Zen and The Art of Reconciliation

"Jeongyu" Natalie Turner-Jones, "The Five Stages of Reconciliation," Eco-printed Japanese Bush Honeysuckle, Linen, Original Text, Deadfall twigs

St. Louis artist “Jeongyu” Natalie Turner-Jones has a diverse educational background that spans a BA in literature and language, a degree in theater from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, and time studying at a Korean Zen Temple in Chicago. It was during her time at the seminary that Turner-Jones became heavily involved in fiber arts and simultaneously embraced the threads of Korean Buddhism, which preaches a syncretic and holistic approach to thought. These early experiences with visual art put Turner-Jones in contact with a Korean-born priest named Sanha who hand-stitches quilts, curtains, tablecloths and other items from worn-out clothing.  In particular, one can see the influence of Korean Art and Buddhism in Turner-Jones’s use of natural forms, surface decoration, and interpenetration of nature with contemplation.

Contemporary artists like Jette Clover, Cas Holmes, and India Flint also embrace zen-like searches for the essence of mark-marking, combined with a substantial interest in materiality and the layering of surfaces. In particular, Jette Clover, who began her career as a journalist, offers a stylistic comparison to Turner-Jones who herself started her artistic journey in written words. Like Clover, Turner-Jones sees language as a compositional tool, a way to give snippets of information in erratic layers that hint at the provocations of modern living. In addition to Clover, India Flint, the inventor of the eco-print, has a significant influence on the materiality of Turner-Jones’s work.  Turner-Jones says, “more than anything, my work over the last several years has arisen from a deep, ineffable relationship to nature itself and everything about it…. (I) find myself contemplating (plants) deeply on a level that’s often not even verbal or visual.”

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The intersection between the ephemerality of nature and the permanent mark humanity leaves on it can be found in Turner-Jones’s wall sculpture titled “The Five Stages of Reconciliation.” This work is a series of five accordion books whose pages are eco-printed with Japanese Bush Honeysuckle and overlayed with original text that contemplates and reconciles the consequences of our voracious drive to consume. The eco-dyes left behind from the Japanese Bush Honeysuckle create a surprisingly diverse range of earth tones from olive green, to burnt sienna, and a mustard yellow. As a final display, the books are hung vertically from a rod of deadfall twigs, making a series of columns sprawled across the wall.

On the surface this work reads like a contemporary version of an ancient scroll, taking stock of present-day concerns and the tax our collective actions have taken on the environment. The Japanese Bush Honeysuckle is an invasive species that rose to prominence in the late 1800s when Japanese gardens were the latest fashionable trend. Today, Japanese Bush Honeysuckle outcompetes native plants and destroys the natural environment that these plants and native animals require in order to survive. Through direct engagement with this invasive species, using it as the dye in her work Turner-Jones creates the space for direct contemplation; a place to hold multiple ideas without judgment so some truth in our participation in mutual destruction becomes clear. 

In the end, the Japanese Bush Honeysuckle is a metaphor for the human need to control the environment around themselves, to fill a space within ourselves with something outside ourselves.  While simultaneously the plant is the very embodiment of the insatiable consumer, never fulfilled, always searching for the next spot to grow, and destroying less competitive plants. Turner-Jones’s work creates an object of contemplation from which it is possible for the individual to examine their own “self” and the limitations of their ability to control the environment around them. Ultimately, when one superimposes themselves into the equation of collective strife, judgment and blame fall away naturally. This realization is the power in “The Five Stages of Reconciliation,” the knowledge that by exerting control over the one thing we can control, ourselves, we unleash a tremendous ability to influence positive change in the world around us.   

Natalie’s work was included in our recent exhibition Piece of Paper To learn more about Natalie visit her website at: https://zenurbancoyote.com/

Bryan Robertson