As wabi-sabi is both visual and philosophical, we can think about the materiality as emotive and what messages are engrained in the surfaces and translate into human sensibility. Wabi-Sabi could be associated with the word 'rustic'; simple, earthy, unpretentious, natural materials, rough in appearance, typical of the countryside, artless, unsophisticated, irregular or even crude, uncouth or awkward. Under Leonard Koren's 'comprehensive aesthetic system' (Koren, 1994:40) to describe wabi-sabi (I wrote about it here), characteristics include that which is asymmetrical, rough, economic, austere and modest.
Irregular: Wabi-Sabi could be seen as the opposite is conventional good taste. In design and mass-production irregularity is penalised and costly. Irregular = human touch and nature of touch as opposed to mechanization.
Intimate: Small, compact, quiet, secluded, private, tranquil - 'womb-like'.
Unpretentious: Wabi-Sabi is the opposite of 'Look at me and my splendour, I am important'.
Earthy: rich and raw in texture, course and unrefined - not far from original condition. Craftsmanship may not seemingly be evident.
Murky: vague, blurry, attenuated qualities (approaching and coming from nothingness).
Simple: 'Nothingness' is core to wabi-sabi and simplicity is ultimate as anything before or after nothing is less simple. (Koren, 1994:62-72). The authenticity of wabi-sabi lays in the minute timeworn details which add depth, expression, appeal and randomness, they can be seen easier as opposed to the obvious flaws and imperfections in something intentional made to appear as balanced and flawless, as per post-industrial modernism.
Things wabi-sabi are made from materials that are subject to the corrosive forces of natural weathering and, likewise, the wear and tear of usage caused by human hands. "They record the sun, wind, rain, heat and cold in a language of discolouration, rust, tarnish, stain, warping, shrinking, shrivelling and cracking. Their nicks, chips, bruises, scars, dents, peeling, and other forms of attrition are a testament to histories of use and misuse. Though things wabi-sabi may be on the point of dematerialisation (or materialisation) - extremely faint, fragile, or desecrated - they still possess an undiminished poise and strength of character" (Koren, 1994:62). All of the adjectives in Koren's quote describe something impermanent, imperfect and incomplete, three core principles of wabi-sabi. The weathered, timeworn-ness found in nature speaks philosophically of impermanence and it is in this context I am photographing the surfaces and patinas of ancient historical sites in Cornwall.
Koren, Leonard (1994) Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers. California: Imperfect Publishing.