Today we visited the opening day of Robert Steven’s International Bonsai Art & Culture Biennial 2014 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. There were lots of beautiful bonsai displays to appreciate in a large exhibition hall, which was divided into about ten smaller galleries, plus a Robert’s “Thinker’s Secret Studio” complete with “peep holes.” Each gallery displayed several different styles and forms of bonsai and displays. Most of the compositions were labeled belonging to Robert, but other exhibitors were listed as well.
This was not an exhibition where one goes to study the form, trunk, and roots leaves and the bark of a bonsai. The beauty of each tree was creatively used to present a new use of bonsai artistically, unlike anything that I’ve seen before, and I loved it! Although I’m accustomed to seeing bonsai displayed in Japan with a quiet and refined taste, these bonsai were dramatic, creative, exciting and innovative. I truly believe Robert has elevated the artistic appreciation and use of bonsai to a new level with his stimulating exhibition.
Of course there were many single bonsai traditionally displayed alone with a plain background, but these were greatly overshadowed by Robert’s unique displays, similar to dioramas seen in museum settings. Many had lights flashing, two displays had the clicking sounds of cameras, one was rotating showing half a missing container held together with stones and moss holding a free form bonsai. Several of the displays included traditional Indonesian batik cloths and human figures made of dried grass. A couple featured picture frames with bonsai coming “out of the box.” Most were dramatically lighted, often with different colored bulbs which made for poor photography, but lovely for an up close personal view.
These descriptions may sound garish, but they were all beautifully executed in fine taste, just not in the style most people are accustomed to. Perhaps some visitors were offended because they did not understand what Robert Stevens was attempting to present to the world– the true artistic value, appreciation and use of bonsai.
I believe one must have an open mind to see and experience many different styles of bonsai from around the world. Quite often people have a limited viewpoint and do not have, nor desire to understand other forms of bonsai appreciation. There is nothing wrong with this viewpoint, but in order for an art form to grow, I believe its necessary to expand our understanding.
Many of Robert’s displays used his native Indonesian culture and folklore as inspirations and as accessories, while others were more modern. Quite a number of the displays were large, ten feet or more. Immediately many people would say, this would never fit into my home, or the bonsai is too large for me to move alone. Well, those people have lost the entire meaning and concept of this exhibition which is to present bonsai artistically and innovatively. In order to fill the exhibition area, large pieces are necessary. There is nothing to stop anyone to recreate or even improve on these display concepts and designs on a smaller scale. By the way, as you look over these display you might not like some of them, but that does not mean that they are poor, it only means you don’t understand the design concept of Robert Steven.
Throughout the indoor exhibition halls, sand paintings of different colored gravel artistically arranged on the floor seemed to lead you from one exhibit to another, all in an Indonesian flair.
There are often discussions about the validity of bonsai as an art form. The International Bonsai Art & Culture Biennial 2014 clearly indicates that bonsai IS an art form and can be used to express both the beauty of bonsai as well as the culture of a nation, and have fun with it as well.
Purple lighting with shadows were intentional
This exhibition took over a year and one half of Robert’s life to conceptualize, assemble and finally to display with impeccable taste so the participants can have a greater understanding of bonsai as a true art form.
Well done Robert, I congratulate you on your successful exhibition and wonder what you will do in two years to improve your show.
Oh, there is also an outdoor exhibition which I briefly went through in the sweltering heat which I hope revisit later. Plus tomorrow begins three mornings of bonsai demonstrations from twelve prominent artists around the globe. Stay tuned for more… Tomorrow evening we will dine at the Sultan’s Palace where participants are requested to wear their countries native dress. I wonder what the native costume in the United States of America is….
Street peddler trying to sell our group a bonsai