As photography was allowed at the show, pictures of the winning exhibits are already out there on this interweb thingie. So for this article we thought we would take the time to explain our system of judging as well as posting the official show winners images.
I think we’d all agree that judging at a bonsai show is always a fraught experience. In the past, judging was often left to one or two people and of course the issue of subjectivity raised its head on many occasions.
For the Spirit of Shohin event, in the pursuit of a much fairer and more transparent method of judging, a panel approach was adopted to the judging process. Under this system, individual judges nominated their top three tree/display in each of the categories. They did not even have to rank these – i.e. there was no first, second and third “placing” of trees – they merely had to nominate which their top three were. At the end of the process, each judge handed back their recording sheets and the results were aggregated by an admin panel. The tree/exhibit with the most nominations in each section then became the winner for that category.
The contingency fall back in the event of a draw between two or more trees/exhibits in any category was for the judges to make a second decision on the basis of a vote. Such was the standard of exhibit at the show, not just one but two awards went down to the wire in this manner. This in itself indicates that the system works.
At the end of the process, judges’ individual results sheets are then signed and posted on a noticeboard for all to see, and this in itself gives the system a high degree of transparency often lacking in other systems.
While this system sounds complicated, it is in fact remarkably easy to operate and has been used successfully previously at the Shohin UK exhibition in 2015. Tony Tickle also used a similar system for Bonsai Europa in that same year.
What the system does is significantly reduce the strong element of subjectivity that you would get with a “one judge” system where almost inevitably the judging will reflect the personal taste of the judge to some extent or other. But is it better than other alternatives being bandied around?
There is currently discussion about a points system wherein all trees are marked against a set of criteria – e.g. branch placement, nebari and so on. The danger in my opinion of such a points system is that it could easily reduce the process to little other than a spot the fault exercise.
Let me give you a parallel: in my role as an examiner for school and college English exams we are instructed to mark up the way. By this what I mean is that we don’t take marks off for faults – we award marks for things that the students have done well on a sliding scale of how well they’ve done it.
It rather seems to me that the proposed systems of numerical judging that I have seen do the opposite – they mark down the way, taking off marks for “faults”. And what that can lead to is the judge’s gut feeling about the tree/exhibit being sidelined and replaced by a mechanistic ticking exercise in which the overall aesthetic qualities of the tree/display are downplayed.
But back to the show.
With the quality of exhibits being high, the judges has quite a time of it in trying to make their decisions. However, the nominations came in, were aggregated and the results were as follows:
images courtesy of Mark Cooper and Andy Jordan
Best Mame Display: Ritta Cooper
Best Shohin Display: Mark and Ritta Cooper
Best Chuhin Display and Best Display in Show: John Pitt
Best Tree/Pot combination: Bob van Ruitenberg
(award sponsored by Andy Stonemonkey Pearson)
Best Shitakusa: Andy Jordan
Taiga Urushibata Award: Mark and Ritta Cooper
Merit Award winners:
Mame Display Merit Award: Bruno Wijman
Shohin Display Merit Award: Mark and Ritta Cooper
Chuhin Display Merit Award: Pete and Ted Goodhead
Well done to the winners and a huge thanks to all who exhibited.