Archive for April, 2010

the lee oriental rock garden.

21 April 2010

in posting about the lee oriental rock garden in phoenix, arizona, i’m reminded of the adage a picture is worth a thousand words. i’d argue that whoever coined that phrase was just not a very good writer. Photographs are limited in what they can express. It’s the difference between watching a sporting event on television and attending live. You miss the scope: the play developing slowly until it crescendos; the crowd erupting all around you, leaping to their feet in triumph; the scent of the air. Pictures cannot possibly encapsulate all of this within their borders.

(The above is, in a way, an excuse, since the images that accompany this entry do not match the grandeur of the place itself. rather than admitting that i’m just not very good behind the camera, let me add that i’ve also looked online through other people’s attempts, witnessing a similar inadequacy, further lending proof of the form’s limitations.)

louis lee began creating his rock garden in 1958 because he didn’t want to have to worry about a lawn. over the next forty-plus years — he didn’t stop until shortly before his death of cancer in 2006 at the age of ninety two — he collected rocks, buddha statues, beer bottles, toys, desert plants, trophies, and various other items, slowly constructing a labyrinth of narrow paths and low archways in his front yard, completely obscuring his house from the street.

upon entering the garden, there is a bowl among an elaborate display of rocks, christmas lights, and religious and mythological figures. above, a sign reads no admission charge. donations are appreciated; below, writing encouraging visitors to make a wish. from there one can travel in a myriad of directions, each way packed with complex imagery and found objects. framed newspaper articles and photographs line the corridors. one could spend hours viewing a single section of the property, as it is all densely layered and every detail has been manipulated by lee’s hand.

while navigating one feels a sense of calm, bordering on spiritual, as if experiencing a dream. the entire place is peculiarly elegant, sort of alien (i found myself often thinking, i can’t believe a human being is capable of this). architecturally, and otherwise, the site rivals the great pyramids of giza. slight hyperbole aside, i think the comparison works, in that lee toiled, albeit with much more happiness than the ancient egyptian slaves, for the majority of his life to build, for all intents and purposes, a tomb, a place for generations to come and marvel at the splendor. here’s hoping it lasts as long.


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