Why is the subject of utopia interesting for Art Group 705?
First of all, our country, Kyrgyzstan, participated in the construction of a better world, we have our Soviet Union past. So now we can say that we live in a kind of post-utopian time. The system we were constructing did change our life – a good and strong education system was built, our society changed, the landscape has changed etc. This was a planned motion to utopia. But at the same time it included repressions, camps, incredible cruelty.
Secondly, we were working with the theme of our regional power. And we met a situation where the words “Do this for the sake of the better” are encouraging you to sacrifice today and suffer now for the better future. The power in CA often sacrifices today’s people life hiding behind the aspiration for the better future (presidents’ messages, images of the happy future life). If we call it a speculation, how to learn if all the utopias are not speculation eventually?
And thirdly, many of Art Group 705 works have the form of the theater of absurd. In the theater we ask ourselves – what is the person passing through? How can she or he cope with their troubles? How do they get on with their inner contradictions? Here we would like to recall the great russian writer Fyodor Dostoevskyi. These questions were familiar to him. Being young he was interested in utopian ideas, and he was nearly executed for that. After the might-have-been execution he changed his attitude towards utopian ideas and he called them demons. So when we look through the theater of absurd we find a lot of difficulties with the theme of utopia.
For the Minga project we have chosen Ashirbek’s japanese garden. We think that his life, his thoughts, his practice can be very useful for the project. His labour is a garden, and garden is one of the Minga’s subjects. He is working on his little garden for twenty years. Each day he works there from morning till late at night, then he reads and makes notes. Ashirbek began his japanese garden after the Soviet Union collapse. This was a hard time. He planned to sell bonsai for living. But bonsai did not arrive and required a lot of energy and time. Than Ashirbek understood that to create a garden he needs to rebuilt existing form of keeping his house.
Here we are immediately facing the utopia. Ashirbek came to an understanding that many people dream of a paradise on Earth, of a place for rest and piece, where nothing disturbs us. Japanese garden fits in very well with this concept. A garden of gods. But as soon as we try to build it, we result in our typical world, the same miserable, dirty and grey as always. We can give you an example. Ashirbek had a neighbour, who was growing a beautiful peach orchard. When the man sold it, new neighbours cut all the trees for fire at once. They did it because it was their habitual way of house-keeping, their attitude to details – to a stone, to a tree, to watering. So it seems that despite all our wish towards the better, we continuously meet our own habits. Another well known example are people who want to lose weight, but they are not able to overcome the habit of overeating.
Ashirbek is a practical man. All his activity is aimed to overcome this habits. He reads a lot. He draws a lot from Hegel, Marx, Lenin, looking back into the soviet past. He says that in his college years he barely passed an exam in Marxism, but after he understood how important the subject could be and started learning it again. What does he get from it? He gets the necessity to change the world and the critique of demagogy. We often encounter people who love to change the world on words, but in practice it is quite another. Practice shows how hard and unbearable the process can be sometimes. In 2004 Ashirbek got severely ill, he was diagnosed with intervertebral hernia. He couldn’t move. But if his garden would have no watering it would die very fast, our climate is aggressive for such a garden. And Ashirbek had to work on himself, make special exercises several times a day, to stand up and water bonsai. He keeps on doing the exercises since that time. If he stops, his garden will come to its end.
Then Ashirbek understood that bonsai needs a big space for wintering, the trees do not survive in our cold winter. He began a construction of a large basement. But he couldn’t earn money anymore, because the garden took all his time and strength, also his spine illness was reminding about itself. So he didn’t have the resources to hire labour. Ashirbek started to dig a big basement on his own, at the same time looking after the trees. Eventually it took him several years to build the basement. At that he was hurting his spine and it got worse several times, he was lying in bed again.
Ashirbek’s experience is the one that shows us that building utopia is a very practical issue, but having no conceptual elaboration we will act in our habitual ways. In order to overcome our habits we need to search for new methods in literature and take them to practice or get rid of them for their uselessness.
That is how he started practicing meditation, breathing exercises, at the same time rejecting many shintoist conventions. It was exactly practical necessity that pushed him to study and practice Marxism and Zen Buddhism, despite that ideologically these are opposite approaches. His practice shows that you can never do only with the words. Acts are the main prove of your rightness. If the garden blossoms well then you are right, this is the right way. If it fades then you are wrong. Ashirbek’s favorite sayings are “even if you are dying stand up and chop a firewood”, “fire your bonsai but don’t touch natural trees”. His project is a theory, a practice and ethics in his everyday struggle.
Here is a parable about bonsai. The Emperor got lost in a forest. He came to a poor hut. He asks if he may come inside. The hosts are really poor, they don’t have even a spare bed linen, they have no firewood, the hut is cold. But the husband has a bonsai and he sends it to an oven to warm the hut for their guest.
In spite that the poor people live in a forest they send their bonsai to an oven to stay in harmony with a forest. This is a legend about bonsai that teaches us to be attentive to this world, to love every leaf and every flower, but to understand that it may demand to work on ourselves.