The classic Japanese dry garden of the Muromachi Period—what is typically called a Zen garden—was never intended to be a direct imitation of nature. Its miniature mountains, rivers and shorelines were in fact modeled after Chinese landscape paintings of the same period. That is, the Zen garden imitated an imitation.
It is apt, then, that one of the 2011 installations in Atlanta-based artist Gyun Hur’s recent exhibition “In a Landscape Anew” carried the Japanese dry garden among its many associations. In the untitled work, Hur used what has become her signature material and method: silk cemetery flowers shredded painstakingly by hand to a fine, crumblike texture and spread in thin carpets of solid hues on the gallery floor. The main color was a deep ebony that shaded to rusty auburn along a loose and indeterminate boundary. The black field was punctuated by a large boulder, and a loose pile of fluorescent green silk-flower material a few inches high sat a short distance away. One of the walls was painted a matching, solid ebony to the height of a low window, while a waist-high mirror attached to another wall reflected the fields’ colors and created an instant symmetrical effect in the installation’s overall geometry.
The second and larger untitled installation used the same silk-flower medium, this time laid out in bright stripes of almost imperceptibly subtle gradations of green that dissolved at irregular edges. Like the smaller work, this one included low vertical mirrors, in this case placed at right angles to the overall axis of the piece and reflect- ing the room as a glowing and endless landscape. The mirrors supported a narrow raised platform of Astroturf, upping the ante of counterfeit nature.
A range of smaller works included several employing vintage magazine pages from the 1970s and ’80s that the artist enhanced with flat, graphic stripes delicately painted over selected objects and landscape features. A mundane country setting seems infiltrated by some obscure form of enchantment leaked from another reality.
“In a Landscape Anew” continued many of the formal and material concerns of Hur’s earlier works, but the new pieces also marked a departure. Previous installations employed repeating stripe patterns of shredded silk flowers in purple, white, yellow, red and other vivid colors. The artist, who was born in Korea, has linked these colors to those of her mother’s traditional wedding blanket. The new work represents a shift away from personal history.
Silk flowers don’t merely imitate nature but outdo it. As a material, they yield a palette evoking mass production and commerce, and therefore a world impossibly saturated, untouched by the mortality that shadows all living things. Hur deftly asks us to step back from nature and question what our examination of it reveals.
Photo: View of Gyun Hur’s exhibition “In a Landscape Anew,” 2012, hand-shredded silk flowers, mirror, stone, 12 by 10 by 4 feet; at Hudgens Center for the Arts.