The Moral Resonance of Audible Garden
One is not thrown into Audible Garden: one is drawn in. Slowly, at first, then all at once. Before anything, there’s a melody: the song of a bird chirping, nowhere to be seen, and yet somewhere, present. And then: the chirping becomes a laugh, a cry of joy; the bird has ceased to be a bird for an instant and is now a child. But only for an instant. As soon as it is noticed, the child’s laugh dissipates with its humanity; the bird is back, chirping again. One is still only standing in the foyer of the Korean Cultural Centre in London, and yet, from the exhibition space, Audible Garden is already exerting its pull. Suddenly, a siren, a piercing, strident, streak breaks the serenity of the space. An ambulance maybe? One looks by the window, but there is none to be seen. It soon passes: the bird is still chirping…

    It could stop there: one could walk away, exit the Cultural Centre, find one’s way back to Trafalgar Square and go on with one’s day. One could refuse to be drawn in, to attend further to the bird, the child, and the ambulance. But one who accepts to be drawn in will find, on the left, a large hallway, walls white, bright, immaculate. At the end of it, a space, in half-light. A painting, monumental. A landscape – or the suggestion of one anyway. Not quite mountain ridges, nor snowy peaks. Maybe a plateau emerging through the clouds? There is, as it were, too much movement, too little decisiveness in the lines suggesting themselves to the eyes.

    With every step, the painting takes an ever-greater granularity. And then it strikes one: it is not a landscape, it is sound made mural – an intriguing scatter plot, a melody of black painted dots. One sees a melody, that one does not recognise, cannot recognise. And yet, one is sure: this is a written language of sound. As one looks further around, one finds oneself submerged in green light. The air is filled with it, under the veil of the half-light. There is sound on the wall, colour in the air. One has entered Audible Garden

    Where are the bird, the child, the ambulance? One can hear them, in turn, then all at once, always from different directions, as if they were making themselves heard from the black painted dots or the very walls. Or condensing into the air, some time here, some time there? Never long enough for them to be caught. There is, with Audible Garden, an initial experience of tension. One experiences both the space itself as tensed and the fact of entering it, of having been drawn in it as tensive. It is barely perceptible in the playful confusion of sounds and sense modalities, but it is there and it foresees a further experience of disorientation and of consent to that disorientation. In this essay, I want to reflect on a number of questions which are raised by these experiences. First, I want to offer some reflections on the ways in which liminal spaces, like gardens, can elicit the experience of tension. Second, I want to say some things as to why Audible Garden may, in light of this, aptly be called a garden – and how this relates to the experience of disorientation. Finally, I want to conclude by saying a few words about the implications of thinking of the artist of Audible Garden as a gardener – as it relates, for both the artist and the audience, to finding one’s self or, say, a path for one’s self. Along the way, I also want to say a few words on the difficulty of consenting to the disorientation that makes the finding of a path for one’s self so pressing. Taken together, these reflections will hopefully point in the direction of the moral resonance of Audible Garden.

ⓒ 2023 Korean Cultural Centre UK

The Liminality of the Garden

    The artist of Audible Garden is keen to draw attention on the liminality of the garden, as a space, and on the importance this fact takes in East Asian garden philosophy.[1]  But the matter may not be obvious and we may be inclined to press him on it: what makes the garden a liminal space – and how might this translate into an insight of philosophical interest? An initial answer might simply be: it is a liminal space in that it occupies the space – a space? – at the boundary of the purely natural and the resolutely artificial. It is neither a space completely devoid of human involvement, as we imagine a never-disturbed forest to be on a never-found island. Nor is it a space that has been thoroughly shaped by selves like us: it is not London, let’s say, with its centuries of sedimented human activity. It is, we may say, a space of cultivated nature. 

    Call this the naïve answer. The answer is naïve, but not hereby uninteresting or unhelpful. For one thing, it draws our attention on the temptation of a dichotomy between the natural and the artificial – or say, the natural and the cultural. Either a space is purely natural and so, untouched by artificiality and culture, or it has been shaped or made by human hands – and so belong to the realm of the artificial and the cultural. It is one or the other. Nature has to be untouched, as it were, to truly be nature; it ceases to be so as soon as it comes to bear the mark of human activity. But the garden, as a liminal space, precisely resists and challenges that dichotomy. It presents itself as a space that is natural and artificial – i.e. a space where the artificiality does not deny the naturalness and where the naturalness does not preclude the artificiality. 

    But how does it do so? How does the garden resist the dichotomy and reconcile nature and artificiality? Here, we may be tempted by the following line of thought: the materials the garden artificially arranges and organises (trees, and rocks, and plants, and small bodies of water) are borrowed from nature – and obviously so. The trees and plants in themselves are not human-made. Even the rocks need not have been carved up by human hands – the wind, and the rain, and the snow may have shaped them. Human activity is only involved in the choosing and placing of these elements of nature. The garden achieves its liminality as a layered space: a basic layer of nature that is ultimately diffracted by a superimposed layer of culture and artificiality. Hence the talk of a cultivated nature. But as tempting as this line of thought might initially be, I think it is all wrong. If that’s how the garden achieves its liminality, it does not really transcend the dichotomy of nature and artificiality: it simply repeats it, pushes back the difficulty of understanding their co-existence in the same space. It offers us, at best, a picture of their co-occurrence. 

    As I see it, a more promising thought is that the garden achieves its liminality in forever disappointing our judgements on its naturality and artificiality. By this I mean something like this: every judgment that the garden is a natural space, however well-assured, is always met with contrary evidence of its artificiality (e.g. “these rocks were not found here; they were arranged in that way”, “the tree was planted; its branches were pruned”, etc.). At the same time, every seemingly obvious judgement that the garden is an artificial space is met with contrary evidence of its naturalness (e.g. “the tree is full of a life that can never be fully tamed, budding, blossoming and bearing fruits”, “the rocks keep getting altered and moved by the wind, and the rain, and the snow”, etc.). The garden achieves its liminality by forcing us to accept the mutual envelopment of the natural and the cultural. 

    However, one may worry here, as this threatens to turn the naïve answer on its head! if the liminality of a space is best understood as the mutual envelopment of the natural and the cultural, then it seems to follow that every space inhabited or contemplated by humans is liminal. But then, how are we to make sense of the distinctiveness of the garden as a space? Our starting point was that the liminality of the garden was what contrasted it with other kinds of spaces (of pure nature or resolute artificiality). By gaining some clarity on that initial insight, we seem to now be at risk of losing that insight altogether…

    For our thinking to find its feet again, it is helpful to reflect back on the idea of boundary we have initially alluded to. The naïve answer assumes a dichotomy between two domains: one, of pure nature, completely devoid of human involvement; the other, of artificiality, saturated with the play of human activity. The boundary is thought to separate these two domains. The boundary with a dimension of its own, with just enough thickness to accommodate within itself the liminal space of the garden. But maybe there are no two domains… The naïve answer makes salient the temptation of a dichotomy. But what if we are being misled by this temptation? What if the never-disturbed forest on the never found island and the city fully saturated with human involvement are actually the expression of a fantasy? That is, what if pure nature and complete artificiality are not two domains, two different kind of spaces, but themselves two boundaries; the lower and upper dimensionless bounds of spaces. 

    Then every space we ever inhabit or contemplate may indeed be a liminal space – every space may carry the possibility of a garden. The never disturbed forest on the never found island can be found one day; meet the human eye. London and its sedimented human activity will never quite extinguish the growth of nature… There is everywhere, in every space, this mutual envelopment; this play of forces between nature and artificiality. It can be experienced as harmonious – and we shall come back to this –, but it can also be experienced as tensive. And it is experienced as such more often than we may want to acknowledge, struggling as we are not to experience the patterns of mutual envelopment as threatening in turns, endless, nature and artificiality. 

    What is distinctive of the garden may not be that it is a liminal space, but that it forces on us its liminality. It does not give us any escape into the fantasy of pure nature or complete artificiality. It confronts us to a temptation in our thinking, to the ease with which we can be misled. Or more strikingly, to the ease with which we can consent to being misled about the spaces we inhabit, and our involvement in them.

Jinjoon Lee, Hanging Garden, 2023. Mixed media mobile.
Piano wire, black acrylic panel, aluminum rod, 12 super directional loudspeakers, Dimension variable 
ⓒ 2023 Korean Cultural Centre UK

The Liminality of Audible Garden

    What about Audible Garden then? In what way is it a garden? Which temptations in our thinking does it warn us of; which dichotomies does it challenge, hope to transcend? By the artist’s own admission, the exhibition aims to explore and challenge our understanding of the relationship between nature and artificiality – and how we inhabit both. In that respect, it is very much in the spirit of the garden as we have been trying to define it. The traditional garden has its tree, stones, and plants to explore the mutual envelopment of nature and artificiality. But these materials are transmuted in Audible Garden. In “Hanging Garden”, the tree never grows, is without roots. It is an artifice of piano strings and aluminium, hanging from the ceiling. There is no sap in its metallic branches, but it still bears fruits: the chirping of the bird, the laugh of the child, the siren of the ambulance… Speakers calling for us, competing for our attention, projecting their voices on the walls of the exhibition space. We know these fruits, we recognise them. We were initially drawn in by them; we now have found their origin. Man-made fruits, with their sound-waved flesh.

   In “Thrown and Discarded Emotions”, the stones are not stones; they are columns of plaster. Their grooves have not been carved up by the wind, or the rain, or the snow; they have been shaped by human emotions and hands. Their very material is a testament of human endeavour. The columns stand tall, but they hold nothing, support nothing. A piece of architecture without human purpose – without even the pretence of a human purpose. An achievement of artificiality idly thrown to nature. In “Fresh Nature”, the plants too quickly betray their artificiality. Their stems and leaves soon strike one as wholly inhospitable to growth and decay; they reveal themselves to be ever green shoots of plastic, an illusion of nature emerging from discarded milk bottles. There is no milk, but also no need for milk. Here, artificial nature accomplishes the miracle of sustaining itself.

Jinjoon Lee, Fresh Nature: Black Milk, 2023. M10 Plaster, Sumi Ink for Calligraphy and Golden Leaf Sculpture, variable size.  ⓒ 2023 Korean Cultural Centre UK

    In the traditional garden, the tree and the rocks and the plants are a figure on a background. But it would be a mistake to think that our appreciation of them makes abstraction of that background. In disclosing themselves to us, they also disclose the landscape in which they take roots and rest their weight. And the landscape, in turn, informs our engagement with them. The materials of the traditional garden transform the landscape and are transformed by it. It is as such – situated – that they invite the human eye into new directions, disrupt its ordinary patterns of attention. The traditional garden then offers itself to us as a gestalt, a unified space. 

    Audible Garden too has its background. We have already alluded to the titular mural, “Audible Garden” which first confronts the audience at the entrance of the exhibition space. It playfully evokes the imagery of a landscape, but more crucially, it anchors the tree of “Hanging Garden”, the rocks of “Thrown and Discarded Emotions” and the plants of “Fresh Nature”. Or rather, it anchors the audience, gives it a horizon, and in doing so allows it to bring the tree and the stones and the plants into renewed focus. It gives the eye a space to interrogate their significance and explore the ways in which they may echo each other. It plays that role of a background, but it never ceases to be itself an object of investigation; the possible focus of an inquisitive eye. 

    In allowing a melody to outline a landscape, the mural further evokes the fact that the liminal space of the garden expands beyond what the eye now sees. It draws attention on a demand that the garden puts on the audience to not see to the point of deafness. And indeed, as one looks attentively at its black dots, one suddenly hears a melody one has not yet heard. Or maybe rather the promise of a melody. It is faint, on the verge at every moment to collapse on itself, dissipate into the air. It emanates from beyond the landscape, announcing, as it were, that its horizon could be pushed back, should be pushed back. There was the bird and the child and the ambulance that had drawn us in; there is a further melody now calling us to go deeper into the garden...
Jinjoon Lee, Audible Garden, 2023. 
Site-specific wall painting with Ink. 
ⓒ 2023 Korean Cultural Centre UK
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    And indeed, as one pushes back the horizon of “Audible Garden”, one is struck by an even more general background which anchors the whole exhibition – a striking element of landscape that is nowhere to be viewed and yet saturates the audience’s vision everywhere. It is the green that we had already noticed; the green that fills the air, envelops everything that offers itself to view. The background here is an artifice: the tainted glass of “Mumbling Window” casting its green shadow on the stones made of plaster; on the tree of sound and metal, on the plastic nature in its milk bottles. And it is through this inescapable green that the exhibition achieves the sense of a unified, indivisible space. “Mumbling Window” offers a horizon that cannot be pushed back. In relation to it, everything will need to find its place.

    Still, the exhibition is nothing like a world of its own, self-subsisting and cut off from external influences. Quite the contrary. The tainted glass of “Mumbling Window” unifies the space of Audible Garden, but it also lets the outside world seep in. On the other side of the glass, a busy London street constantly makes itself heard and seen; with passers-by on the sidewalk chatting and laughing, cars in the middle of a commotion, honking, etc. In that respect, “Mumbling Window” also acts as a reminder of the world outside the garden that goes on. But it does so in a movement of envelopment: the street is bustling with noise and activity, but its business is diffracted by the stained glass. It never quite cuts through the green. It is also captured and transmuted by a whole apparatus of cameras, algorithms and speakers: in another room of the exhibition, it finds a new kind of silent movement. On the window, only a mumble remains.

Installation view of Mumbling Window, Black Milk, Audible Garden at Korean Cultural Centre UK. 

ⓒ 2023 Korean Cultural Centre UK
    The traditional garden is intrinsically open to nature, to its intrusion. In contrast, Audible Garden is rather open to the intrusion of human activity. Both spaces emerge in a movement of mutual envelopment of these two forces, but they present here an interesting effect of mirroring in how that envelopment proceeds. Contra the traditional garden, Audible Garden may thus serve as reminder, less of a nature that can never be fully controlled, and more of a human culture that we maintain, but which ultimately transcends us. 

    In its repeated use of new technologies and algorithms to interpret and transmute the deliverance of various sense modalities, Audible Garden further reminds us of that fact. If fantasised nature is a productive force, unpredictable at times, violent in its outbursts, but capable of being harnessed, then we might say the same of the artificial productions of human culture. The threat of new technologies, artificial intelligence and algorithms is now on many people’s mind. Audible Garden, as I see it, participates in that broad reflection by drawing attention on the parallel between our desire to harness the forces of nature and our desire to harness those of artificiality. The tree of “Hanging Garden” speaks loudly on that point: artificiality made nature is here offered to us not as a force to control – how hopeless would it be to try to control it! – but as burst of life to contemplate.

    There is thus a constant movement of mutual envelopment that animates Audible Garden, between nature and artificiality. But it is as if the movement was running in the opposite direction of the traditional garden’s. Rather than nature being shaped by artificiality, it is artificiality that takes the shape of nature here. Instead of presenting the inescapable intrusion of nature, the liminal space of Audible Garden opens itself to the intrusion of the human and its artificiality. Human activity, we are inclined to think, has direction, a sense, a cultural purpose. Nature hasn’t. It is a theatre without a story. In Audible Garden, it is as if the achievements of human activity were discarded – or maybe rather gifted? – to the directionlessness of nature. The exhibition is confronting us to this movement and to the difficulty of experiencing it otherwise than as tensive. 

    This difficulty speaks of the extent to which we remain tempted by the dichotomy of nature and artificiality: we may have rejected the image of two mutually exclusive spaces, but we may fall into the grip of another image here. That of two conflicting forces that keep themselves in tensed equilibrium in the whirlwind of the garden.

    So then with nature and artificiality. But there is another dichotomy Audible Garden seems to be challenging – another way, that is, in which it appears to be a liminal space. Indeed, at every turn, Audible Garden seems to ask us to reconcile two seemingly irreconcilable dimensions of our lives. On the one hand, it seems obvious that we inhabit a shared external space: the physical space that surrounds us, in which we meet objects and landscapes and others. On the other hand, it seems that, at every moment, we can find refuge in a private inner space of thoughts and feelings – a space outside of space, without dimension, for us and us only. Call this the soul, the mind or consciousness. But the shared physical world seems wholly inhospitable to the soul – after all how could my thoughts and feelings ever stand side by side with objects and landscapes? How could they ever be given to view to others in the way they are given to me? And the soul seems ultimately unconstrained by the physical world. Whatever the shape of the landscape or the expectations of others, the soul can always roam free in thoughts and feelings.

    As I see it, the challenge, here again, is to find a way to escape the temptation of the dichotomy, and to make sense of the possibility of mutual envelopment, of the soul penetrating the physical world, and vice-versa. The exhibition is never crudely didactic on the matter – and it does not call for or announce an overly intellectualist response to the challenge. Rather, it encourages a conversion of the senses: it invites us to attend to the figures and their background, not as mere objects in a physical space, but as forming together an already expressive landscape. Maybe the soul can be in a mountain. Maybe an audience can set foot in an intimate garden.

Jinjoon Lee, Thrown and Discarded Emotions, 2023. Plaster and Ink Sculpture. ⓒ 2023 Korean Cultural Centre UK

    This conversion of the senses is encouraged in various ways. First, in “Thrown and Discarded”, human emotions are given the materiality of stones. Five stones standing tall for five distinct emotions: fear, anger, happiness, disgust, and surprise. It may be tempting to think of each stone as being a representation of a specific emotion – of being related to that emotion out of the pure intentions of the artist, or out of mere formal conventions. But, as I see it, this would be to give voice to the dichotomy we are trying to escape. Rather, “Thrown and Discarded” offers to our view – and encourages us to see –, quite literally, five emotions made stone. The grooves on each stone are no accident. Neither artistic whims nor stipulated conventions. They are a material exploration of the contour of these emotions. As if each of them had its own landscape… It is worth remembering here that the emotions are not a highly abstract or intellectualised notions of fear, anger, happiness, etc. Their respective landscape is shaped by the very experience of the artist. It is his fear, his anger, his happiness. We may thus wonder: why of all the emotions presented, is happiness seemingly the most fragile, the most clearly at the mercy of the contingencies of the physical world?  As an audience, are we intruding here on a very intimate truth about the artist? Or, in attuning our eye to the stone and its fragility, are we learning something about our own sense of happiness? Maybe we can claim this emotional landscape as our own. Not just recognise ourselves in it, but find in it, as it were, a path for our very self.

    Second, in “Daejeon, Summer of 2023”, intimate thoughts find expression in an idiosyncratic form of journaling. What is striking here, is not so much that intimate thoughts find expression – it is after all the aim of any act of journaling. Even when it is not shown or actually shared, a journal remains, forever, shareable. No, what is striking, is the mediation that is at play. The thoughts that find expression in “Daejeon, Summer of 2023” are the artist’s, but what about their expression? The thirty-one disks of clay that form the installation – like thirty-one daily entries in a journal – have been painted by the artist. But then the artist has also allowed in an apparatus of cameras, algorithms, and speakers to translate – or, one might argue, interpret – his journal entries. And that translation offers itself as a melody – the melody that could be heard from behind the mural of “Audible Garden”… What drew us further into the exhibition was thus the product of an algorithmic intervention. I take this to be evocative of a certain porousness. The porousness, this time, of the soul – or at least, the part of the self we may want to call the soul. Inner thoughts and feelings can seep into the physical world, take the materiality of stones. But the physical world can also burst into the soul, disrupt its very sense of being whole, of owning its voice. The installation is a testament of that constant threat to the self – or at least to a certain sense of self. It is a caution too against the ease with which new technologies, artificial intelligences, and algorithms extend their influence into the innermost aspects of our lives. The ease, that is, with which they can exploit the porousness of the self or the soul to colonise it. 
    “Daejeon, Summer of 2023” also draws our attention on the difficulty of seeing aright what stands there in view. Of the blindness we can come to exhibit to inner thoughts and feelings. Indeed, how easy is it, as an audience, to walk pass the installation, to see the arrangement of disks, but to not see the disks themselves, to not see the unique shades they each bear. Each disk is a day. Each disk is, in itself, a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions, reminiscences and musings. The artist stands there, naked as a soul. And yet, how difficult is it to meet him in that moment. To see that he stands there.

Jinjoon Lee, Daejeon, Summer of 2023, 2023. M10 plaster and sumi ink for calligraphy sculpture, turntable, two real-time web camara, two-channel video and sound installation, Dimension variable. ⓒ 2023 Korean Cultural Centre UK

 

    Third, in “Hanging Garden”, as in “Two Mountains”, there is an intrusion of memories in nature and artificiality. If the chirping of the bird, the laugh of the child and the siren of the ambulance are a testament of the mutual envelopment of nature and artificiality, they are, in the exhibition space, an intimate testament. Their being arranged together, their being the fruits of a same tree speaks of the unity of the artist – not as an artist, but as soul or a self. They are memories made sound – memories of the artist, and yet memories that are there for the audience to pick and interrogate. To consume. There is a similar intrusion of memories in “Two Mountains”: childhood memories seeping through the painting of a landscape. But a painting that escapes the eye, initially at least. On the canvas, as in the memory of the artist, the mountain, Yongma San, needs to be uncovered, brought back to light. But the human eye on its own is hopeless to the task; it is only under an artificial light that the mountain offers itself to view. Nature here is obscured, but not erased. And it is artificiality that first obscures and then discloses it. The possibility, for the artist and the audience, of finding the mountain anew and with it nature is tied to the constant mediation of artificiality. The movement of mutual envelopment suggests itself again.

    The second mountain of “Two Mountains” is not a memory of the artist: it is an act of inheritance. On the left, Yongma San and the life of the artist adhering to its surface. On the right, the silhouette of Mont Sainte-Victoire seen by the artist being seen by Cézanne. What it shows is a human eye meeting the mountain. Leaping towards it. It is an attempt to see that eye, that perceptual self that is Cézanne. The Mont Sainte-Victoire, after Cézanne, is as much a human achievement, as it is a landscape of nature. Cézanne is on every slope and the artist of Audible Garden has him in view.

    Since the very beginning of this essay, we have alluded to an initial experience of tension in response to Audible Garden. The tension, we have diagnosed, emerges from the way in which the exhibition confronts us to the temptation of dichotomies. Nature and artificiality. The physical world and the soul. To see things aright, we have further suggested, is for our thinking to find its foot in movements of mutual envelopment. And the only way for our thinking to find its foot, is for our eyes and our ears to stop spinning. It is for our senses to find a new grip in a space that disappoints our intellectual fantasises and prejudices. This is the challenge that Audible Garden puts to its audience. It asks for its consent to be disoriented. But the disorientation it elicits – just like that of any other garden – is not specific to it. Every space is liminal like Audible Garden: a whirlwind of nature and artificiality, objects and landscapes and thoughts and feelings. Audible Garden simply forces its audience to confront the whirlwind.
Jinjoon Lee, Two Mountains, 2023. UV printing, 200 x 160 x 12 cm. ⓒ 2023 Korean Cultural Centre UK

The Artist as a Gardener

If, as we have suggested, Audible Garden can usefully be thought of as a garden, might its artist then usefully be thought of as a gardener? I want to conclude this essay by exploring the moral implications of answering “yes” to that question. An important feature of the garden – whether its traditional incarnation or the form it takes in Audible Garden – is that it is always open to the intrusion of external forces. But there is no one way of approaching this intrusion. 

    Korean gardens where a landscape is chosen, but never actively arranged are, on this point, instructive.[2]  In these gardens, the human involvement is not even found in the initial arrangement of the landscape. It presents itself only in its contemplation. The tree is never planted nor pruned by human hands; it is left to grow on its own where it first took roots. The rocks are left at the mercy of the wind, and the rain, and the snow, endlessly being moved around, slowly finding new shapes through erosion. But even in that space where the forces of nature run unopposed, there is still human involvement. To attend to the landscape in a contemplative way discloses more than the tree and the rocks: it also discloses, undeniably, a self at play, a self which finds itself in nature, but which is not – or not quite so simply – of nature. The act of gardening may simply be the meeting of the human eye with landscaped nature.

    Audible Garden is not merely the result of such an act of gardening: the tree of “Hanging Garden”, the rocks of “Thrown and Discarded Emotions”, and all the other elements of the exhibition were created. But, like the elements of the Korean gardens, they were then left at the mercy of external forces. The branches of “Hanging Garden” constantly rotate on themselves under the movement of the audience, never quite finding again their initial arrangement. “Mumbling Window” never shows us twice the same scene; always mumbles something new. It is not that Audible Garden is not tended to; it is simply not intervened on. Not anymore.

    To engage with the exhibition in a contemplative way is not merely to find one’s self in nature. It is also to be confronted to the difficulty of finding one’s self there – the difficulty of belonging. And the difficulty is compounded by the realisation that the landscape is saturated with thoughts and feelings. One can never quite own them and yet, one can – and must – find resonance in them. What else is there to do when one finds in the mountain a soul that isn’t one’s!

    The act of gardening can be an introspective endeavour – and so the gardener can find himself in his garden. But those who wander through the garden too can embark on such an endeavour. To tend to the garden might be a way to find one’s self, for the artist as a gardener as well as for his audience. But they tend to it in different ways, so they face different perils. At every step, the artist as a gardener can succumb to the fantasy of privacy; the audience can become voyeuristic. And yet, with attention and effort, they can also find themselves in communion, not merely side by side in the same space, but inhabiting it together. The fundamental difficulty here, for the artist and the audience, is nothing more, but nothing less, than the “difficulty of reality”.[3]  

    The exhibition certainly does not offer anything like a moral theory – nor even the sketch of one. But it hints at a moral concern for one’s self. To find enough of a grip on the world. To inhabit it without the temptation of fantasies. To make one’s self then intelligible to oneself. 



© Arnaud Petit 2023. All rights are reserved.
[1] He emphasises this latter point in his “Green Room Garden”.
[2] On this I follow the artist’s own discussion of Korean gardens in his “Green Room Garden”.
[3] The expression, as I use it, is from Cora Diamond’s “The Difficulty of Reality and the Difficulty of Philosophy”.
About the author
Arnaud is Sub Dean and Stipendiary Lecturer in Philosophy at Brasenose College, University
of Oxford. He specialises in philosophy of mind and action, and 20th century European
philosophy. His research focuses on the nature of human agency as it relates to meaning
and sense-making, as well as technology. He is currently preparing a book, Having Meanings
in View.
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