A Stroll in the Garden Court, 2014
Archival pigment print
78.75 x 118.9 cm
A Chinese Garden Court for the Met is based on a visit to the Astor Court, located in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Modeled after a Ming Dynasty courtyard in the Garden of the Master of the Fishing Nets in Suzhou, the court was installed in the institution as the first permanent cultural exchange between the United States and the People’s Republic of China in 1981.
A team of twenty-six Chinese craftsmen (along with a chef) spent six months working with their American counterparts, assembling components of the courtyard using entirely traditional tools and techniques. China made special arrangements to ensure complete authenticity of the construction – granting permission to log nan trees, a species related to cedar driven close to extinction during the eighteenth-century, and only used in exceptional cases such as the Memorial Hall of Mao Zedong. A Qing Dynasty imperial kiln was also reopened to fire the terra-cotta tiles for the roof and floor, similar to the ones in the gardens of the Forbidden City in Beijing.
Writing under the guise of the Qing Dynasty Emperor Qian Long, I set out to compose a poem illustrating my experience of the compound during my visit. Strolling in the gardens, lingering over striking views among kindred spirits in shared enjoyment of good food and wine were important aspect of a scholar-recluse’s life. The scholar’s ideal of retreating to a garden, away from worldly vexations, appealed even to an emperor. Composing the poem was my way of returning the court to its original function as a space for creative and intellectual exchange.
Juxtaposing text and image begin to compose a narrative that not only wanders through the boundaries of reality and fantasy, but more importantly, the verses in the poem point to the decontextualization of the garden courtyard. The institution may think they can recreate the context, but unwittingly project current attitudes into a constructed past, presented for western consumption.
A Stroll in the Garden Court
Spotlight streaming on Lofty Mountains,
stiff shadows casted on plastered walls.
Looking above birds eager to descend,
drove back by the dividing shine.
South of the garden I noticed a tiny pond,
its water still and shallow.
Barred from the pavilion I stumbled to a halt,
brows furrowed all around is still.
The mood is lost I walk away,
my movements observed by hidden eyes.
Where eaves are high comes the echo of strangers,
my host is still no where in sight.