The Garden of Aki Lumi

Contrary to what its title might suggest, Aki Lumi’s “Garden” series is by no means an invitation to rest and relaxation; his is a space boasting an overabundance of everything – aburst with water, greenery and monuments seemingly fallen into ruin. Perspectives are deliberately modified to dizzy the viewer. The eye loses its way as it travels the work and the space it covers – a space confined as a jungle is confined, but which nonetheless evokes visions of some far-off landscape. A landscape that partakes of forest and jungle alike, but has no real existence. It is the fruit of a photomontage process combining photographs taken in different places and each providing the garden’s various attributes (trees, plants, rivers, waterfalls, ponds, flowers, insects, and so on). Several pieces in the series are the result of combining over three hundred initial images – assembly work that Aki Lumi refers to as “gardening”. The artist starts by creating a monument in an imaginary empty space with no connection to any existing piece of land. He then sets about his “gardening”, making use of motifs originating in religious architecture: baroque churches, cathedrals and Hindu temples. According to Aki Lumi, “cathedrals and temples are works designed to contain an eternal temporality. Their mysterious, complex decoration alone concentrates the will to reach beyond time…” Infinite spiral and curve motifs maintain a fractal relationship with the grasses “planted” inside buildings, erasing borderlines between nature and artefact at the same time. Seeing them, we seem almost to discern a single origin for Hindu motifs and baroque designs, while the grasses, planted so persistently and superposed by motifs with equally insistent repetition, reveal the original forms of these latter. In assembling his photographs by the hundred, Aki Lumi usually starts out cutting and pasting by hand. It is only later that images are put together by computer. But the final image produced is very different from these photomontages, which, by creating the illusion of a naturally composed landscape, aim at the “reality effect”. In contrast, the final work is a true “photograph”, evoking the 18th century’s imaginary architectural plans as much as they do millefleur and medieval Flanders tapestries. A number of pieces are created in flamboyant reds and pinks, and the onlooker is struck by this commitment to an aesthetic carried to its extreme and developed in a place so far removed from reality – the very source of the works’ power. The garden is not lit by just one sun. Light streams forth from all sides, cutting through the foliage. Mosses native to wetlands and the tropics are enlarged to form huge ferns dwarfing the spectator while the giant trees of the great North Woods are reduced to the size of shrubs. The greenery is both distant and in extreme close-up, as if observed through a microscope; and that is what the artist’s garden is: an unbridled interplay of enlargements and reductions, a display of unmoderated perspectives, overflowing with an infinite diversity of features. Will he take such overabundance yet further, until the overfull becomes the “fertile emptiness of the universe”, akin to the original chaos?

Linn K., Oct. 2009.