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Torben Pedersens 60 års fødselsdag blev fejret for nogle dage siden. / A few days ago we celebrated the Birthday of Torben Pedersen who turned 60.

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Torben er medstifter og bestyrelsesmedlem i Shohin Bonsai Danmark. Udover bonsai dyrker han kampkunst i stor stil, og er uinderviser på højt plan. Fødselsdagsgæsterne fik både opvisning og personlig udstilling af bonsai og Suiseki. / Torben Pedersen is co-founder of Shohin Bonsai Danmark, but also a very keen martial art enthusiast and instructor at heigh level. The guests were entertained with both martial arts and Torbens personal exhibition of bonsai and Suiseki. 

Mini-bonsai (shohin) exhibition in China

The 2nd Mini-bonsai exhibition September 2014 in Changzhou Qinxin Garden was an experience and a surprise to me. I had not expected something like this when I was invited to China to be part of this event.

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At the exhibition I counted about 130 Mini-bonsai displays and many of high quality. Shohin- or Mini-bonsai, are growing rapidly in popularity in Japan, and in the west too. But clearly also in China, who can now make an event like this, showing the best of Mini-bonsai although still having a very short history of this type of bonsai. Not at least set up against a more than 1300 year history of bonsai in China.

Mini-bonsai has a different perspective than normal larger bonsai. Where large bonsai are displayed by themselves to show the beauty, strength and elegance of the tree, Mini-bonsai are focused on showing the beauty of the season too. This is done by displaying two or several trees together in a harmonious display, where flowering trees are important in summer, fruit bearing trees in autumn, and as deciduous trees do in winter, bringing out the feeling of the season.

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Shohin and Mini-bonsai are poetic displays, bringing joy to the viewer. So when I have put all the technical stuff aside, not looking on trees pointing in the right or wrong direction i.e., and just look at the displays, joy is the word that came in to my mind first. The playfulness and purity of the shown displays is still what is filling me with happiness after watching the exhibition. Something I also noticed in the faces of the many guests attending the event.

There were clear signs of the traditional Chinese Penjing style in many displays, while others had inspiration from Japanese bonsai culture or a mixture. All put together in a professional set up with each display area divided and framed with beautiful wood carved frames. The overall impact as a visitor must be joy, seeing so many displays in one place in a so well done arrangement in the impressive Changzhou Qinxin Garden.

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The opening ceremony and the way we as visitors have been received were overwhelming. The friendliness and hospitality will be remembered by us all I am sure. This kindness is somehow reflected in the way Mini-bonsai is displayed. There are many items in each display, using figures and arranging the display freely. The style is reflecting the cultural background, as it is in Japan, and as it is in my country in Europe where I have my background. The world of bonsai and Mini-bonsai will undoubtedly have its influence on how we approach and display.

We will in future not only have our own perception and national way of doing the art, but also we will be adapting what we see in a global world, exchanging not only knowledge but also aesthetical views and ideas. And not at least, and of great importance, sharing friendship in the name of bonsai.

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The world of Mini-bonsai is playful and it is fun. It is also accessible to many people who will be able to find this kind of bonsai easier to access and finding it easier to achieve material less expensive than larger bonsai. Exhibitions like this are opening the eyes for more people to find the beauty and appreciate it.

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Mini-bonsai in China will certainly grow rapidly in the time to come as it is all over the world. Also in Europe, where the first national Mini bonsai association British Shohin Bonsai was formed in 2005 under the name British Shohin Bonsai Association. Followed by the Shohin Bonsai Danmark organisation in Denmark, which I established this fall with Johnny Eslykke and Torben Pedersen. I look forward to see how Mini-bonsai will grow and develop the next years, in China, Japan, Korea, Denmark, Europe and the rest of the world.

View all 163 photos from the mini-bonsai exhibition at www.shohin-europe.com 

 

Shohin workshop 2 – displaying

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At the Shohin workshop at the Bonsaiwerkstatt in Düsseldorf, Germany, we used the late Sunday part of the workshop to do some shohin presentations. There was a display rack available, and we used the trees already available through the workshop. So this was not a display by selected trees, but trying some displays with trees available.

It is valuable to set up some different displays, discussing sizes, directions and pot colours for practise and enlightenment. Trees were swapped to see the effect of it, and the discussions were open-minded but also influenced by personal preferences. As it should be. A display is a personal expression of the nature presented, and therefore we have different opinions about taste of colours and shapes i.e. The expression of the season is of great importance, but how we individually express this is different from each of us.

We discussed “rules” and guidelines, and I sensed that we agreed that there are few rules and much freedom to express the beauty of nature with a personal feeling. I will recommend to do this more often. Bring everything along, try different presentations with small or big changes, and discuss what works and what doesn’t.

Haruyosi shohin display

There are many ways of setting up a shohin-bonsai display. Haruyosi from Japan has permitted that I share some of his Facebook and blog content to share experiences and his efforts with shohin-bonsai. I find this kind of sharing valuable because it opens our minds for other views than the common established way of seeing and perceiving.

In this example it is tested how a shohin-bonsai display works with the items available.

Firts a test of setting up two bonsai at the main position (right) and a secondary tree (left) - afterwards changed.
Firts a test of setting up two bonsai at the main position (right) and a secondary tree (left) – afterwards changed.
It shown to be difficult because the impression changes depending on how the trees are placed.  It changes also the depth of the display how the other items are placed, and even small changes can make a great difference.
It shows – after the two trees have changed position – to be difficult because the impression changes depending on how the trees are placed. It changes also the depth of the display how the other items are placed, and even small changes can make a great difference.
Here several items are prepared, and pieces are tried in different positions to see what works best.
Here several items are prepared, and pieces are tried in different positions to see what works best.
The final display so far. The display balance is good, and what is on hand is used. There is not the luxury of choosing among a lot of trees, because we have to use what is available.
The final display so far. The display balance is good, and what is on hand is used. There is not the luxury of choosing among a lot of trees, because we have to use what is available.

This example shows how the display is set up by choosing among trees at hand. It is set up by the use of trees from a personal collection, without making use of rented trees or pots, or assistance from a nursery. It is a good lesson in dealing with a shohin-bonsai display trying different possibilities, and observing how it changes the expression by changing simple elements. Try it at home :-)

Say NO to RULES

4 items, three shohin-bonsai and one accents. Is it right or wrong? Does it matter? Does it work?
4 items, three shohin-bonsai and one accent. Is it right or wrong? Does it matter? Does it work? Photo: Shuga-ten and the Japanese Shohin-bonsai Association.

We are still clinging to the bonsai rules thing. When we do not cope with the artistic freedom or maybe are afraid of failing, we can always say we did what we did, because the rules told us to do so. But the frightening truth is, there are no rules in bonsai. There may be some restrictions regarding exhibit areas on a exhibition, how tall a tree going into the shohin category have to be e.g., but generally speaking THERE ARE NO RULES.

A common belief concerning shohin-bonsai displays is that the display has to be with a odd number of trees; when counting elements, dead items do not count in (scrolls), – and even at the latest  exhibition I took part in a judge disqualified a display because of the use of an even number of trees. Say what?

I have therefore borrowed a few photos from the highly recognized Japanese exhibition Shuga-ten and the Japanese Shohin-bonsai Association, with examples that proves not to go with this misunderstanding. There are no rules telling us how many elements to put in to the display area assigned the artist.

Two bonsai and one accent. Is this three items, or two bonsai with and accent? Odd or even numbers? Photo: Shuga-ten and the Japanese Shohin-bonsai Association.
Two bonsai and one accent. Is this three items, or two bonsai with and accent? Odd or even numbers? Photo: Shuga-ten and the Japanese Shohin-bonsai Association.

Some times it is easier to set up a display with an uneven number of trees, because it is easier to balance the display. But it is only because of this, not that you cant or will be denied artistic freedom. Why are most displays with an uneven number of elements then? you may ask. Because it is easier to set up and achieve harmony. If you use an even  number of items, the use of negative space is very important to achieve the right balance and harmony – but if it works it works. So please go ahead and experiment with the display, and forget about numbers and rules. Just think about the expression, the mood, the feeling and balance of your display. That´s what counts.

Four items - does it work?
Four items – does it work?
Photo: Shuga-ten and the Japanese Shohin-bonsai Association.
How will you count this? Will you count? Should you?
How will you count this? Will you count? Should you?
Photo: Shuga-ten and the Japanese Shohin-bonsai Association.
Four bonsai and one accent or five items? Photo: Shuga-ten and the Japanese Shohin-bonsai Association.
Four bonsai and one accent or five items?
Photo: Shuga-ten and the Japanese Shohin-bonsai Association.

Only now I understand nothing

Rhododendron lysolepsis. Pot by John Pitt (UK).
Rhododendron lysolepsis. Pot by John Pitt (UK).

How much do you live bonsai? Or how do you appreciate your bonsai in daily life?

I have been doing bonsai for app. 20 years now, if I count in the very first lessons learned, killing innocent small trees collected in local forests, working on them way too early and way too hard. Before that I bought a book, maybe 30 years ago, first time bonsai caught my attention. It took a while before I then tried and failed and had few successes. Today I know more, but still now nothing. As a Danish artist expressed it: “Only now I understand nothing” after many years of work with his art. In other words, the more I know the bigger the world of untrodden land seems to be.

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Today I know plenty of techniques, how to prune, how to fertilize, how to develop a tree from raw form, how to keep them healthy and growing i.e. and am still learning. Secondly the land to discover that seems endlessly open is the aesthetics and appreciation of bonsai as art. We all (most of us I guess) are flabbergasted when watching a stunning aged Juniper with dramatic deadwood and nicely arranged foliage pads. But how about the small things, the less intrusive and silent expressions of bonsai. The fine and graceful maple, the flowering small Shohin Potentilla e.g. The aged branches where even the small branches are showing age like the bark of the trunk, the well developed root base (nebari); do we watch and appreciate?

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What about the pots? Do we value new nice clean pots over aged weather exposed and aged pots? I now put unused pots outside during the growing season to add weather to my pots. Sun, dust, fertilizer and rain develops patina and age. This is the aesthetic preference of a bonsai pot, and I enjoy as well the the silent expression of the old Japanese maple in an old pot. Maybe more than the over exposed and over appreciated Junipers with massive deadwood. Maybe because I live in a country with soft landscapes and silent trees. I am fascinated by watching the dramatic mountain trees, but they are so far away from my daily life, that I do not see them as a natural bigger part of my personal bonsai collection, and even tend to find them a little odd in local bonsai exhibitions if present. I appreciate and study more and more the textures of bark, end enjoy the new buds during winter getting ready for spring. I study and practise how to display bonsai, and how to arrange a shohin-bonsai display with the right mood and feeling.

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I try to understand the aesthetics of bonsai through my daily work with my trees. And I develop a sense for the simpler and humbler trees like deciduous trees often are, as time goes by. But I feel that I have to know more about how to express this in bonsai displaying, and in the way the bonsai are styled. This is an endless road with many directions, and I just hope to learn it little by little. This is the joy of bonsai for me developing through experience and facing an even wider field. Experiencing the feeling and the untold, and trying to understand how to express this. Not easy to put words on, and not easy to learn. But I try, and keep trying. Maybe some day I will succeed :-) This is part of the dedicated work. Next is the daily living with my bonsai. Remembering to stop and observe. Just standing and watching, without doing anything else.

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From time to time I try to remember taking a tree aside and just study it. No work, no watering – just using my eyes to observe and enjoy textures of bark, branches, leaves and the pot. This I find as valuable as working with the trees, and I think it is as important as learning techniques and  horticultural knowledge. I can recommend this – just relaxing with a tree for an hour (more or less doesn’t matter) – just do it, and learn your tree better than you do when just passing it when watering, or wiring it.

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Bonsai ceremony – a new way with tradition

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A new concept of viewing and perceiving bonsai is introduced at the spring bonsai exhibition, Ga-shun-ten arranged by Fuchi Bonsai (Morten Albek, Johnny Eslykke and Torben Hornstrup Sottaku Pedersen).

The Bonsai Ceremony is a totally new way of introducing the art of displaying bonsai in the Tokonoma, based on the Japanese Tea Ceremony and Ikebana. We hope this will enhance the experience of bonsai display and bonsai as an art form. Bonsai needs progress as any other art form. We hope this new way of showing the classical bonsai display aesthetics, making use of old traditions in a new context, will raise the knowledge and appreciation of bonsai.  How it will be performed you have to wait and see after the spring exhibition, or take part :-)

The full program for the day below.

Sunday May 4th – 2014

Introducing the Bonsai Ceremony

Bonsai exhibition, demo, workshop and bonsai market

The newly constructed Japanese garden at Morten Albek´s residence frames this spring event.

Bonsai Ceremony Introducing a new way of seeing and experiencing bonsai. the Bonsai Ceremony is based on the Japanese Tea ceremony and Ikebana.

Bonsai exhibition Fuchi Bonsai exhibits bonsai.

Demo: Johnny Eslykke working at a European Larch, Morten Albek and Torben Pedersen shows bonsai display techniques in a display workshop.

Workshop Open workshop – bring your tree – get hands on and advices.

Bonsai market Bring trees, raw stocks i.e. you want to swap with other or sell at reasonable prices.

Entry fee: 50,-dkr.

Sign up by e-mail no later than April 27th at fuchi@fuchi-bonsai.com