The brief and incomplete future of aquascaping

Onoma1

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A few years back I stumbled on a George Farmer Video, found the Green Machine Videos, went to their shop just before they closed, found the UKAPS Forum, started my first tank, travelled to Aquarium Gardens. There I marvelled at their wonderful tanks and was presented with a sticker from ADA courtesy of @Siege. The sticker is now stuck on this laptop …my sister thinks that I may have joined a cult, however, is too polite to ask and my colleagues are perplexed by the Japanese Characters on my laptop but too polite to ask. I then started my second tank (incipient MTS) and then was lucky enough to visit Florestas Submersas while in Lisbon and Ecoarium in Portugal (concentrate I will be asking questions later).

In Ecoarium I saw the manicured ADA tanks and the then one in the corner. It was a bit messy, lots of emergent plants, full (and I mean full) of plants and looked (to be honest) a bit out of place. After I left the shop I started thinking about the strange tank, and my thought was that of all the tanks that was the only one that in anyway accurately reflected a ‘normal’ aquatic environment (you know the one you played in as a kid catching tadpoles or minnows).

Ok – back to the sticker, I was assured by @serge that a translation is “To know Mother Nature, is to love her smallest creations”. I can’t read Japanese and trust that @Serge and @dave aren’t ‘having a bit of a laugh’. This simple sentence is , however, the heart of the ADA way.

But I am perplexed, the ADA way leads to beautiful pieces of artwork, however, they are a far removed from ‘nature’ as could be possible. While some refer to them as ‘delicately balanced’ nature aquariums after two years of scaping I would refer to them as like balancing a feather on a bloody razorblade while pedalling a unicycle backwards…only achieved after years of pointless pain, practice and failure.

An there is so much, angst and despair from new (and not so new) aquascapers on the forum when they fall of their ‘unicycle’ as natural processes interfere with their attempts to achieve the ADA aquascaped version of nature. Is it the really the end of the world if you have green dust algae on rocks? If algae is an essential part of the natural ecosystem why don’t we welcome a bit of it in our tanks? Wouldn’t it be better for the hobby if we saw less of the ADA type tanks and more of imperfect but attainable and real slices of nature? Would more people stay in the hobby?

Please don’t misunderstand me I watch the ‘Zen Masters’ of Aquascaping with awe, I love their creations (just as I love looking at a piece of beautiful art). To take the metaphor of painting or art a bit further, I am probably still at the level of the chunky crayons, however, I expect more of artists.

What do I mean by this? Well their art pieces don’t say anything, they may look for five levels of depth perception within their scapes, however, they only have one level of meaning: the surface level. I get the reflective meditational element of watching a planted aquarium and believe me that’s helped me in my darkest days, however, shouldn’t our high art say something shouldn’t it have a purpose a value beyond the aesthetic? Even our ‘bad boy’ of aquascaping Oliver Knott doesn’t produce work with challenges or excites. It’s not new. Just as we strive for stasis within our tanks it feels like our art form isn’t progressing as we all aspire to produce an airbrushed version of Amano’s tanks. @Geoffrey Rea recently posted to say there needs to be more about the art and less about the science (I paraphrase from memory). I think he is correct, however, my view is this needs to be about the future artistic vision not about reproducing one vision (not that @Geoffrey Rea suggested this).

They are also (as systems) inelegant and wasteful – lots of inputs and outputs with the aim of stasis. One of my non-aquascapting friends looked at all my kit to keep the tanks going and commented that it looked a bit like the equipment you would see in a hospital (this wasn’t meant in a positive way). And we use all this kit to keep things the same. Our aquascapes don’t change – evolve – develop, decompose. The aim is to get to that point of equilibrium and stay there until you get bored, take the tank down and rebuild. Oh and don’t get me started on Dioramas. No really…

Then we have the alternative of the Walstad method which are more robust environments, however, let’s face it not the most beautiful aquariums. And biotopes the design of which necesitates sourcing the correct plants from exactly the same area or your proud post about your biotope will be flamed by an irate mob of biotopians with pitchforks and a bonfire ready for you and your heretical photo of your ‘so called biotope’. And let’s face it although biotopes really are the authentic slice of nature their aesthetic is an ‘acquired taste’.

After listening to the soothing voice of Scott Fellman at Tannin Aquatics talk on his podcast ‘The Tint’, I thought he might have an answer – until he also started to talk about 50% water changes per week, every week (btw he really needs to change his by-line my smutty minded older kids thought it was a spoof when they heard it and resolutely refused to explain why it was so hilarious).

So what’s my answer? I am not sure. I am still watching and listening to the voices on this forum. My artistic vision is mine, it’s personal and I like it (even if rendered in chunky crayons). I am beginning to play with botanicals, tinted water, emergent growth, living walls combined with aquatic elements (not quite a paludarium), dirted tanks, floating plants, trying to build ecosystems and I am looking for a way off my own aquatic ‘unicycle’. Perhaps my tanks will end up looking like the one I saw in Ecoarium. The journey will be interesting.

So what’s the future of aquascaping? In my view it has to evolve to look to shift beyond an ADA vision of the art and craft of building a planted aquarium. We need to be more sustainable, less reliant on technology to maintain fundamentally unstable systems and instead build intrinsically stable systems. If fear if we don’t then the future of aquascaping will be brief and incomplete.
 

hypnogogia

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Interesting read. I’ve often asked myself we call a nature aquarium something which is completely over manicured (as good looking as it is) with 30ppm co2. Neither of these is natural.
I remember looking at one of Amano’s books is the early naughties (after returning to the hobby after a few year hiatus) and finding them stunning. I also seem to remember reading that he uses very little fertiliser and less co2. Perhaps those early tanks were closer to nature.
 

Sarpijk

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Agreed. I have come to realise that I am more drawn to a more natural looking tank after having experienced keeping high tech scapes.

If you look at Amano's early works they have this beautiful lush growth and look really natural. I have a book of his complete works and what is really interesting is the use of cryptocorynes which is not really used nowadays in manicured scapes. He also points out how good a school of Rasbora espei look in a tanked planted with crypts since they are both Asian species.

Also I won't forget @Akwaskape who did have the "Sustainable Aquaria" moto and his scapes and approach really had an impact on me.

The older I get the more I see myself getting back to were I started.
 

Zeus.

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Very interesting read ( and well written), your journey is very similar to my own personal journey. So even though we have both waked similar paths with have both picked up and different aspects of the hobby, which is a good thing IMO. As it allows for diversity within the hobby. We can have the same hobby and from the route we take we pickup on different aspects which can vary greatly but all within the same hobby, we have picked certain sights on the path and payed more interest on them. We all bring something different to a party and take something different from it, its going to the party and precipitating that counts.

So what’s the future of aquascaping? ..... If fear if we don’t then the future of aquascaping will be brief and incomplete.

Is not life on the whole brief, the existence of lifeforms in the timescale of the life of the universe is brief and will end, but that time is 'now' ;)
 

Melll

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Good read :)

Like everything "arty" there are many many schools of thought, modernist, cubist, realist and so on and it is up to each individual artist to create what makes them happy whether that be the very neat, clipped Iwagumi, the wild looking jungles and so on.

I am not an aquascaper but I do like planted tanks, none planted tanks with wood or rock hardscapes. I love to see the creations made by people, some totally blow me away and I would not have a hope in wherever of replicating them. I also like to push myself and see it I can go a little further than I have before and that, to me, is what this is all about. If that means using high tech gadgets to get to your vision then so be it, if not then so what :)

About 5 years ago I started looking on the web for something other than the beautifully manicured scapes I had already seen and had a go at replicating. At that time I just did not have the time to dedicate to it, I was a carer for my Dad who was terminally ill, so the tank went totally tits up and that upset me a lot, I found Oliver Knott and binge watched some of his videos and was so relieved that I could do my own thing that not all scapes had to be "perfect"

There is no right or wrong way, just personal taste and hopefully the want to improve/better what ever it is that floats your boat. :)

As @Zeus. says, Participating at the party and bringing our own ideas to it is what it is all about 👍
 

shangman

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I am very new to the hobby but I have had similar thoughts. I'm a designer by trade, with a landscape architect parent so I've focused a lot on the aesthetics of it. I agree that there isn't as much variety as there could be, and there is a lot of untapped potential.

To me, Amano creates wonderful, fantasy nature. It's like the beautiful backgrounds of Studio Ghibli films. It's obscenely lush and perfect. I don't think this is a problem - it's a special beautiful niche - except that so many people have attatched themselves to this movement as THE one, when there is so much potential for all sorts of naturalistic, weird and awesome stuff, there is too much 'perfect, but a bit off'. I don't think we need so many aquariums and aquarists that do this, especially as they never seem to do it quite as well as he did.

My favourite aquarium I've found so far was here, Tom's Poco Pozo (and his bucket of mud is also lovely). I think it shows how effective different shaped aquariums and depth are, they have such an amazing natural feeling. There are messy bits, but it still looks incredibly captivating and hypnotic - there's nothing wrong with messiness in aesthetics, and I think it's needed for a truly natural look. I particularly like aquariums where it seems like the fish and other animals are having a lovely life - really that is the highest goal. I also think there's a lot of potential in emergent plant growing that should be explored, beyond the basic house plants people plop in (I can't remember who is was, but the person here who have floating mimosa in his tank was very inspiring, what a lovely plant). The allure of an 'indoor pond' is very compelling.

What is wonderful to me, compared to when I was a kid, is the amazing variety of plants you can grow now. The Dutch method has great plants, but the planting style is so incredibly old fashioned (like 80 years+ in gardening), it doesn't take full advantage of them. I think that the aquarium trade would do well to mix more with gardeners and plant people, and take that knowledge and mix it. If we look at the way that gardeners plant herbacious borders for example, that could create a very different and exciting aquarium that would look naturalistic but still have artistic flair (as the best borders do!).

I also feel like there's a place for more ornamental crazy aquariums, that none-the-less look beautiful. A lot of the more weird ideas like the moss bonsai trees are a bit naff, but I think there's something to that kind of out of the box thinking that could really go somewhere. I would love to see more artists and sculptors create aquariums - for example, I love this ceramacist http://www.katiespragg.com/ ... imagine a perfect little nano aquarium with her sculpture inside, just with some mosses and algae, and a few choice small shrimp or fish (honestly, I'm schoked that old Damien Hirst hasn't done a fake shark in an aquarium with a load of real fish swimming about with it, though maybe that takes the piss out of himself too much). When I have more time/space/money/experience, I want to pursue creating aquariums like this (and big ones a bit like Tom's) (and lovely emergent ones) (and maybe a blackwater with dramatic floating plant with some apistos and blackwater) (oh god the MTS is coming on strong).

The journals (particularly the featured ones) on this website are great - I think they show how people can do whatever they want with the aquarium, to have ideas and try things out and create variety in a very interesting way. It's given me much more confidence to try things out and give them a go. What is great about aquasccaping is that it HAS this wonderful potential, you can do a lot with a box full of water. If things are boring, it's up to us to make them interesting :)
 

Geoffrey Rea

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Good thread @Onoma1

If it’s art we’re talking about then your culture may largely determine what you focus on. Living in Europe details rule, in the Far East the overall appearance will receive greater attention, the overall impression holds more importance. For some it is a look, for others it is a feeling.

Personally I like the symbiotic relationship between the aquarist and the scape. The scape changes, then in turn the aquarist changes. If the plants are too far away from what the desired outcome is I feel compelled to change it. In that way I’m part of the scape in that what it does emotionally affects me, I’m not just some architect removed from it all. But it’s a process and never still. Shouldn’t good art affect you? Or leave an impression?

There’s a sort of twisted irony that a ‘stable’ system in the high tech end of the hobby is having a stable aquarist. If the aquarist gets bored, unmotivated, distracted or disheartened too readily then the scape suffers and that symbiotic relationship fails. If there’s a team maintaining a tank then it’s more likely it will remain in good shape (in theory). If it’s a solo endeavour then the result is far more intimate.

On the part about ‘nature aquarium’ the very term is a contradiction @Onoma1 , suppose it just sounded better than planted aquarium in the marketing meeting. As for long term scapes my father ran low techs that trucked along for over a decade, used rain water for water changes when he thought it needed it, cleaned the filter with the regularity of a solar eclipse and he always managed to inadvertently breed something in his tanks. If sustainability is held highest then maybe going round full circle is what you’re describing as the future.
 

tiger15

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Good thread @Onoma1
On the part about ‘nature aquarium’ the very term is a contradiction @Onoma1 , suppose it just sounded better than planted aquarium in the marketing meeting. As for long term scapes my father ran low techs that trucked along for over a decade, used rain water for water changes when he thought it needed it, cleaned the filter with the regularity of a solar eclipse and he always managed to inadvertently breed something in his tanks. If sustainability is held highest then maybe going round full circle is what you’re describing as the future.
I don't know when the term "Nature Aquarium" was first used, probably starting with Amano. I thought it was a wrong use of word by the Japanese as planted tanks used to be called "Natural Aquarium", and the rationale in the narrative of my 1980 Tetra plant guide is that plants and fish complement each other in a natural way to complete the nitrogen and carbon cycle.

Nature Aquarium is indeed a contradiction as there is nothing natural. First, Nature Aquarium imitates lush landscapes, not bioscapes. Second, true bioscapes are not necessarily lush and can be void of plants. Third, a lush bioscape is typically monocultured or dominated by very few species of plants, not dozens as in a nature aquarium. Forth, true bioscapes can be dull with cloudy water, debris covered with brown algae, and no lush plants or mosses attached to logs as in nature aquarium.
 

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Tim Harrison

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Nice philosophical post. It's kind of like trying to discover the meaning of life, or like a jazz musician's search for the right note; it's eternal and likely to be very different for everyone. But I think I know what you're getting at @Onoma1.

If I was to be particularly cynical, I could point out that Nature Aquarium is probably about as far removed from nature as farming. Okay it's not quite an industrial process on a landscape scale but it involves huge energy inputs and ultimately it exerts a negative impact on the natural environment. ADA's motto, ‘One who cannot love her smallest creations, cannot claim to stand before nature’, is pretty ironic considering, and an anathema when it comes to diorama style.

It's really no different from any other aspect of a modern aspirational lifestyle and conspicuous consumption. In addition to it's negative environmental impact it's another opportunity to grandstand or flex on social media, for instance. The flip side is probably more altruistic and fulfils a fundamental human need to nurture and reconnect with nature in an increasingly urbanised world where space is at a premium; that is aside from being a creative outlet with therapeutic benefits.

In terms of aquascaping as art...Like much that is considered art, aquascaping can manifest spontaneously as pure art or it can be very contrived and formulaic, like painting by numbers. Either way aesthetic appeal is only part of the story. The creative process can have greater significance than the finished product. For many folk aquascaping is a journey of discovery, attaining skills and knowledge. Not just artistic but to do with horticulture, animal husbandry, science, photography and video production etc. And an airbrushed Nature Aquarium may represent the pinnacle of achievement; the mastering of multiple threads to create a single entity. But where you are on that journey personally and where you feel happiest depends on many things, some of those will have very little, or nothing, to do with actual aquascaping.

Personally Tom's Poco Pozo and Bucket of Mud, as fantastic as they were, didn't hold much fascination for me at the time since I'd already explored that side of the hobby long since as a child. But then the polar opposite, a manicured Iwagumi, doesn't really do it either. It's all too formulaic, clinical and uninteresting, and more importantly the stark aesthetic often proves an unsuitable habitat for aquatic critters.

Increasingly, I find truth in the quote, 'the older I get the more I see myself getting back to were I started', but perhaps with the benefit of greater experience and knowledge that ultimately will inform the direction of my ongoing journey. Someday I know I'll get back to low-ish energy aquascaping with it's more natural approach, but for now I'm enjoying experimenting with The Dark Side too much.

As for the future of aquascaping, I think it's here to stay if only because it's a convenient connect with nature in an over populated world with a shrinking natural environment. And what is more, I believe it'll survive in all it's current styles and forms and perhaps many yet to evolve, not just Nature Aquarium. The future of aquascaping will be anything but brief and incomplete 🌿🐠
 

zozo

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Even in nature, we can not compare 2 separate water bodies as being equal. :)

Bottom line is rather simple, aquarium keeping never changed from the day it was invented, it stayed pretty much the same basics... And it truly is a slice of nature in your living room. Even tho you can not compare it to real natural water bodies, there still are quite some natural basic rules that apply to it. This is what makes the statement no 2 aquariums are alike the truth...

To name a few natural processes we have little control over, the development of bacteria, algae, plant growth, debris and decay etc. All-natural processes we actually can't get around and till today still don't quite fully understand what we are dealing with. We still have more theories than facts...

What we did change is implementing technicalities along the way, but all that didn't really change what's basically going on in the aquarium by means of natural laws...



.
 

Tim Harrison

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Succinctly put Marcel. The imperfection and transience of nature is all part of the process and recognised by Amano as key to the Nature Aquarium philosophy. I think that may have been forgotten by some or lost in translation.
 

Fiske

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Just my €0.02, for what it's worth:
Like countless others I was blown away when I saw Amano's creations for the first time. I also knew that they weren't particularily natural. And while the iwagumis, and dioramas etc can be beautiful; just like the dutch style, they never seemed more than manicured gardens. Respect for those who can do that, and like that. The future for me is more like this:



Is it super photogenic manicured underwater garden? Nope. Is it natural? Another nope; apart from the fact that this tank only receive infrequent waterchanges, occasional ferts and artificial light, it still has way to few algae 😁

(Aside, this is my oft mentioned, never shown, low tech 45P. It is now in it's 2nd year, and apart from the few things mentioned, I've only added/removed a few plants. Now it houses oodles of snails and Hyalella, 1 paros, and 5 newcomers in the shape of T. pumila. It's a fun tank, it goes through different stages, lots of ostracods and cyclops at one point. Algae (green dust, mostly) are prominent at times, and less so at other times. Lately the java fern has taken a beating from the massive amount of Hyalella (yeah, they do eat plants))

What it is though, is a very easy tank, both in work required and in resources consumed. And the critters are no worse off for that.
I'll keep my jungly hitech(ish) planted tank around though, but move more and more in this direction for any other tanks: Non manicured messy rainwater pools.

*edit: speeling
 

jaypeecee

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Hi @Onoma1 & Everyone,

Excellent thought-provoking thread. May I toss into the melting pot a question over which I've pondered many times? I do believe my question is relevant to the thread title. Here it is:

Why is the world of aquascaping seemingly dominated by those of the male gender? Or, am I wrong in thinking this to be the case?

I'm male and I'm not much of an aquascaper so that's where I stand.

JPC
 

Melll

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Why is the world of aquascaping seemingly dominated by those of the male gender? Or, am I wrong in thinking this to be the case?


Good question, maybe males are more vocal about it and women just get on with it, I am female by the way :) Given the chance I will talk about my hobby until the cows come home but the majority of my family and friends just think I`m crazy and they are not particually interested.
 
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