Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Moderation of Bonsai Demonstrations

Moderation of Bonsai Demonstrations

Whoever has seen many bonsai demonstrations will most probably agree that there is room for improvement.

Room for improvement normally is NOT in the actual artistic work are craft, it is in the setup of the show. Lets accept that it is a show; a show which is meant to educate but also to entertain. If it is not entertaining only very eager learners or masochists will sit for hours.

OK, the main purpose it to educate. Can one tell me why I have met thousands of folks, who in general are very nice and well meaning, but did obviously not learn much in all the demonstrations they had seen. A reason could be that the demonstrators were not so good in educating. I think though, that there is a limit to what one can learn from just watching. It is like watching football on TV. Are we not all experts, do we not all know what should have been done at any moment? Well, go out onto the field and show me! Fact is that one out of ten thousand or even a hundred hundred thousand 'experts' can actually show you. So we are not 'experts' we are experts at watching and criticizing. Could bonsai demos be similar. Are so many just experts in watching?

So if it is only educating those who absolutely will be educated anyway it is more of a show that pretends to be education. Or is tis too pointedly expressed? Well, the benign reader will understand me.

Anyway, bonsai demos certainly are a show. To many this may sound negative, like we are betraying the spirit of bonsai. There are no bonsai demonstrations in Japan. Can we learn from them here again? Well, bonsai demos are here to stay and we better find ways to improve this show.

Ideally the demonstrator has some very difficult if not impossible looking piece of material and turns it into a piece of art just in time. Ideally he has about two hours time because the majority will just not watch for a longer time span. And ideally the demonstrator has the ability to work with his hands and speak at the same time. In Europe he should speak a couple of languages. Well, - ideally! But usually it is not so and we must help the poor demonstrator. It is already considerable help if we have one or even several competent assistants, so the master has more time to speak and explain.

To overcome the demonstration dilemma the function of the moderator was introduced. A bonsai demo moderator ideally is a person who understands very well what is going on in the demonstration, who often could also do a demo well himself, who is very much able to explain this to the audience in terms that they can understand and it is very helpful in Europe if the person speaks several languages and can act as a translator at the time time. A moderator can hold together a show where several demonstrators are on stage at the same time as has become a new trend in Europe on big events.

One could also make some efforts of finding new ways of catching the interest of the audience and actually educate and entertain them. An on-stage tree critique can e quite interesting and enlightening. Another possibility would be an interview on stage. A panel discussion is another way.

Recently at the Noelanders Trophy 2011 I had the great fortune to be asked to moderate the parallel demonstrations. I found that of three demonstrators one wanted to do his own show and did it very well, one just wanted to work and be quiet most of the time and one wanted to work with the moderator. I agreed with Ryan Neil that we would try to combine a discussion with his demo. So he did his demo and while working on the tree he was interviewed by me. The role of an interviewer is to not have too much of his own opinion and let the person mainly express himself. On the other hand in a one to one discussion both partners have their opinion which may well and even should differ at some points. This could be very interesting, but the question will come up whose show it is. Well, finally we made an interview with some discussion. Ryan and myself got a lot of positive feedback after tow days of being on stage together. A small minority, however, did not understand the concept and felt that there was too much talking, at least on the side of the moderator. Well, one cannot please everyone. And one certainly could not do this sort of show with every partner. But if one can, why not?
Make up your own mind and watch this: