Nic Shonfeld, 2021. Mobile phone 'reccy' image of Roche Rock

I could summarise my new work as being driven by a desire to 'return to nature/source/origin as an escape from the cacophony of technologised modern life, and to reflect on the impermanent, imperfect and incomplete fleetingness of time'. I've been searching for metaphors to visualise this contemplative call to nature, and through researching hermitage cells and oratory's I think I have found what I am looking for. As weathered relics of human solitude embedded into the remote natural landscape, hermitage cells signify a spiritual sanctuary from modern societies.

Nature-based Zen Buddhist philosophies in Wabi-Sabi aesthetics inform my work. Parallels can be drawn between Christian hermitages and Zen Buddhist monks seeking enlightenment alone in nature. As a side-thought, in a previous post about Jon Cazenave's Galerna project, I wrote about a commonality between his work and my own through the quest to find a sense of 'forgiveness' for our respective landscapes - as opposed to the enlightenment searched in Buddhism, Christianity, or religion at large, for me as an outsider looking in, always seemed to be underpinned by the seeking forgiveness for human sins. It is interesting that both of us are seeking ways of forgiveness, not for ourselves, by seeking a more Zen approach to finding reconciliation through nature.

Whilst the meaning of wabi-sabi has evolved into a positive meaning of aesthetic values, it is fascinating to think that the original meaning of the word Wabi related heavily to the idea of the hermitage: "Wabi originally meant the misery of living alone in nature, away from society, and suggested a discouraged, dispirited, cheerless emotional state. The self-imposed isolation and voluntary poverty of the hermit and ascetic came to be considered opportunities for spiritual richness. For the poetically inclined, this kind of life fostered an appreciation of minor details of everyday life and insights into the beauty of the inconspicuous and overlooked aspects of nature. In turn, unprepossessing simplicity took on new meaning as the basis of a new pure beauty" (Koren, 1994:22).

In the wabi-sabi metaphysical universe, 'all things are either emerging from nothingness or heading to it'. The philosophical principles of impermanence, incompleteness and imperfection in wabi-sabi aesthetics can be visually articulated by murky material traces of what is timeworn, weathered and in a state of decay (see my post about philosophical surfaces here). In this respect, the time-weathered surfaces of hermitages have become wabi-sabi - places where people once sought out spiritual enlightenment have, over time, inadvertently become visual objects embodying the very thing they were built, or appropriated, to facilitate.

Koren, Leonard (1994) Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers. California: Imperfect Publishing.