Suiseki, which literally translates as ‘water stone’, is an ancient Japanese art of admiring stones. An ode to time, patience and simplicity, suiseki involves showcasing the most remarkable stones found in nature and upon which water, erosion, wind and time have acted to sculpt abstract or, depending on the imagination more meaningful shapes, such as a mountain or animal. The beauty of a suiseki therefore lies in its ability to suggest an aspect of nature.
Originating from China, where it is known as gongshi, and Korea, where it is termed Suseok, the art of suiseki was introduced to Japan by the Chinese Imperial Court during the Asuka period (538 or 552-710 AD), and was only discovered in the western world during the first bonsai exhibitions, where the stones were also presented. Like the rigorous codes of bonsai, suiseki also has its own rules, linked to the quality of colours and the powers of suggestion and balance. Stones in multiple colours are the most appreciated, but placing them in light or shadow also allows a more precise aspect to be showcased, while also reflecting their harmonious balance and translating their original beauty. Enhanced naturally, the stone is simply placed on a wooden stand or, like in times past, presented in a bowl filled with a layer or water or sand. A wooden stand, or dai/daiza, is the most frequently used option, and is generally made from a type of refined wood such as rosewood, in order to support the stone and, more importantly, showcase it.
For real suiseki aficionados, the most difficult thing is to find the stone that provides complete satisfaction from the moment of its discovery. Once the rare pearl is unearthed, the whole stone becomes conducive to contemplation of and reflection on the place of humans in their environment. As Matsuura Arishige, global ambassador of the art of suiseki, explains so well, ‘a good suiseki has the power to represent to humans, in just a few centimetres, the whole of Earth and the cosmos’.