Asian Elements
Jane Edwards
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Asian Elements: Natural Balance in Eastern Design* online

Asian Elements: Natural Balance in Eastern Design
Jane Edwards
photographs by Andrew Wood
Soma Books
144 pages
November 2002
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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We're seeing a lot of coffee table books these days - pre-pre-Christmas rush? - in an overlarge paper cover format, bursting with highly professional photos and a rather secondary text, at a price the average consumer won't balk at.

Not that there's anything wrong with that...

Asian Elements combines the talents of writer Jane Edwards, whose Asia credentials are top-drawer(she is, in addition to being a world traveler, a "fashion editor, interior stylist, and writer") with the visual perceptions of Andrew Wood, also an Asia-phile and photographer for fashion and architectural mags.

For us cluttered occidentals, the Oriental concept of spare and bare has become a trend which has, ironically, spawned its own buying requirements. Perhaps because we sense intuitively that soon we will be living in conditions as crowded as theirs, at least in our urban areas, we can now enjoy getting rid of stuff - and acquiring other, smaller, smoother, quieter stuff. We long for a way out of our self-created consumerist mess. It makes socio-cultural sense that we are drawn to (particularly) Japanese interior space design, because "wabi - the spirit of unostentatious refinement - evolved as a reaction against the opulence and extravagance of the Momoyam culture at the end of the sixteenth century." But the book is not completely focused on Japan - the basic concepts, we're told, "reflect a timeless pan-Asian aesthetic."

The chapter heads are "earth," "air," "wood," "fire," and "water." You may draw your own conclusions as to when and how wood became an "element", but perhaps, rather than pondering this important question, you would prefer just to look at the book for what it is.

What it is, is a collection of pix of simple housey objets d'art, from a hammock to some bare staircases to a hat rack (avec some disappointingly samey chapeaux) to some, I'm bound to say, rather ordinary looking cement paving stones. Human beings are not required viewing in this context, so don't try to find any - they are implied in the towel casually laid atop the bathing stool and stack of books artfully ditto the occasional table.

There are some striking shots - I pondered with great satisfaction a portion of Zen temple rock garden art, and longed for more of same. I also appreciated the Sri Lankan hotel room with its gingerbread wood decoration. There were bathrooms that made me want to jump in, so natural and so pleasant were the environs.

I found that the text ranged from trite -- "It is only in the garden that man rediscovers his natural roots" -- to lofty -- "From the man-made rice fields that glisten with water, and the sacred importance of springs, rivers, waterfalls and lakes, to the ocean and seashore, water is inextricably linked with living in Asia" - to the admirably apt: "Swimming pools are a modern means of introducing water into the home." Most of the text merely describes the photos, a predictable device that allows for a fair amount of padding. Pretty padding, but padding nonetheless.

This book would make - as it is no doubt meant to - an acceptable gift for someone whose knowledge of the subject matter is limited, or for someone who likes to read and look at pictures about as well as anything else, and doesn't want to get too caught up in either. Your boss, say, or a neighbor who's sure to give you something and you have to reciprocate. The book is attractive, and harmless, and on that basis if no other should be commended.

© 2003 by Barbara Bamberger Scott for Curled Up With a Good Book

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