Issue #49

Winter 2014

The Garden of Shattered Porcelain

by Andrew Fowler

When I first walked into the garden of shattered porcelain, it was a day in early spring when the snow has melted in all but the darkest patches of shade, but the first green shoots have not yet appeared. Last autumn's rot covered everything in a brown film, papery when dry, gummy when wet. The songbirds hadn't yet returned from their long Caribbean holiday. I walked with the crows and owls.

When visiting Angkor or Chichen Itzà, the visitor has a sense of the unified form, of the pieces on the ground forming a whole. The cracked stone blocks cohere into a single piece, architrave, frieze, and cornice locking together in a radiant entablature.

But when one looks at the garden of shattered porcelain, it seems to have always been there in its present state. Without harmony, its urns and columns lack style and motif. They have always lain toppled, smashed, and scattered.

Perhaps, when the barbarians arrived, they collected fragments from the lands they raided, and arranged them artfully in this form. Here are the peoples we have conquered, and this is what has become of them. Our art is our destruction.

Or, perhaps, as with the haute bourgeoisie of Victorian England and Enlightenment Germany and their imitations of Grecian glories, the garden's builders designed this as a dupe. Rather than being an authentic remnant of a past civilization, this is an attempt to convey the love of decayed splendor to this quiet, provincial garden.

Whatever its origins, it has fallen into obscurity. It lies in a scrubby area, in an unremarkable neighborhood in an industrial suburb, a gray blotch on the edge of an equally gray city.

The sun starts to emerge from behind the clouds, illuminating the brightly colored glaze on the curvilinear forms that jut out of the earth.

Light ripples across the garden. As the sun moves behind the cloud, it rolls back as a receding wave.

And it is in this moment that the unified form emerges. The garden of shattered porcelain expresses itself not in the inherent being of its space, but in its relationship to time. Lacking origin, it is instead pure subtle motion, the slow drizzle of hourglass, the microscopic clicking of the gears in a minute hand.

Author Bio

locomotive and cup

Andrew Fowler is a writer and editor living in Bangkok. He screams into the void at Subject/Object.