Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Vegetable Parinirvana

Last Sunday, our blog team witnessed a singularly magical weird vegetable event. Or rather, we witnessed the anniversary commemoration of a vegetable tableau vivant performance that ignited a burst of envy in me verging on spontaneous combustion, the kind of envy I feel whenever I think of Fanny Waters' charmed existence, easily mockable name notwithstanding.

"Vegetable Parinirvana" was a cosmic meeting of the minds between 18th-century Japanese painter Ito Jakuchu and present-day San Francisco artist and Tartine employee Rachel Corry. (That last detail is relevant for the simple fact that the statement "I work at Tartine" is another way of saying "I am wildly more beautiful, stylish, and artistically inclined than you or anyone you can honestly claim to be friends with. Now be a lamb and eat your brioche in the corner. Be sure not to drop any crumbs." I write this, of course, with the utmost affection for all things Tartine.)

Corry was inspired by an encounter with Jakuchu's circa 1780 ink-brush painting Yasai Nehan, or Vegetable Parinirvana to stage a live version in Golden Gate Park last June. The painting was part of a show at the Asian Art Museum on Kyoto painters of the Edo period.

The Jakuchu scroll portrays a dying Buddha surrounded by his followers, a religious scene commonly depicted in Buddhist art, only this version casts the Buddha as a reclining daikon (big white radish) encircled by all his best veggie mates, like eggplant, mushroom, tomato, carrot, and quince. There seems to be some serious academic debate over whether Jakuchu's painting is a parody or a mournful meditation (with the inevitable compromise that it is both) on this scene of parinirvana, a state that Wikipedia describes as "the final nirvana, usually understood to be within reach only upon the death of the body of someone who has attained complete awakening (bodhi). It is the ultimate goal of Buddhist practice..." This Slate review of a similar show at the National Gallery in D.C. has a nice paragraph about the painting. There's also a very earnest Zen gardener who has taken an intense liking to Jakuchu's art here.

Corry began by identifying the vegetable worshippers in Jakuchu's painting and then constructed her own psychedelic technicolor costumes to be worn by her and 14 of her most vegetably able (veget-able?) friends on Strawberry Hill near Stow Lake in the park.

On Sunday, as we sat on the grass in a backyard across from Dolores Park, gazing at empty vegetable costume shells and glossy color photos strung up around the garden perimeter while guitars strummed on the sunshine, I felt a melancholy sweetness for the daikon Buddha, whose foamy carcass now looked like a gentle white shark leaning horizontally against the wooden picket fence.

Would whoever ate a daikon Buddha absorb its enlightened wisdom? Another reason to eat your vegetables!

More photos of the cutest veggies in the world here!


Jon said...

I love it! Thanks for posting this -- I am linked to my site.

Jon C.

tromar said...

aw man! i know the mushroom girl! how could i have missed it!

Katrina D. said...

yes, we all feel that way. I only saw pictures and touched the deflated costume shells. oh, melancholy.

rachel said...

hi, i want to thank you girls for writting such a thoughtful and flattering overview of my vegetable parinirvana recreation and review.
very nice!
unrelated: i have a pointing-tomato picture id like to send y'all but i dont really know how blogs work?

Katrina D. said...

Hi Rachel! Thank *you* for making the world a better place for weird vegetables. I too am a bit blog-ignorant and do not know how you can send things to us. But I will have my people find your people and we will get that tomato posted, dammit!

Aaron said...

I think it's cute but I think it's missing some of the essence of the original painting therefore it's basically just cute and not cooler or anything. I think it could have been better. Like it's suppose to be a solemn event at the death of Buddha but when placed in a Zen context it's humorous to see plants doing the same thing. It's lacking that 'silent-ness' in the painting. Also the turnip should be on an elevated platform in due respect to the religion and the believers.