Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Post 139 Bonsai exhibition display height

We've been through the exhibition 'season' here in SE Queensland over the last 3 months. I've displayed trees in two club events and visited a couple of others. They have all been faultless in all but the height of the tables used to display the trees.

It's a bit of a soapbox of mine, a short one at that, but we just aren't getting the best out of our trees in the eyes of the visitors to our exhibitions who come for a look. We all know what it's like as we spend most of our time with our hands on our knees to get down to the right viewing height. Clubs are somewhat hostage to the venues they use and the equipment those venues make available. Inevitably the tables are the standard general purpose collapsable tables that stand about  700mm high; about thigh high. They are of course designed for people to sit at and we have a different purpose for them, which they are not so good for.

 But it's not just us. Here's a picture from Japan. It shows the typical pose we all have to adopt to really appreciate displayed trees, and it shows that we need to look horizontally at about the middle third of the tree height, to look up into the canopy and down to the nebari; reflecting the way we take in a tree in the natural world.
So we either have to lift the tree up higher or bend down.  In this picture we see that a bonsai table has been used to lift the tree to a better height and although it is a reasonable height bonsai table, it's still not tall enough.
It's even worse the smaller the tree of course and with so many shohins we just get to look at the canopy because it's too far to bend down.

Here is a tree displayed on a long legged table and immediately you get a sense of being able to stand tall and appreciate a beautiful composition. Bonsai tables round out a composition but that can be done as easily with a decorative mat on the tabletop. Their real value comes in the option they offer to elevate the tree to a better viewing height. But not everyone has 400mm high tables and I think clubs and societies need to address the infrastructure to improve our exhibitions.

Unfortunalely if everyone gets on the bandwagon of tall bonsai tables to compensate it starts to get a bit hard to see the trees for the forest, of table legs. In this picture from Reggio Emilia you can see immediately the improvement that comes with a higher display position and how relatively low the standard table-top is.

As you see I went looking online to find any evidence of enlightened associations that have recognised and bitten this bullet. I found plenty of low tables like this one.

Here is Ryan Neil trying to eyeball a box tree in the US with the standard general purpose tables, so they hadn't got it, although the table right over at the back seems higher?.

Then I found Bjorn Bjorholm offering a critique and although he's a big guy, for this tall tree the geometry is getting better in mid America.

The Noelanders offered a ray of light. These tables are getting close to waist height, perhaps 850mm to 900mm. Note the height of the audience's heads relative to the tops of the trees. Another 200mm might just about be enough do you think. There are a few bent backs in the audience but mostly people are upright.

But then the folks in New Haven Connecticut look like they stepped up to at least waist height - around 1000mm, in 2011. Well done but not quite there yet I think, just a little more.

And then I found Peter Tea in Milwaukee. Please note the proximity of Peter's elbow to the top of the table. This would make it about 1100mm high.

Here's another shot from the same critique video. He's hanging onto his soft drink and could almost be leaning on a bar, eyeballs lined up at almost dead centre of the tree. With this table height even a shohin on a 150mm to 200mm bonsai table is going to be displayed at a height where it can be fairly appreciated.

 But there was always going to be someone to bracket the game, test the limits and go even higher. NI stands for Northern Ireland.

The NIBS got serious about their tables and I included this shot to show how they go together. As you can see they are still demountable. But how high?

The final two pictures might help. Between elbow and shoulder would put the table top at about 1200 to 1250mm high. Personally I think this is the best viewing height for an adult male but for the rest of the viewing audience it is probably one step too far.
So I think Milwaukee wins the competition at about 1100mm; congratulations on your insight and resolve to break out from the pack and get it right. But it is a great pleasure to find a number of examples of groups who have determined to do something to improve the display of their trees and step up from the standard 700mm table height.

As they have shown the problem is not insurmountable. Even in those places where only the stock standard folding tables are on offer we have to adapt. The two options are to either lift the table by sitting it on a 400mm support or make a simple 400mm high trestle table with new table top to sit on top of the folding table. Neither is easy but when ever was the best and right thing the easiest?

Bonsai societies of Australia if not the world we have to lift our exhibition game by lifting our display tables. Let's set a 2014 exhibition season goal of adopting 1100mm as a new national, well why not international, general exhibition table-top height display standard; with shohins displayed at 1200mm. Can you make it happen in your club/society? Feedback appreciated.

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