Patience saves time.
During my time in Chiang Mai, I found a lot of inspiration in my night walks. After a long day of working in the studio on prints or drawings, I would venture outside with my camera and tripod. Punspace was in a quiet neighborhood in the old city of Chiang Mai, away from many of the tourists. I mostly saw locals and stray cats and dogs. There were several small shops (some I wasn't sure how to define them), eateries, and small temples.
Rather than take night photographs in the busiest places, I wanted to capture a quiet moment. It may make more sense to go to the brightest area to capture the light pollution, which is what I'm really after conceptually. But these places I photographed seemed like they should be dark, quiet, peaceful, devoid of people; but were often cast in the glow of the busier streets. I wanted to show the beauty but also the disruption of darkness.
I photograph intuitively by looking at colors, textures and shadows before making a judgement about what the photograph is saying. I often photographed plants and trees lit by artificial light. It makes me feel sorry for the plants who never have a break from light. Does this affect their growth or health?
The mysterious beauty of these photographs is apparent. I chose not to capture the garish LED lights of the busy streets for a reason. We all know that (most) lights at night are beautiful and appealing. They help navigate people in the dark, keep us safe and at ease. Thailand, as well as many other Asian countries, take great pride in their lanterns. They have beautiful designs and are very comforting to look at. However, a great sacrifice is made with night lights as no stars are visible at night. One night I saw the moon (which I documented in this series), however I never saw stars. It is very humid and cloudy here, so the light from the city was reflected back to my eyes from the blanket of clouds. I can't say for certain that lanterns contribute to light pollution since the light is diffused and dim. But the desire to protect ourselves from the darkness and disrupt the Earth's natural timeline and cycle is what concerns me.
Bill Viola was born 1951 in Queens, New York, where he was raised by Christian parents. In 1973 he earned his BFA in Experimental Studios at Syracuse University. Viola is an internationally recognized artist, and one of the founders of video art - helping to legitamize the medium in the contemporary artworld.
Bill Viola uses video as a tool of perception to explore universal themes such as birth, death and consciousness. When exhibiting his video work, he considers the entire space; creating installations with architectural, sculptural and sound elements. A reoccuring motif in Viola's work is the element of water. While vacationing with his family as a child, he nearly drowned in a lake which he considers a crucial moment of artistic inspiration. He describes being underwater as the a beautiful, peaceful world of blues and greens. Through Viola's video, he seems to take the viewer to that place in his memory.
Viola also considers spirituality to be a driving force of his work. He has spent much time studying Eastern and Western philosophies and mystic traditions, such as Zen Buddhism, Gnostic Christianity, Sufism, Taoism and Indigenous Shamanism. In his collection of essays, Reasons for Knocking at an Empty House, Viola gives us a look into his readings, notes, ideas and sketches for future pieces, and selected interviews where he discusses his research in philosophy.
Bill Viola has traveled to nearly every continent filming his work, from the Himalayan mountains in Tibet to the Saharan desert in Africa. His work has been exhibited in the Venice Biennale, MoMA in New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Guggenheim in New York and countless art institutions across the world. Viola is my personal favorite out of all the artists I've chosen to study this summer. Enjoy!
Views on Eastern Philosophy
Bill Viola is interested in finding the connections that all people share and that all religions share. In Reasons for Knocking at an Empty House, he is passionate about looking into the similarities between Eastern and Western spiritual traditions. As Viola was growing up, he rejected his Christian heritage but embraced it again once he discovered more of its mystical roots in the teachings of Meister Eckhart and Saint John of the Cross. Viola's major spiritual concerns are the fast pace of modern life, the rational Western mind neglecting the intuitive knowledge of the body, and scientific inquiry only asking questions of "how" but never "why". In an interview with Otto Neumaier and Alexander Puhringer, he states:
"Human beings tend so much to think in extremes - good or bad, right or wrong. Our whole culture is based on a dualistic, exclusive, adversarial approach. Some say the intellect is the superior human function, others say we are emotional beings. For me, however, the point is to try to connect these two essential elements so that they are put in balance, so that one doesn't dominate the other...
Today I think there is a requirement, a need for reintegration [of art and science], for connecting us to the fundamental questions and issues which have been passed by as an active, imperative issues because of the "progress" of ideas. In our... society, we have come so far from these... big questions, from the origin of religion and philosophy: birth, death, existence, and so on. The intellect can give you the misconception that you understand something by simply thinking about it analytically, so that we forget... these are arenas to be encountered through Being... Up until Newton's breakthrough work on gravitation, the main question was not how the apple falls from the tree but why the apple falls... So here we have the basis of the illusion that we have understood something simply by rationally describing and analyzing its operation."
Barbara London of NYC MoMA explains Viola's connection to Eastern philosophy in her curatorial catalogue "BILL VIOLA: INSTALLATIONS AND VIDEOTAPES THE POETICS OF LIGHT AND TIME":
"Viola's approach to his life and work has been greatly influenced by the East, which is key to understanding his art. Having as much esteem for the circulatory system as the circuit board, he is constantly exploring the larger system as it is expressed by the smallest part. Respecting nature's power, he sees the world as composed of interacting opposites-light and dark, spiritual and physical, life and death - as reflected in the Chinese concept of yin and yang. Although he does not adhere to any formal religion, he respects the significance of tradition and ritual in all systems of belief."
Works of Interest
The Sleep of Reason (skip to 3:15)
I connect with Bill Viola's artwork because it has a soul; raw energy. Viola video is a "sculpture of time" and he does just that. He doesn't want his artwork to be owned, but to live in the hearts of those who see it. Viola is able to reach a wide audience because he works with such universal questions such as, "Why was I born? How did I get here? Where am I going? What connects us? What is death like?"
Obviously, Bill Viola does not know these answers, but his artwork is a means to help us understand more or touch the essence of life. Along with universal themes, he also uses motifs everyone can understand such as the five elements of fire, water, earth and air. His use of slow motion takes us out of everyday time and allows us to experience another mode of perception. To me, the slow motion of the elements in relationship to the body say something more about transformation than the time we would normally experience with our eyes, because it shifts our focus to minute changes.
The "Sleep of Reason" is currently my favorite piece. I also am fascinated by sleep and make work about this other mode of consciousness that we experience for half the time we're alive. The way Viola uses projection to coordinate with the video on the television is brilliant! They are flashes of dreams and nightmares. There are so many symbols and interpretations to pick apart. The fact that the video of the sleeping man is on a television makes me think perhaps it says something about how mass media influences our unconscious mind, which is the mind also experienced in dreams. The images of the owl, dog, a person walking - these are archetypal images that could pertain to anyone. I can't help but be inspired and influenced by the work of Bill Viola, and admire the unique ways he chooses to display video in an installation, giving his viewers a full haptic experience.
Reasons for Knocking at an Empty House, Bill Viola
"Biography", Bill Viola <http://www.billviola.com/biograph.htm>
"Bill Viola", Wikipedia <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Viola>
"BILL VIOLA: INSTALLATIONS AND VIDEOTAPES THE POETICS OF LIGHT AND TIME", Barbara London, NY MoMA <http://www.experimentaltvcenter.org/bill-viola-installations-and-videotapes-poetics-light-and-time>
Fear of judgement: the reason why artists can't truly be themselves. Not only is this true for the beginner, who consciously or unconsciously believes they aren't talented enough to try art. It can also true for artists at any stage in their career. The result can be making work that doesn't feel like it's yours, not feeling happy with the outcome or feeling disappointment even when others really enjoy what you've made.
What does being yourself actually mean? It's a common theme in every form of Eastern philosophy, but rarely is it ever described. To some, this can be a really annoying and vague form of advice. One of the most common phrases I heard from Phra KK during meditation was "please be yourself!" I think what KK wanted was for us to feel comfortable in our bodies and not worry about anyone judging us. He almost sounded like he was begging, which made me try my best. You might think it should come naturally, but being yourself is actually hard at first. It's an unlearning process, unraveling the labels and ideas socialized into one's being.
There are two issues plaguing the practicing artist: 1) trying so hard to be a unique individual that you cannot give yourself permission to make something that's been done before and 2) you feel your art must look or act a certain way to be accepted in the contemporary art canon. Both of these issues are subtle and are taught to us in Western academia, where individual genius and notions of the avant-garde dictate the value of art. When a friend sends me a picture of another artist's work that looks exactly like a new piece I'm making, I automatically feel frustrated - but I have to remind myself that human beings share so many common experiences in life. It's normal to think the same things, especially in this ever-connected, real-time world we live in. Regardless of this, everyone has a district way making work; giving us all an aesthetic as unique as our fingerprints.
In the second case, I might sound like I'm contradicting myself - but the underlying feeling is fear of judgment. You think people will look down on your art because it doesn't look a certain way. I most often experience this in terms of presentation and material. Because I don't feel confident in my building abilities, I worry that the way I install my artwork in the gallery isn't professional or "clean" enough, especially if something is unframed. I also worry when my medium or imagery is too "crafty" or kitsch.
For example, I recently made linocut prints of butterflies and moths for an upcoming gallery show. It sounds like something that belongs in a child's bedroom but they are relevant to a strong idea. So I regive permission to myself, practicing mindfulness as I acknowledge my thoughts and own judgments about the work. Some of the best artists are those who weren't trying to be a genius individual, they were just brave enough to be themselves, opening up new possibilities for what art could be.
Mindfulness is a practice from the Buddhist tradition that can be applied to our artistic practice. Mindfulness is knowing yourself - becoming aware of your thoughts, emotions and behaviors and acting on them in a kind, loving way. One way to find out how to be authentically you is to reconnect with your inner child. This is especially helpful if you're struggling with a concept. When you were a kid you weren't as worried about fitting into social norms, and probably didn't question the things you enjoyed. Often times, those things we loved then will continue over the course of our lives. What amazed you as a child? How did you play? For me, I grew up in the countryside and couldn't play with any friends. I was always outside with my animals; exploring in the prairie, the woods, collecting plants, sleeping under stars. Eventually, as a 25-year-old woman those things have come full circle and are still forces behind the work I make. It gives me energy to keep pursuing my conceptual path.
If you aren't sure what your aesthetic is, make a list of the colors, textures, shapes, images and patterns you're attracted to. It's also helpful to make a list of artists whose work you enjoy, so you know consciously where these influences come from. Often times artists will appropriate other's work, especially of someone they admire. Sometimes it's conscious, but most often its unconscious - the artwork we've seen and loved is stored somewhere deep in our memory. It's important to take the elements you've enjoyed and find out how it can be relevant to you. It's important to know that we, as humans, may have many collective experiences and interests, but we all express them in ways as subtly unique as a fingerprint. An effective way to know yourself is to go too far one way or the other, feeling out what seems balanced for you. This is true in the practice of Tai Chi, where practitioners fall on purpose in order to learn balance in a posture. In your artwork, for example, you may enjoy an artist who uses neon colors but when you try to use them yourself, it just doesn't look right. So you decide to stick to your more natural palette: this is mindfulness of color.
The second way is to learn how to follow your instinct. Artwork is all about exploring the things that fascinate you. Don't force anything that doesn't feel right. In Taoism, the gut is considered the second brain, which is the realm of instinct. When trying to make a decision, ask yourself which option you would prefer and see feel how they both feel in your body - that is your gut telling you the answer! Practice following instinct by letting your second brain choose what to draw, what time to go to the studio, when to stop making something. Following your instinct is acting on faith, which helps build trust in yourself. Once you build a little trust, the big existential questions become easier to answer.
And lastly, ask yourself: Am I doing this for me, or am I only doing this for someone else? Of course, it's important to think of the gift you can share with an audience as you make the piece. As Bill Viola says, "art is a gift" and Marina Abramovic believes sharing your work is your "obligation and duty to society". However, sometimes I get really excited about an idea and suddenly lose interest, but I feel compelled to finish it for a show or other deadline. I always feel like I wasted time, because I rarely am happy with the result. I made it not for me, but for the people who were expecting a finished piece. When making your artwork feels like a chore, it will show in the final result. You will know when you're making a piece for yourself. You will feel a deep joy and excitement; you'll want to share it with the world. Ultimately, making something that is truly yours comes down to intention. Intention is the determining factor to release us from delusion.
Last Saturday I had the pleasure of learning more about Sa Papermaking at the Preservation House, where our study abroad group went the first week of the program. I was hoping to learn more in depth about the entire process, especially since making paper was one of the important goals of my research!
The tour was lead by one of the employees named Tip and the owner, who demonstrated the process. They were understandably stressed because we had a hard time understanding one another at first, but moreso because we both felt guilty not being able to communicate well! I just smiled and motioned that I could watch and learn.
The first step was seeing how the bark was stripped from the tree with a utility knife. The tree is a Mulberry species native to Asia, but is able to grow in other continents such as North America, Europe and Africa. It's scientific name is Broussonetia papyrifera. The trunk and branches are rather small but can grow very tall. When the inner bark is harvested, it is cut in strips so it does not kill the tree. If the cut went to close to the core, it would cause the tree harm. The strips should be long to extract very long fibers, which end up being about four or five feet long. The long fibers are essential to Eastern papers, which allow the paper sheets to be very strong even when they're thin.
The inner bark becomes the raw fiber of the paper. Here they leave the bark for two days to dry in the sun and later strip the outer brown bark off from the cream-colored inner bark.
There was a beautiful Lanna style wooden barn on the property full of raw fiber on a loft. It looked a lot like the way my dad would pile bales of hay in the "hay mound"!
The next stop was the boiler, where the raw fiber is cooked to be soft. The bark is boiled in water with 1 bag soda ash at 200 degrees celsius (392 degrees farenheit) for five hours.
I'm not sure how much soda ash was in one of their bags, but I'm guessing maybe 5-10 pounds.
Then 50% hydrogren peroxide solution is added to the boiling water, stirring the fibers about and letting it boil for four hours. The hydrogen peroxide bleaches the fiber and helps it become the light creamy color we all love in Sa paper.
After the fibers have been cooked, they must be beaten to become even softer! At the preservation house, the fibers are formed into pancake shapes and pounded with wooden mallets. (They showed this part the first time I went, and we all pounded in unison sitting on tree stumps!) The pancake is about 1 kilo (2 pounds) of raw fiber, beaten by hand for 1.5 hours.
As we waited for the beater to fill up with enough water from the hose, Tip and I took the oppotunity to document the moment. She instagramed this with a caption that said, "my new friend"! So sweet.
The fibers are beaten by machine for only 15 minutes. He gradually filled it with 25 kilos (55 pounds) of fiber. Tip informed me that the beater is 70 years old, same age as our demonstrator! Which of course led to a conversation about ages. I told them I was 25 to which she said, "I could be your mama!" He pointed to himself and said, "grandpapa!"
The fibers drain out of the beater through a hole into mesh bucket that allows the water to seep through. Once they're drained, they are collected in another bucket and ready to make sheets with.
One scoop of pulp was lifted from the bucket and stirred with water in a 5 gallon bucket before poured into the very large vat of water. Once poured, the mixture was stirred into the vat with a big wooden paddle in even circles.
Pulling sheets was more difficult than I imagined, and really requires a mindful, patient Zen attitude! Making Eastern paper is very different from any experience I've had in the States, and was quite difficult for me to explain to them.
For example, the mould and deckle are built into the same screen. The owner builds the screens with a simple mesh and wooden frame with edges that allow two of them to rest on one another as the sheets dry in the sunlight. The sheets are also not couched (pressed) into wet felts nor are they dried in a stack of pellons and cardboard with a fan.
In the West I learned it was important to keep the screen parallel to the water, pulling it straight upwards. They had me stop and watch them do it the right way for Sa. First, they make sure that the pulp was evenly stirred in the vat, as the pulp to water ratio was very low, as to pull very thin sheets.
Then the screen was tapped (deckle side up) until the water penetrated the mesh. The screen was dipped down into the water in a gentle "U" shaped motion from right to left. As the screen came out of the water, it would drain out of the top right corner. It's important to see that there are no holes or dents in the paper (called papermakers tears) that can be caused by water moving the fibers unevenly. This ensures you made a nice, even sheet!
The papers are dried on the screen in sunlight for about two hours before they can be peeled off. The paper sheets are pulled off gently by hand. You wouldn't think it'd work, but it does! Very satisfying to do as you can tell from my smile.
After I was satisfied with making sheets, we continued the tour. Every time we passed the tree he would say, "SA"! Here he is modeling with one.
I was taken into a "showroom" or museum. This was essentially a collection of really awesome Thai gems the owners had collected over the past 40 years of being married and in business together. My eye caught a bowl of golden Bodhi leaves, which are hung from the cieling or rearview mirrors for good luck and decoration. He must have seen that I liked it, because he gave me one as a gift! I almost cried, it was so special!
By the end of my lesson and tour, we were very sad to leave one another. I tried my best to say "nice to meet you" and "I love Thailand" in Thai to them. They told me to come back! And to tell my friend (Heather) to come back. I only have a few days left, but if I lived here I would love to work for them! Stay tuned for a Youtube video that will be a compilation of the process in real time. :)
Eastern philosophy is a foundation underneath the conscious mind that influences my artwork.* I have always been fascinated by time, energy, connection and change; concepts that connect all living beings and widely embraced in the East.* However, my first philosophy lesson was from nature. I grew up on a farm in Iowa, where time was marked by the distinct changing of seasons and life cycle of crops. Playing outside and witnessing the flaura and fuana of the tallgrass prairie was my source of entertainment and inspiration. When I left the farm I began searching for answers by exploring different religions.* I was 19 when I picked up the book, Tao Te Ching, a collection of poems written by an ancient Chinese sage Lao Tzu.
Religion ended up not being the answer, as there is no way to be a Taoist - but still the words I read rang "Truth". "The Eternal Tao that can be described is not the Eternal Tao". The Tao refers to "the Way", and the source from which all things are created. The goal of Taoism is simply to live in the Tao - meaning the way of the source - by balancing opposite aspects of yin and yang which are found everywhere in our bodies and in nature. The Tao Te Ching offers no dogma, but simply wakes you up to processes in life that are already happening. For a long time, I found myself confronting death and decay through my art as I watched my grandparents and small-town lifestyle pass away. After a personal awakening, I recognized that out of death arises rebirth and I began to focus less on the past. I began to investigate how time could move in cycles rather than on a finite timeline.
Today I investigate how the body experiences time through sleep/wake cycles or circadian rhythms - natural processes in our body that balance aspects of light and dark, day and night.* I currently live in the city to pursue my work, but struggle to maintain balance internally as my rural roots beckon me to a more quiet lifestyle. (When I go to bed at night, I sometimes still hear the rhythmic buzzing of cicadas and dream of the grass flowing in wind.)* In an urban context, the body must regulate external stimuli from noise and light pollution and maintain homeostasis.* I also hope humanity can embrace balance externally with our ecosystems, which also suffer from urban sprawl.* Through my work I hope to bring awareness of balance in the individual and to their relationship with other beings: from tiny insects to fellow humans. No thing exists which is not dependant on another.*
Notions of time, change and balance in Eastern philosophy
1. Samsara - "the cycle of death and rebirth in the material world" (Buddhism and Hinduism)
2. Karma - "the consequences of ones actions that manifest in a person's life" (Buddhism and Hinduism) or in other words "what comes around goes around"
3. Yin & Yang - strong need to maintain harmony between different aspects, in a collectivist society (Thailand, China, Japan, and many other East Asian countries)
In order to take the first step, one has to transcend fear. People often fear the beginning so they don't want to try. Many claim they aren't creative, that they aren't artists. Have they ever tried? More importantly, have they tried and tried again?
Being an artist comes with practice and discipline, just like everything else. Learning meditation as a Westerner is much like beginning a creative practice. Our culture does not value slowness or silence, so it's easy to give up. Meditation is very simple, yet difficult. You are taught to sit without expectations of an outcome, or else meditation could never benefit you. The goal of meditation is to train the mind, to control the mind and emotions rather than letting them control you. The ego wants to think about what is the purpose or benefit, and whether time is being used effectively. Art is the same way. Let me explain.
Being a human is creative. We are constantly coming up with ideas, solutions to problems. What we may lack is the best motives for our well-being. Some common goals of making art in our American culture are: fame, money, respect, reputation, quantity of work. These can all be positive outcomes, but are not necessary for being a successful artist. If you begin a creative practice for the first time, or sit down to execute an idea; first let go of your attachments to fear. Fear of failure, fear of creative block, fear of being mocked, fear of being misunderstood, fear of not measuring up to others.
To the person experiencing a creative block, it feels very scary and frustrating. Although I'm young, I'm starting to realize that I go through a year of artwork I don't like, followed by a year of everything falling into place, experiencing the flow. I know the periods of frustration are my teacher. When the work comes together, the dry spells make them that much richer. I had a dry spell my first year of grad school, but I finally feel things coming together. One night I felt compelled to take photographs outside at night with my digital camera. I thought that was too simple, but they ended up being beautiful.
Accept the possibility of failure, the dry spell. No one has to know it but you. The best way to start is to discipline yourself, make a schedule. Find out when you feel the most creative, the most energetic. For some people, it's the morning; for others, at night. Go to your creative space as much as you can, with a regular schedule. Don't tell yourself you shouldn't go to the studio because you don't have an idea. What matters is that you're there. You cannot plan it all out. Be in your studio and play. Draw one line. Arrange the objects on your desk. Take one photograph. You'll be surprised where it goes.
And if it goes nowhere, it will go somewhere eventually. An important lesson I learned from a monk in Thailand was discipline. This surprised me. As a Midwestern farm girl, I thought I already knew discipline. I worked hard all the time, every day moving closer to my goal of making art my living, which is not easy in a capitalist country like the US. But this kind of discipline sometimes left me feeling exhausted, unable to enjoy the reaps of my harvest when they came.
Again, what's missing is the motive. I feared not having success, not having money, being a nobody. Buddhist monks, although relaxed and withdrawn from society, are just as disciplined as a successful business-person. Their discipline comes from having no motive, other than inner peace, compassion and non-attachment. During a meditation retreat our teacher would say over and over, "Please, PLEASE, try your best, guys. Never give up. If you never try you cannot achieve your dreams. Learning English was very hard for me, but I never stop trying. And now here I am talking with you. So please, don't give up."
There are so many incredible ideas underneath the surface of your mind, at all times. All you need to do is begin. Say out loud, "I can't wait to see the good that's going to come out of this!" If you don't like the first thing you made, throw it away and try again. It's important to break through the barrier and persist. But persist with faith that you will make something beneficial to yourself and society if you decide to share - with patience, compassion and a good sense humor.
Making art is unpredictable and elusive. That's why an artist can dedicate an entire lifetime to their work and not become bored. Change is sometimes seen as good, sometimes as bad. It will occur whether it benefits you or not; it the impartial law of nature. Change holds our awareness, keeps us expanding and learning. Rather than resisting it, we have to learn how to harness the flow of change and follow it.
In his book, Every Moment is the Universe, Zen master Katagiri Roshi says a day is made up of 6,400,099,180 moments. One moment, or ksana in Sanskrit, is sixty-five instants. Katagiri writes, "The actual numbers are not so important, but [so] we should have a sense of how quickly time goes." Many people experience anxiety or despair when facing this transience. In the Zen tradition the solution to making peace with change (time) is having the "way-seeking mind". The way-seeking mind acknowledges the 6,400,099,180 moments in a day and accepts it as a law of nature. This law is called impermanence - a fundamental concept in Buddhist philosophy. Another fundamental concept are the four foundations of mindfulness; which are aspects of the human in constant flux moment to moment. They are: body, sensations, thoughts and emotions. Imagine every being in the Universe living in this flux of the four foundations - a constant cycle of decay and regeneration. Change and time are just two sides of the same coin.
Because you are changing, your art is likely to change. Not to mention, a plan for your work is likely to bump up against setbacks or unforeseen challenges. Whether your problem is lack of time, money, skills or even technology-related... it's vital that you remain open. Yes, it's important to see the piece come to life, but your art is a being in its own right. You cannot completely control another being. You want it to do this, but it does the opposite. What if your accident or failure is the answer to final product? I hear this from other artists quite a bit: "Just act like it was on purpose!" They are joking, but it's good advice. Better yet, make your accident purposeful and meaningful in the future. If you want truly let change benefit your life, you mustn't control it.
One of my most recent examples is with a body of work I made called, "Circadian". At the time I was meeting with a scientist who shared my interest of artificial light's effect on circadian rhythms, specifically birds. He was going to let me take pinhole photographs in the field where he collected specimens. I wanted to construct a nest box that was also a pinhole camera, to capture the intrusion of light in their private space. Everyone I spoke to was very excited about this, especially me!
Weeks went by, and the scientist did not respond to my texts or emails. I understood the nature of impermanence, and the fact that his needs and obligations had likely changed. This allowed me to release any need to control, and I detached. So, I decided to make my own birdhouse. This was a lot of work for me, as I don't know much about woodworking or birds. After some assistance from a woodworker and bird-house enthusiasts on the Internet, I did make a nest box where there were two compartments, the one on top being the nesting space and the one on bottom being the pinhole camera.
Once the nest box was designed and constructed, I had to find a place to install. Well, that didn't happen. I live in Phoenix, where anything box-like in a public area looks like a bomb. I had nowhere to put it: I didn't personally own a tree nor did I want to go to someone's house to take the film out every night, even if they would let me. I could only take one photo per night, so it would also require a commitment of time and support from the other person.
Eventually I had to look at my options, because the project was due in ten days. I didn't have a tree, a collaborator or any birds. All I had was my apartment complex and myself. With a way-seeking mind, I recognized the transience of time and accepted what was. Then, I constructed three normal pinhole cameras to take three photos per night. Before I went to bed, I set out each one inside my apartment or outside in the common areas of the complex, closing the shutter before the sun came up so only artificial light was used. Rather than the artificial light affecting the bird's domestic space, I exposed the light in mine.
I couldn't have predicted the outcome, but these pieces were my favorite that I made my entire first year of grad school. In the end, the essence of the idea was the same: how does artificial light at night effect a light sensitive surface, whether a bird's retina or a sheet of film? Some plans are merely jumping off points. Many ideas artists have are just warm-ups for something better than you could have imagined. Expect this process to happen, let them go when they don't work out. An important idea in Eastern philosophy we can apply to this lesson is non-attachment. Let go of thinking things would work a certain way, when time didn't unfold as planned. Anticipate something greater will work out when things don't go the way you intended.
John Cage is a legend of the American avant-garde in the 1960's and 70's. Not only was he a musician and composer, but an artist, writer and philosopher. Cage was born in Los Angeles in 1912 and began his creative career in Europe, where he traveled as a young man. Upon returning to the United States, Cage was trained in music theory by his hero, Arnold Schoenberg, an Austrian pianist associated with the Expressionist movement in Germany. Schoenberg referred to Cage as a "genious" inventor rather than a composer. To this day, John Cage is still one of the most ecclectic and influential musicians and performance artists of the 20th century. Cage was inspired by the Taoist book I-Ching, Zen Buddhism and master Dr. T Suzuki, Marcel DuChamp, and the Dada art movement. Cage passed on his knowledge of Eastern philosophy to many young artists who went on to become part of the Fluxus movement, a crucial event in contemporary art.
This film published by Crown Point Press documents the process of Cage's visual work from the 70's until his death in the early 90's. It is a joy to see his thought process, experimental spirit and total confidence in coincidence. (Seeing him try to hash out ideas for the fire prints made me laugh!)
This video has four chapters covering the bodies of visual work made at Crown Point Press: chance, fire, stones and grids. His process is largely determined by the I-Ching, an ancient Chinese divination book translated to English as "the Book of Changes". The book provides numbers to determine a future outcome in life, but he uses the numbers to decide how to make a work of art or compose a song. The irony in Cage's process is that he's very methodological in his lack of control. Cage feels that he must use the number cominations to determine factors such as composition, color, and time. When he sees the end result, he's unattached to the outcome. If he does like something, he's amazed. If not, that seems to be okay too.
In his fire prints, he uses the number cominations to determine how many pieces of newsprint to light on fire and for how long to let it burn on the pressbed before rolling it through. At one point the paper totally disappears into ashes and the assistant printer asks how they can prevent it in the future. I believe he said something along the lines of, "that's how it is in nature. Why change it?" I know from personal experience that fire is totally unpredictable to work with on paper, and there's always a feeling of awe after seeing the traces it leaves on the surface. I can sense the wonder Cage feels when letting chance or perhaps "the will of the Universe" to make his art. To me, chance seems like a vain word. Perhaps what John Cage was really interested in was infinite possibilities.
Where the Heart Beats, Kay Larson
"John Cage", Wikipedia <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Cage>
"[Atta Kim's] later and most notable series of works have been exhibited as full color, large scale prints: The Museum Project, which depicts people "preserved" within Plexiglas cases placed in various settings, and ON-AIR, which uses long exposures and image compositing to make individual people and objects dissolve. Kim's work has been heavily influenced by Zen Buddhist concepts of interconnectedness and transience, and he commonly uses Buddhist iconography...
Kim has described his photographs as merely "byproducts" of his attempt at a personal philosophy. He cites inspiration from the concept of interconnectedness in Zen Buddhism, the focus on temporal existence in the writings of German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889–1976), and the teachings of the Russian-Armenian mystic G. I. Gurdjieff (1872–1949) on transcendence. Kim is careful to explain that he is not a practicing Buddhist, despite the prevalence of Buddhist iconography and concepts in his work."
Article by NY Times on his long-term exposures: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/12/arts/design/12atta.html
Atta Kim is a famous South Korean American artist, yet many of the websites featuring his work are down. (Government conspiracy, much?) However, I wanted to include his work from Grain of Emptiness because he works explicity with time through long-term exposures. Ironically, through this method the longer his exposures are, the more impermanent he makes time seem as people fade away. The time experiences by their eye is not even close to the eye of the camera. It makes me think of time experienced by beings of different heartbeats. A whale's heart beats five times every minute, where a hummingbird's heart beats 1,200 times per minute. Who has the longer life?
Drawing with Nature (non-doing, receptivity)
For me, this series of work is less about the final product and more about the process. I don't care much for the final pieces, but I love seeing video of the white canvas outdoors. The light and shadows move over the canvas throughout the course of the day. These compositions are what I enjoy the most. The canvas is as receptive as the surface of a lake, bringing to our attention the beauty of time experienced in nature.
ON-AIR Series & The Truth of Being is Disappearance (Impermanence and notions of eternal)
Of course, I'm interested in these works! I also use long exposures to discuss notions of time, but with a different idea. Kim wants to show us there is something that lives much longer than us. The buildings stay still and come through in the photograph, but with such an open shutter speed it cannot possibly capture any movement. The movement of cars and people totally disappear to show the impermanence and insignificance of our busy lives - I especially think this is true given he is taking the photographs in urban areas.
I really enjoy seeing another artist who was inspired early on by the Tao Te Ching. It's also empowering to see how simple yet powerful his work is, especially since he's been patient making some of the same bodies of work for thirty years. I will definitely mention Laib in the "Simplicity is Profound" essay!
Gina (my yoga and meditation instructor) told us an interesting fact about the neuroscience of journaling.
There are two aspects of the brain which house emotional and rational behavior. When the brain is in hyper arousal (anxiety) the emotional aspect is in charge, the rational aspect is shut out. Journaling has been shown in studies to help with bringing these two aspects of the mind in harmony when a person is in a state of hyperarousal. Journaling is a way to cope with anxiety and harness a calm mind. I feel in my personal life this is true, or else I can't really say what is going on in my mind. Until I write it out, my thoughts and ideas feel like a bunch of flies buzzing around in a jar.
As we did walking meditation, she had students take turns leading the movements. Many were nervous and went too fast. We were much more in harmony when singing in unison at the retreat. In my head it helps to sing like I learned from KK and to help take away the semiotic nature of the word.
Sitting meditation was once again painful, but this time I didn't notice much pain in my back, it was in my feet. My right foot and leg fell asleep after fifteen minutes and I just wanted to cry, but I didn't move for another five. My thoughts were distracting but I feel it was natural especially since I had a yummy cappuccino at Burkta before coming to the Yoga Studio. It helped to imagine my breath circling and coaxing the surface of my mind, like a protective blanket.
Thoughts must be released and treated like a friend. Rather than judging them I enjoy the idea of giving them a voice while writing. I will definitely commit to regular journaling and writing from now on as a mindfulness practice. I hope someday to write more poetry again too.
Poetry seems to have another function than journaling does. Poetry has the ironic task of tapping into unexplainable human experiences with words. For those of us who have intense emotions (and for me, instense romanticism) poetry is a safe space to write about the emotional aspect in any way you want - it doesn't matter if you sound like your every day self.
As I look back on my first year of grad school, I realize that 90% of the time I was in a state of hyper arousal. The only break my mind had was with my friends, Kyle, my cat and most importantly - sleep. I was always making excuses for finding quiet time for myself and I made a lot of things on my to-do list. I wanted so badly to integrate my spiritual growth from the previous year into my approach to academia. I feel much more equipped to succeed in school with mindfulness this next year.
The iconic Marina Abramovic was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia in 1946 to parents who were high-ranking employees of the Communist government. Abramovic always had an interest in art, and began early on with painting. One day, she had an epiphany while painting clouds and jet planes left trails in the sky. Abramovic realized that she didn't want to draw outside the sky but inside the sky from the plane - thus setting the stage for her artwork moving from material to ephemeral, inanimate to experiential. Today she is one of the most well-known performance artists, exploring human connection and interaction as well as achieving higher states of consciousness through physical and mental discipline.
Marina Abramovic's earlier work was inspired by her experience of living under an oppressive, violent Communist society. Abramovic often put her own body in danger and pushed herself to the physical and mental limit, either torturing herself or inviting viewers to do whatever they wished with her. Later in life, she met German artist, Ulay, who was her artistic collaborator and partner for 12 years. Together they made some of the most iconic performance pieces in history, ending in Lovers, an epic breakup where they began on opposite sides of the Great Wall of China to meet in the middle and say goodbye. Calling herself, "the grandmother of performance art", she has helped bring performance art to the mainstream and inspired generations of artists in the medium. Marina Abramovic recently performed "The Artist is Present" in 2010, arguably one of her most famous pieces, at the New York MOMA. She has also performed multiple times at the Venice Biennale, the Whitney Biennial in New York and countless other institutions across the world.
Views on Eastern Philosophy
Marina Abramovic works with Buddhist ideas of impermanence, interconnectedness, compassion, enlightenment, non-attachment and disciplining the mind and body through endurance. She does not expicitely say that her artwork is Buddhist, but her time spent with Buddhist monks certainly primed her for some of these concepts. But before that, Abramovic experienced the empty desert with Ulay and learned from Australian Aborigines:
"They (Aborigines) are completely nomadic and have ceremonies constantly as a way of living, performing... and no posessions. It was something so close to our ideas of being performers. They have extremely well-developed telepathy, extra-sensory perception; they had mastered this mental factor in their bodies in ways we could not explain in our Western culture. So we went to live with them for a period of time and that completely changed our work. Then we wanted to know more and more. So we looked to Tibetans. The Aborigines already had an awakened state. The Tibetans had the knowledge of how to get there."
Abramovic and Ulay's time with the Tibetans and Aborigines inspired the piece, Nightsea Crossing, where she, Ulay, a Tibetan monk, and an Aborigine medicine man all sat together at a table for four hours over four days. They did absolutely nothing on the physical level, but just sat to experience one another's presence and meditate together. Abramovic explains that although no physical activity was occuring, the room was full of mental energy and just as engaging. Since then she has created many performances where her silent presence and mental energy is the primary material.
"So you know what happened to me? I started to attain high states of meditation - the kind of transition from the physical to mental body - which I could not explain and only later learned can be achieved with Buddhist tactics. Most people read the books and then they get interested in Buddhism. My entire relation to Buddhism came out of doing performances, through pure experience... In my point of view, life is not transforming me, it's performance that transforms me."
In performances such as House with an Ocean View and Artist is Present, Marina Abramovic aims to transmit energy by removing every distraction between her and the viewer. In these two works, the intense act of being watched while making eye contact creates a feeling of vulnerability, unconditional love and connection. In Artist is Present, the people of New York were invited to sit in an empty chair across Abramovic and simply sit. At first the curator at MOMA thought the idea of busy New Yorkers taking the time to sit in silence wouldn't work. But people would wait for hours just to sit with her for ten minutes - often resulting in an emotional reaction:
"If you put yourself in such a vulnerable position, you open up to other persons to come to their vulnerable position. And then because there was no verbal contact, the contact was on such an emotional level. I mean people would come there and cry. Nobody was looking at them the way I looked at them, unconditionally, giving the feeling of love that comes completely naturally from me... They felt a unity."
Works of Interest
House with an Ocean View
The Artist is Present
Marina Abramovic Institute
I feel inspired by Marina Abramovic for many reasons. One thing I truly respect is her ability and confidence to be herself. She gives herself like an offering to the audience, and can bravely face human limitations of hunger, physical pain and boredom. Abramovic points out the higher states she can achieve through performance, yet this is normal. There is another level of consciousness experienced by many artists during a performance. Why is that? To use your body and mind as art, you must use another aspect of yourself not experienced in every day life. The artist enters a trance-like state, concentrated on their action and interaction with the audience watching them. When coupled with endurance or a simple repetitive action, the artwork becomes ceremonial and a meditation in itself. Performance requires the artist to face their inner self and become vulnerable enough to express this in front of strangers - for many of my classmates in performance classes, it was cathartic and enlightening.
You might think Marina Abramovic is insane at first, but when you realize how genuine her motives behind her work are - to enlarge awareness, to love others unconditionally, to transmit emotional healing - you can't help but wish for five minutes to experience her gaze.
Buddha Mind in Contemporary Art, Mary Jane Jacobs
"Marina Abramovic Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works", The Art Story <http://www.theartstory.org/artist-abramovic-marina.htm#biography_header>
Biography, Marina Abramovic <http://www.marinaabramovic.com/bio.html>
Mariko Mori is arguably one of the most popular contemporary Japanese artists. Born in Tokyo in 1967, her work aims to integrate traditional Japanese philosophy in a global society. Mori's work is multi-media, but is most well-known for her work in video, performance, photography, and installation. Utilizing universal themes; her pieces explore questions such as what happens after death, what lies beneath the visible world, or what is the nature of time? Her work has been exhibited in the Venice Biennale, the Royal Academy of the Arts in London, the Japan Society of New York, The Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, New York and Chicago, and several other institutions.
Views on Eastern philosophy
Mariko Mori's interview with curator Mary Jane Jacob in Budda Mind in Contemporary Art investigates how Buddhism and other Eastern ideas have influenced her art. Mori explains that she first experienced Buddhism in daily life while growing up in Japan, and later on studied Buddhism and Shinto formally as she attended school in London. As a child, she was taught two lessons she considers integral to Buddhist philosophy: respect for all living beings and the need for balance and harmony:
"In the West, you may not think that the plants are living beings of the same quality as us, but we look at the plants and insects and are told that the life is precious - the same as human beings. In Shinto, trees and stones are appointed as objects of great spirits. Another aspect within our culture we call wa, meaning harmony. It is very important to keep harmony within society; harmony is a very important element in life. Also, there is chawa, which means balance that needs to be maintained in nature."
Mori asserts that she did not want to use Buddhist iconography in her art to convert the viewer to the religion (which most religions in the East do not require a conversion to practice anyway), but to help point out the harmful aspects of a capitalistic, global society initiated by Western culture. Mori also reminds us that indigenous cultures and religions hold these values as well, such as the Native American or Aborigional peoples. She feels that any person today could benefit from ideas of being in harmony with nature, seeing humans as a part of the ecosystem but not the center. This not only has ecological benefits, but inner spiritual gifts:
"In every-day life we are embedded in so much human-centered thinking, but there are many different living beings... we should not exploit nature. It's there, available for everyone... It's not only something for Buddhists. I think this is wisdom that has been known for thousands of years, but we forget."
When discussing the process of her work, Mori talks frequently about collaboration and not resisting the limitations. Her performances and installations often require the help of specialized professionals in computer technology, engineering, and architecture. She asserts that the energy of every person is in the final piece. When Mori talks about non-resistance, she recognizes that something will inevitably go wrong in the artistic process because everything has limitations and there is not only one way of doing things. Her strategy for overcoming limitations is acceptance and letting go:
"...within the process I have to accept things, not force something. When you accept things, then things will come. You cannot deliver when it is not ready... So, in a way, alhtough I direct the production, it's more about accepting. The more I accept, the closer I get to a complete work. the process is a learning experiment for me - not just about making work, but about life, too. Respecting and collaborating, accepting and sharing... these processes are very important aspects in producing the work."
Works of interest: Rebirth exhibition
This is my personal favorite exhibition by Mariko Mori. This video was released by the Japanese Society of New York, during her solo exhibition there in 2014. I enjoy the intuitive, internal response I have to seeing the work, knowing what it means but not being able to explain verbally. And as I learn more about what each piece means - the history, symbolism and compassion that goes into it - the more I can appreciate. I also find it amazing the way she incorporates the religion of ancient peoples in Japan called Jomon, with modern technology such as video animation and LED lighting. The range of media used is also quite impressive - from sculpture, video, drawing and installation. This is one of the only exhibitions I've found that the artist has explicitely said the work is about life cycles and the cyclical nature of time. You've read this far, so make sure to watch the video above to see the beautiful exhibition!
Buddha Mind in Contemporary Art, Mary Jane Jacobs
"Mariko Mori", Sean Kelly Gallery <http://www.skny.com/artists/mariko-mori>
Eastern ideas in the artistic process, particularly for artists in Western cultures to cultivate.
A. Short essays
1. Start Anywhere
2. Be Receptive to Change
3. Intending to Be Yourself
4. Intuition and Intellect in Harmony (Not Everything is Meant to Be Explained, Simplicity is Profound)
B: Artist Profiles
Bill Viola, Marina Abramovic, Atta Kim, Wolfgang Laib, John Cage, Mariko Mori
C. Artist Statement
How do Eastern ideals of balance/harmony and concepts of cyclical time compliment my research in circadian rhythms and light pollution?*
Today I visited Wat Palad, a secluded temple in the forests surrounding Chiang Mai. This place is incredibly peaceful and sacred. The sounds, sights and smells are healing - yellow candles burning in the wet air, the incense, the cicadas singing and water splashing.
The temple is 500 years old and legend says that the site was chosen by an elephant, who walked in a circle three times, knelt down and passed away.
This weekend was the beginning of "Rains Retreat" or Vassa. Monks will stay in the same temple for the remainder of the rainy season (July until October). The tradition was originally meant to prevent the monks from potentially harming the rice crops which grow this time of year, but now is a period of reflection and devotion to their spritual practice.
My favorite aspect of being there were the sounds. I haven't heard cicadas singing since last summer in Iowa. This sound has become symbolic of my childhood, my connection to nature, and the cycle of life. It can alter my anxiety levels immediately just by listening. The water flowing against the rocks also sounded incredible. There was also a very high pitched sound that didn't sound like anything distinguishable. My guess is that the high vibration of the location's energy was being sensed by my ears. (There is interesting research about the consciousness/communication of trees to help back this up...)
I took some time to record the sounds of the cicadas and breathe in sync with their song. The cicadas here sound very different from home but still give the same hypnotic effect. It feels as though all the rhythms of your body come into harmony and adopt the oscillating noise. The similarities between Buddhist chanting and the insect sounds of the forest are uncanny. I wondered if perhaps the early monks who retreated to the forest were inspired by the natural melodies around them. I hope to come back soon with ideas for performance and more time to spend there when I go by myself.