Thursday, 22 August 2019

Blog - Slow Scaping: Recovering the true love for Nature Aquarium

It has been awhile since my last entry in this page. However, I have been far from idle in this period, busy developing a large project I am working on, but also putting lot of thinking about Aquascaping in general. This has been an important period of maturation, which has brought me some new thoughts and understanding. I am a strong follower of the principles set by Takashi Amano, and probably as many others, I have done lot of search in his words and works, always trying to disentangle his mastery of Aquascaping. Amano has been inspiration for many, but he has always been cryptic about his philosophy. Probably, this was intentional, so to allow others open their own paths, him being just a portal to access to this new world of understanding about Nature.

But regardless this desire of Amano for making Nature Aquarium grow in the community and spread, opening new ways, I have been feeling that the message was, somewhat, distorted. And that, it was a matter of worrisome for me. As the master passed away, it is now up to us, as community, as lovers of this hobby (or form of art), to preserve the message for the future. But seeing the dominant forms of Aquascaping since his death, I really feel is being lost. Still present, as many use his lessons about Nature to make their works, but at the same time, evolved into something entirely new but missing authenticity.

Of course, all of this are just my views, and as I have discovered, many will disagree with those statements, but reality is that the core message from Amano was to impulse the recreation of Nature in a small urn made of glass, and not the obsession for the technical perfection of the work. Yes, of course, techniques matter, but an aquarium will never be a Nature Aquarium if the feeling we get out of it is that is irreal, unnatural or just unbelievable. We can call it something else, and still can have a very appealing aesthetics or result, but will never be what a Nature Aquarium was expected to be.

In our small world, it seems contests are now the raw force by which the hobby lives. Those contests are really great in many aspects: they bring lot of expectation, they yield very appealing Aquascapes and keep this art evolving. They help the brands and are some kind of glue that keep the community together. But in my view, they also penalize the hobby: they favour competition, which quite often creates some animosity. For the same reason, they also make people less willing to help each other or to share knowledge (which is the leitmotif of this website), and more than often, they put under lot of pressure to those who only want to create something nice at their homes or workplaces.

In a world where Aquascaping was little known, and where Nature Aquarium concept was even less known, Takashi Amano impulsed the IAPLC. This international contest was put forward to promote Nature Aquarium and Aquascaping in general. And despite some other contests are appearing, and some will be eventually more popular, IAPLC is a sort of reference for the Aquascaping community. At the origin, the purpose was to get the community into one place and share their works. He used the infrastructure ADA allowed him to have, so that the contest could be well supported and remain on time. Since 2004, the contest has grown quite a lot, and its popularity is beyond doubt. However, with the growing number of contests, participation on them looks not very optional, and there is a clear barrier in the community between those who participate, and those who does not. I have seen this barrier increase on time, up to the point some people who does not plan to participate for some time, they do not do Aquascaping at all. Or the work is for a contest or they prefer not to bother.

This concept, this pressure over the lovers of Aquascaping seems unfair, and in my opinion, makes of this hobby something rather frustrating for those who do not want or cannot afford (time or money) to have an Aquascaping at competition level. In my humble thoughts, this is not the way forward, and I am sure it is not what Amano-san was asking from us. We all know the hobby is not cheap and it takes time, but if on top of that, there is this continuous pressure towards competition, both cost and time increase. Plus the damage that comes when results of the contests are out and we are not in the position we hoped for. It is also because of the competition why there is on time more and more discussion about the methods and techniques, and less and less spirit on it. 

Recently, one member of the community impulsed an initiative of using IAPLC to establish a sort of world ranking by countries, which is a good idea. At start, he employed results from previous years and also made some review of the main countries competing. At some point, he discussed about one of those countries, and made a very inspiring comment about it: 

"As for weakness....basically there are none. Perhaps if we really have to pick one (just to be fair to other nations), [their] layouts are all beautiful and marvellous, but.....can you pinpoint a (...) layout that you can vividly remember?"
This sentence reflects very well the problem I wanted to highlight. Competitions bring lot of new techniques and ways to improve the aquascapes but...are they really encouraging the development of this form of art, in a such a ways that more and more works become in remarkable? The answer for me is that no, they do not. There are technically perfect aquascapes in the last year that entirely lack of spirit or they do not really capture Nature, despite still being impressive in many ways. The competition has started a weapon race for the layout creation, but has added little to none in terms of learning how to master Nature and even less in the recreation of natural environments. Please, do not confuse this with biotope style aquariums, but interpret this under the light of what I said earlier: learn from Nature to create Nature.

So, as a reaction to that movement, I have conceived the idea of Slow Scaping, which opens this post. My idea, which you can adopt or not, intends to counteract to the pressure of the contests and bind together to those who love Aquascaping but without all the annual rush contests impose. Opposed to creating aquariums for contests, which quite often are just developed and maintained for the photo finish but they are disregarded soon afterwards, in Slow Scaping I propose you to take your time and create your Aquascaping thinking in Nature and its rhythms. Forget about the contest for awhile, and just put the emphasis in creating and sharing your creation with others. Do it for your own love for Nature, and not for the competition. Take your time to enjoy your work, improving it with time, and learning in the process. Do not get stressed about small details all the time: Nature is detallist but is not obsessed about perfection. In fact, there is always certain level of chaos in Nature that is what makes it so beautiful. Allow it to happen a bit.

Under Slow Scaping, there is no need to force Nature. And this covers all the aspects. For instance, hardscape is made with the pieces of driftwood or stones you collect as they are. Everybody picks up those who most love, of course, but forget about things like breaking them, cutting them, gluing them or just select those with plenty of textures. Quite often simple textures work very well, and the works of Amano show this. You just use what they offer you, but take your time to put it together, allowing the materials speak to you whilst you decide your layout. This is not diorama, and Nature is not a diorama. Just make it happen by itself, while you are just a vehicle for the concepts to transform in a beautiful aquascape.

Aquascape "Behind the Mountains" by Shuai Huang.

With plants, again, look after them and provide them a natural environment in which they can grow as they will do in Nature. Do not force them again to grow where they are not supposed to (even if technically is possible). Pay attention to their natural growing conditions and give them that into your aquarium. Each one has its own growth pattern and scales, bot in space and time. Use those to create your composition. Trim them to keep them healthy and maintain your composition, but if they evolve in something different from what you were expecting, listen to them. Perhaps they are telling you were wrong in first place and the result is what you really prepared, but perhaps not what you expected. Next time you will know better.

With fish and other animals, same considerations shall be in place. They are not just a mere last minute addition to an aquascape before the photo finish for a contest; they are there not just to create colour contrasts or produce a sensation of scale. Respect them and give them what they need. Or select your species in a way they feel at home in the environment you plan to create.

It is in the harmony between the three elements where Nature disenfolds. Hardscape, plants and fish being fundamental parts and coexisting in a natural way. The result can be a layout that does not exist, but that will talk about Nature, and observes will accept it as part of it.

In summary, I think is time to go back to the origins and recover what Nature Aquarium was meaning, and put back the message into the hobby. It was the meaning what made people connect so much with Takashi Amano and find it as a very inspirative figure; it is that meaning in his works what made Nature Aquarium being the most beautiful form of freshwater aquarium in its moment. And it is that meaning what we need to preserve for this art surviving on time. 

After the famous words said by Amano "Learn from Nature. Create Nature", I think there is a need to complemente them with some more words, which were implicit to it, but the message is getting lost: "One cannot rush Nature".

Let's not rush it. Let's take our time and put love in what we do beyond competition. We all will enjoy more our works, learn more from them, and create a much healthier community. If after that, you still want to compete, please, do so! It is a very nice way to share your work and have something more from Aquascaping. But if you goal is not the competition, the result will not be the reward. The reward will be already at your home: your own piece of Nature.


  1. Thank you very much for this, I will keep your words with in mind when I do my next scape /aquarium. They truly inspire. Thanks

    1. Thanks a lot to you, Eugene, for your kind words, stopping by and taking your time in reading my mumbles. I much appreciate it. I am glad this serves as inspiration, and I wish you all the best in your aquascaping journey. :)