Mountain Lake Screen Tachi & "Borrowed View"
Upon returning from Japan in late July, Okura began working with about 60 members of the local community over what
would be a seven-week period to complete the project. While intentionally exerting some control over them, he gave
the participants a specific number of physical operations to perform on the boards after they had been glued; these
operations, which each participant could perform in a manner and location he or she judged appropriate, included
planing, chiseling, gouging, drilling, and sanding. Carrying out these repetitive operations using both modern power
tools and ancient Japanese hand tools, the participants slowly gained an appreciation for Okura’s own working
methods and his acceptance of indeterminacy and accidental effects. The length of time involved in laboriously
working the wood with hand and small power tools gave the participants a feel for the wood’s natural aspects, its
randomness, and its material substance.
Okura believes that the repetitive nature of the work was a way to go beyond pre-conceptions into a more random
mode of working, a mode that could be done “without mind,” (i.e., without total conscious control and planning). Doing
something over and over was, for Okura, a kind of bodily (rather than verbal) “chanting” that induces a meditative state
and clears the mind so that one can find the universe that’s inside oneself, the artistic spirit that will create the work.
As the participants worked on the project, they came to understand how the creation of a work of art entailed a
dialogue among many forces; their individual and combined actions could be seen as a kind of dialogue at the
personal and communal levels. The desire for control through the use of tools and the resistance of the physical
properties of the material could be seen as a dialogue between the “self within” and the “world outside.” As part of the
creative process, acceptance of this dialogue between the “universe within” and the “universe outside” is to
acknowledge the existence of an individual self and a collaborative self that are fundamental concepts for any sense of
community. After the participants carried out these repetitive, physically taxing operations, these “bodily chants,” as it
were, they worked with Okura painting spontaneous calligraphic brush strokes in black and orange-red pigment on the
boards. Having completed this, gold leaf was loosely glued to the boards. Covered with this gilding and colors
traditionally associated with Japanese temples, the boards were then hinged and assembled as four-board sections
in 16 separate units; these units, which stand independently with space between them, form a large folding screen
approximately 10 ft. high and 120 ft. long that Okura titled the MOUNTAIN LAKE SCREEN TACHI.
The traditional Oriental screen is understood by Okura as an elemental architectonic form that creates distinct physical
spaces by defining and dividing space into discreet, controllable areas. SCREEN TACHI with its drill holes, loose unit
construction, and separations articulates space, making the idea of vast, empty space comprehensible. And, because
its units can be relocated and repositioned into new configurations at will, SCREEN TACHI conceptually transcends the
limits of actual physical space “plotted” by the traditional, architectonic screen; it thereby symbolically opens up the
vast and potent “space” of consciousness of the self in relation to nature.
Glittering and shimmering in response to change in light or air movement, SCREEN TACHI connects traditional
Japanese art to modern Western sculpture in its acceptance of indeterminacy, randomness of appearance, and
accidental effects. It also connects traditional Shinto beliefs to the modern ecology movement in the way the ritual and
sacred aspects of its construction exhibit a reverence and respect for nature. In these ways, SCREEN TACHI spans the
gap between tradition and modernity, becoming what Okura calls “the moveable wall between Eastern and Western
cultures.” The collaborative efforts which brought it into existence—underscore the need for a concept of communal
and social action based on a philosophical understanding of our relationship to nature and place.
“Borrowed View”: The Nisso Screen
Jiro Okura and The Mountain Lake Workshop,
(Sponsored by Nisso Industries Co. Ltd.)
After the death of John Cage in 1992, Okura developed a Zen-painting workshop that introduced participants to the
discipline-centered activity of Asian single-brush painting and his adaptation of the & “breathing line” in a series of group-
The Nisso Screen is the result of a special Mountain Lake Workshop directed by Jiro Okura and Ray Kass in Kyoto, Japan
in June, 1997. The folding screen is comprised of eight three-paneled units that were produced by Virginia and
Japanese university students in a special workshop conducted during the 1997 Summer Study Abroad in Kyoto. The
style of sumi-e (ink) brush painting and the meditative collaborative activity are intended to demonstrate concepts of
Zen painting and Eastern aesthetic philosophy. This workshop was sponsored by Nisso Industries, a Tokyo engineering
The Nisso Screen had its premiere exhibition at Virginia Tech’s Perspective Gallery between July 7 - Sept. 10, 1998.
Mountain Lake Screen Tachi (10ft x 120ft)
"Borrowed View" Nisso Screen as displayed in the Taubman Museum of Art.