I’ve been to Japan a number of times.
I was invited there to exhibit my works
and the papers said I was very Zen
Bruno Munari’s solo show at Tokyo’s Isetan Department Store, one of the first to take an interest in Italian products and culture and to work with its Milanese counterpart La Rinascente, was staged in 1965 thanks to the efforts of Shuzo Takiguchi, one of Japan’s most important cultural figures.
For the occasion, Munari designed a fountain: a white metal basin lined with white sand that, in turn, was covered by ten centimetres of still water. From above, five drops of water would fall onto the pool at an even cadence. The dripping water created perpetual motion – concentric circles forming on the surface and then vanishing – that was underscored by four light sources, four spotlights casting shadows onto the sand. The perimeter of the basin is surrounded by a seat – a concentric circle that is a sort of frame or border – and hides the sound system designed to amplify the rhythmic succession of drops of water.
One of the best-known examples of a Japanese “dry garden” (karesansui) is in Kyoto and is part of the Ryoanji Temple: a rectangle of coarse white sand – resembling gravel – has been raked to form concentric circles around fifteen boulders arranged in groups so that from any angle of observation there is always one stone that conceals another.
The “five-drop fountain” is just one of the innumerable inklings of artist and designer Munari’s penchant for things Japanese, one of the signs of an affinity that has almost always been left unsaid and kept secret. Yet this affinity can be gleaned in the ever-precise references to the tradition of Zen Buddhist thought, which in this case should not be interpreted as a craze for exoticism or Japanophilia, but as the observation of striking parallels with the expansion of an age-old philosophy that profoundly influenced Chinese and Japanese culture.