Jacqueline Hassink offers a unique look at Kyoto’s temples and gardens

Jacqueline Hassink offers a unique look at Kyoto’s temples and gardens

When we last caught up with Jacqueline Hassink, the Dutch photographer had published the sequel to her landmark project on Europe’s boardrooms. She had also wrapped another major body of work: View, Kyoto, a beguiling photo essay exploring traditional Japanese gardens at the city’s Buddhist temples. Those images make their UK debut today at the Wapping Project Bankside.

The series was inspired by Hassink’s first visit to Kyoto, where she was drawn to the ‘micro-systems’ that occur when gardens are viewed through the adjacent architecture, as if in a frame. (She refers to it as an ‘abstract painting of nature’.) Her photographs emphasise the unclear border between private and public spaces – though they are careful to give visual balance to both the woven tatami mats and lush foliage. Of her approach, the artist says: ‘The temple grounds became the working material with which I created sculptural photographic compositions.’

It was by no means an easy undertaking for the photographer who, as an outsider, contended with thousands of years of tradition and a notoriously secretive community. ‘Kyoto is a very closed society where generations of family are bound together. You can only gain access if you have the proper introduction,’ says Hassink. ‘Kyoto is a mystery to many people and it takes years to unravel it.’

The artist persevered – it took several official letters, donations and gifts of temple cake – and was able to convince the monks of her earnest intentions. ‘Protocol was extremely important,’ she notes. The head monk of Oubai-in was so convinced, he invited her to stay for an entire year to gain a better understanding of Buddhism and temple life. ‘I photographed at his temple several times and he allowed me to use it as a living sculpture,’ she says. ‘I closed and opened sliding doors to create new rooms.’

It might seem Hassink is more at home the less familiar her environment. For an upcoming project in Beijing, the artist will deal ‘with the moment of isolation when using a smartphone’. And her Unwired Landscapes series examines places in the world without Internet or cell phone coverage. ‘I believe these places will become historic and valuable,’ she says.

Along with her large-scale prints on view at the Wapping Project, Hassink has unveiled a film featuring the four head monks who served as her subjects. ‘My idea was to let the monks talk about space and nature, since they really understand the identity of the garden,’ she says. ‘The changing of the seasons is crucial in Japanese culture and this is what makes Zen gardens so incredibly fascinating. The monks are experiencing it year after year, so they appreciate this more than anybody.’

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