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JEAN RUITER PROJECT / Archive and Stock Sales photoworks Jean Ruiter
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17 / The Kyoto Zen-Gardens / 1999
01 / Kodai-ji / 1999 / 70x144cm / mounted on pvc / 2275
02 / Ryoan-ji / 1999 / 87x124.5cm / mounted on board / 1975
02 / Ryoan-ji / 1999 / 87x124.5cm / mounted on board / 1975
03 / Ryogen-in I / 1999 / 87x125cm / mounted on board/ 1975
03 / Ryogen-in I / 1999 / 87x125cm / mounted on board / 1975
04 / Tofuku-ji / 1999 / 87x 119cm / black frame, glass / 2250
04 / Tofuku-ji / 1999 / 87x 119cm / mounted on board / 1975
05 / Nanzen-ji / 1999 / 87x117cm / white frame, glass / 2250
05 / Nanzen-ji / 1999 / 87x117cm / mounted on board / 1975
06 / Ryogen-in II / 1999 / 87x 173cm / black frame, glass / 3500
06 / Ryogen-in II / 1999 / 87x 173cm / mounted on board / 3200
07 / Entoku-in I / 1999 / 87x165cm / mounted on board/ 2575
08 / Entoku-in II / 1999 / 87x121cm / mounted on board / 1975
09 / Koto-in / 1999 / 87x190cm / mounted on board / 3200
10 / Hoshun-in / 1999 / 87x 187cm / black frame, glass / 3500
10 / Hoshun-in / 1999 / 87x 187cm / mounted on board / 3200
11 / Entoku-in III / 1999 / 87x 87cm / white frame, glass / 2175
11 / Entoku-in III / 1999 / 87x 87cm / mounted on board / 1875

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Related Text:
The Kyoto Zen Gardens by drs. Marcel Feil


The Kyoto Zen Gardens
by drs. Marcel Feil

Western gardens are often based on a geometrical design, like a circle, a square or a triangle. One demarcates the paths with stones and puts plants and flowers behind it. All beautifully ordered. Nature in design, according to a human idea follows a preliminary concept. Like the gardens of Versailles. It has certain beauty, but nature is not allowed to be itself the Ryoan-ji temple in Kyoto is the location of a famous rockgarden made by a nameless medieval zenbuddhist. It is a dry garden. Nothing grows in it. And yet, it is pure nature.The Japanese rockgarden is made according to the philosophy of zen. Obviously, this garden has also been made by a gardener and therefore with human hands. But this gardener never tried to impose his will on nature. Instead he tried to renounce all ideas, all thoughts. The gardener became emptiness. And so we see a white plain of pebbles, an emptiness that reigns the garden and mirrors the emptiness within the self. To reach and experience that emptiness is to reach Sunyata, enlightenment.

In zen-philosophy emptiness is not a passive entity, but rather something active and spontane. If one abandons all frills - your thoughts, your identity and so on - one can be and act spontaneously. For this reason the gardener placed some rocks in the garden, just here and there. The emptiness manifests itself in something tangible. If you're looking long and quietly at the garden you can experience the dynamics of this emptiness.

In his photographic survey The Kyoto Zen-Gardens Jean Ruiter examines the tension between nature and culture. As the outcome of a strictly technical process a photograph is by definition a cultural product. It doesn't capture the truth. It represents only a minimal and congealed moment of time ' chosen by a photographer whose considerations, perception and thoughts are for the bigger part also the result of cultural determination. As a representation the photograph is real, but the image it represents of course isn't the real thing. The zen-gardens are exactly the opposite. They do not represent nature, they are nature itself Since the experience of the garden as an active and real presence of emptiness is so essential, a photograph always fails to live up to that experience.

Jean Ruiter has always been aware of the intrinsic relativity of his medium. That awareness lies at the foundation of almost his whole artistic life. A photograph is something man-made, a constructing that can be discussed, argued and questioned. The same is true for cultures itself To Rite’s conviction cultures are never absolute but always constructions of mankind, relative and true for the time being. In his photographic works he surveys those cultures, he holds them up against the light, he is mocking at them, unveils and deconstructs them and, at the same time, adds something to those cultures. Because Ruiter always maintains part of a culture, of his own culture - never able to fully escape from it. But he keeps on trying. He still maintains the attitude of a passer-by, of someone without a permanent residence. A traveller who acts as an observer in stead of a participant and who uses his self-created freedom to deliver his artistic commentary.

This same approach is used for the Kyoto Zen-Garden Project. Respecting the intrinsic value of the gardens, Ruiter didn't make an intervention within the actual gardens. He kept them untouched, only making a very sharp, black-and-white recording of them. But the photographs of the gardens were 'just' photographs and therefore a legitimate starting-point for his own additions. For example, he combined a photograph of the very ancient Kodai-ji-garden with a photograph of a red rose, being a cliche image in western culture of love and passion. The picture of the rose strongly contrasts the zen-garden, not only for the use of colour, but also for the blurred, unsharpe recording. As if Jean Ruiter underlines the artificiality of the rose compared to the clearness of the natural garden. In other works Ruiter fills the emptiness (he is still part of western culture) with the addition of a flat, plastic figure used for measuring the proportions of the human body. He uses the figure as an actor representing various scenes from ancient zen-writings. Curious detail is the fact that the figure is made according to the average proportions of a Japanese man. In this way Ruiter sophisticatedly interweaves differences between men and between cultures.

But according to zenbuddhism all individual differences between men are of secondary meaning. Kitaro Nishida, founder of the Kyotoschool (the philosophical school of thoughts within zenbuddhism) rejected the central position of the Self within western philosophy. He defined the Self as shapeless being, as absolute nothingness. The Self is not some thing, not an object that can be objectivized. It can only be grasped intuitively as 'something' that preliminary objective though. Since the existence of the Self is a necessary prerequisite for making a definition and therefore precedes any definition, it will disappear the moment one tries to define it. It remains shapeless, for everybody. So all people are equal, as beings without being. Mankind is united by a shared, existential emptiness.

Marcel Feil