Photographer Jacqueline Hassink Spent 10 Years Documenting Kyoto’s Buddhist Temples

For her first solo show at Benrubi Gallery, Dutch artist Jacqueline Hassink presents “View, Kyoto.” Hassink, a photographer, spent a decade shooting the gardens at Buddhist temples in and around Kyoto, which was Japan’s imperial capital for more than 1,000 years. The series’ photos match the orderly and structured design of the sacred spaces, and her emphasis on perspective in each photo mimics the designated positions of parishioners interacting with the sites: seated in meditation, standing in perceptive contemplation, walking through the grounds of the temple, interacting with other people, and so on. And they catalogue the passage of time, returning to sites repeatedly over the course of several years.

One of the earliest images on view, Shōden-ji, summer Northwest Kyoto 22 July 2004 (9:00–11:30) (2004), shows the interior of a temple, looking outward at the grounds. The spacious room has a high ceiling and an open floor plan with little furniture. Adornments have been carefully selected: a simple, low, circular table topped with a single flower, woven mats tiling the floor, a plain lamp overhead with its cord dangling awkwardly into the upper left corner of the frame. Hōsen-in 1, summer Northeast Kyoto 29 June 2004 (16:00–17:30) (2004) is a similar image, though more of the outside space is visible, including a massive tree, with a complex knot of interwoven branches knitted into the verdant landscape. Hōsen-in 1, winter Northeast Kyoto 14 February 2011 (14:00–16:30) (2011) shows the same temple seven years later, in winter, with snow covering the tree and the lush flora that surround the building. In both photos, the exterior landscape becomes a counterpoint to the bright red carpet inside the temple: one in the complementary green-red color-theory scheme, the other highlighting the red against the erasing whiteness of the winter.

Some photos, such as Saihō-ji 8, winter Southwest Kyoto 11 February 2011 (13:00–15:00) (2011) and Saihō-ji 10, summer Southwest Kyoto 30 May 2009 (13:00–15:00) (2009) study the exterior grounds of the temples. The landscapes, studded with trees and rocks, are lush and quiet, devoid of other people. Haradani-en 1 Northwest Kyoto 5 April 2010 (11:00–13:00) (2010) is especially rich and unusual, showing flowers in bloom. Color field-like layers of pink, yellow, white, and green fill the picture plane in explosive or draping forms.

One diptych, The maiko as an artist, the artist as a maiko. Kyoto, Japan Self-portraits 11 June 2004 (2004), depicts Hassink herself as a geisha-in-training, seen from the side and from the back. She is dressed in colorful, traditional patterned kimono and obi, with makeup and ornately styled hair. In her work, Hassink tries to share with viewers her perspective within the temple. Here, she undertakes the perspective of a visitor to the temple, performing a role for viewers. In both tasks, she invites us into her chronicles of little-seen realms steeped in tradition, ceremony, meditation, and beauty.

—Stephen Dillon

Jacqueline Hassink: View, Kyoto,” is on view at Benrubi Gallery, New York, Mar. 26–May 9, 2015.

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