Ungenda and Garth Murray
8” square base x 16” between arms x 4’3” height.
Concrete, steel, blown glass, water, aluminum, nylon, Sometsuke-style ceramic shards. Commissioned by Cascade Valley Hospital in Arlington, WA.
Beginning in the 14th and 15th centuries, associated with a contemplative wabi sabi philosophy, the meditative tea ceremony reached great popularity in Japan. An outdoor stone water basin (tsukubai, 蹲踞) became a necessary accessory, into which the guest would plunge their hands, beginning their meditative experience. To help with drainage and avoid muddy feet, gardeners began burying large pots nearby, surrounded by gravel - a sort of Japanese French drain. To everyone’s surprise, water drops falling into the water in the unseen, mostly empty vessels produced a reverberating, ringing bell noise. Thus were born suikinkutsu (水琴窟),a whole new meditative aspect of the tea ceremony.
They were soon an intentional part of the tea ceremony experience, but almost completely forgotten by the early 20th century. A renaissance of appreciation followed in the 1980s, and once again suikinkutsu are appreciated in Japan for the meditative music they create.
As is a common theme in Ungenda's work, his “American Suikinkutsu” series celebrates historical art and architecture by borrowing the suikinkutsu concept for this amalgamated American interpretation, in which the resonating chamber is a focus instead of a mystery, contained inside blown glass which fills with water up to the middle of the clear window. Inside the steel hemispheres (created by sculptor Garth Murray) hidden miniature “shishi odoshi” (literally “deer scare-er”) fill with water and then audibly tip, sending plump drops of water to crash at the focal, eye level water line. The resulting reverberating ripples complement the traditional bell-like ringing echo, and help American Suikinkutsu serve as a very functional meditative accessory to the nearby Intensive Care ward.
All art asks for your attention. This installations suggests that your attention becomes contemplation. Watching the sculpture's ripples bounce is an engrossing experience which sweeps one up into the lull of repetition. Slowly, the water begins to settle, and a pregnant pause begins until "TAP!" The stillness is broken with a gentle tone as a shishi odoshi tips. After a single moment, a little deluge follows, and the circle continues chaotically. With the beautiful beginnings, endings, and rhythms - each unique and unknowably timed.