by Mara Fisher
The tradition of collecting, displaying, and exhibiting natural stones was introduced to Japan from China in the 7th century during the reign of Empress Suiko. The Japanese tradition of natural stone appreciation is called Suiseki, an abbreviation of “san-sui-kei-jyo-seki“, or “landscape scene stone”.
Inset: Lisa Vo-Le & Phat Vo, "El Capitan", Kern River, California, 11 x 15 x 8.5"
Suiseki stones are natural sculptures carved from water and wind, unaltered by those that collect them and displayed as they were found in nature. The stones are often exhibited on hand-carved wooden bases called daiza, or shallow trays called suiban, and can take on both formal likenesses or abstract forms.
For many, viewing stones serve as works for contemplation and self-reflection, mirroring back to a viewer in the same way that one may interpret an ink blot or cloud. A particularly abstract stone that refuses to take the shape of any recognizable form may serve as an object of meditation — an inert point of focus abetting a viewer's passage to a state of stillness.
Many collectors seek out stones that imitate geological features — mountains, plateaus, arches, caves, islands — as well as the living creatures that inhabit them. Viewing stones that convey an earthly likeness can provide alternative landscapes to our own; points of escape from that which immediately surrounds us.
The qualities of Suiseki and other viewing stones may indicate the climatic conditions of locations from which they were sourced - in this way, collected stones serve as an imprint of place and time. Their role as vestiges of events long sinced passed imbues these objects with a deep narrative capacity. It's these unknown pasts of viewing stones and the new meanings they take on when recontextualized by human hands that continue to inspire collectors and admirers alike.