There’s always a bit of injustice in a bonsai display. We always like to refer to bonsai as four-dimensional sculpture, but we can only see it in three. Whenever we see a bonsai, we’re seeing a snapshot of that tree – the tree as it is at that moment. We don’t see it’s history. We don’t see it’s development. We don’t get to engage in it’s story – only in the here and now.
Taking over responsibility of the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens’ bonsai collection, this was something that particularly bothered me. First and foremost, the collection tells the story of bonsai in Israel, as it was donated by the founding father of bonsai in Israel, and some trees have a history of 30 or even 50 years. I wanted to be able to let the trees tell that story.
And second, one of the main goals of the bonsai display in the Botanical Gardens is to present bonsai to the general public. To let people understand our work with the tree over time, understand bonsai as a transformative artform. That’s the reason we built the studio inside the display area, so that people can see and interact with us while we work. And it’s proven extremely effective so far.
But that still doesn’t change the fact that people were only seeing a snapshot of the collection. They were walking through the wood and seeing the trees, but they didn’t know if they grew like that or fell; and if they fell did they make a sound; and what that sound was. So again we were left with the same problem – how to let the trees tell their story? How do you exhibit a years-long process?
Let me give you a hint 🙂 –
The idea is brilliantly simple – create an online gallery of pictures of the tree through the years, and put a QR code alongside the tree linking to that gallery. Add a bit of explanatory text at the entrance to the display area, and people can then walk through, scan the codes with their phones, and see all the transformations the tree has gone through!
I think this adds a lot of depth to the engagement people can have with the tree, and instantly gives them a better understanding of what bonsai is all about. We’re still rolling out the codes, but initial results have exceeded all expectations!
I’d love to hear if anyone has ever done or seen this elsewhere, or has any ideas of how to take the concept further. I think it could also be a great tool to engage people in exhibitions and shows. Let me know what you think!