people and bonsai to co-exist and contemplate how these living sculptures are shaped and designed.

Since the bonsai are living sculptures, ‘the care is daily for the bonsai’, commented Aarin Packard, curator at Pacific Bonsai Museum. The care for each bonsai is different based on the species of the trees, but ’a daily interaction’ is needed to make sure each of them is watered and fed. Very similar to having pets, taking care of bonsai can be just a little bit of care each day, but the care needs to be consistent throughout the year.

Started in 1989, most of the museum collection has a long history, and as it continues to grow over the years, it is impossible to keep them the same way as twenty or thirty years ago, so as the main caretaker for these bonsai, Packard also needs to take care of the aesthetics of the bonsai. Unlike finished sculptures in the museums, the continuous growth of bonsai requires constant alteration and changes to their physical appearances. To Packard, ’the changes have to be based on some sort of reason’, and always with their original looks in mind, he advances the looks of the bonsai based on their current conditions and needs.

For each season, the bonsai need to be cared for for some particular aspects. For example, in winters, to avoid having the roots die of cold, the staffs at Pacific Bonsai Museum usually place the bonsai in some green houses or some enclosures. Currently, they are paying attention to any potential fungus disease on the bonsai, as the weather changes drastically everyday.

An outdoor museum that guarantees a completely different museum experience for people in the Washington State, Pacific Bonsai Museum has created an interactive and introductory exhibition, ‘Living Art of Bonsai: Elements of Design’, that is sure to educate people on the beauty and design of bonsai as living art pieces.

For more information on ‘Living Art of Bonsai: Elements of Design’, please visit: http://pacificbonsaimuseum.org/on-view/exhibits/