Art for the Temple: Baggage

Temple2015

After Burning Man 2014 I had the idea of physically carrying my baggage from one place to another. Originally I was thinking this would be a street theatre piece. After a wild year of relocations and heartbreaks and generic 24 year old confusions, Black Rock City sounded like the perfect place for my performance.

I couldn’t have predicted the emotional impact physically carrying my baggage to the Temple would have on me. Each moment around the journey was perfectly serendipitous. I wanted to drop into the process, into the walk, into the memories, into my surroundings – and thats exactly what I got. 

I have always loved the place where ritual and performance blend together. They hold so much in common requiring focus, commitment, witnesses and some sort of procedure. Choosing to do this performance at Burning Man, and walk my baggage to the Temple, charged the event with aspects of ritual for me. The Temple at Burning Man is a sacred contemplative space. I don’t actually know if Burning Man prescribes anything more onto the Temple, but people leave all manner of things and memories they wish to release there. People also leave manifestations, have celebrations and marriages, meditate, or witness and contemplate the choices other people have made. On Sunday they burn the temple and all three years I’ve attended it has been a solemn and heartbreakingly beautiful event.

This project had blossomed during a frustration driven bout of artistic angst. I devised the idea of writing all my potentially inflammatory sexual history on bags in bright garish colors and walking around some city, probably San Francisco, as a big “F*** You! I do have sex!” to all the haters that had bred a deep-seated shame into my psyche around my supposed vices. The ideals of radical self-expression and radical inclusion made Burning Man seem like a really safe place to perform and process

I decided to carry five bags of different sizes. I wanted enough bags that it would be impossible for me to carry them all at the same time. I wrote words on my baggage, although not all of them were focused on my sex life. I also wrote the word Acceptance on one of the bags which at the time seemed irreverent but in the end became a critical point in my performance turned ritual.

I am a very kinesthetic learner. I’m still reeling from the amount of information I got about myself from this seemingly simple act of carrying some old vintage bags from my theme camp in the city to the Temple, a mile or so away.

I could only carry two or three bags at a time so I was constantly going two steps forward one step back, essentially leap frog-ing my luggage along the road. I had heard the phrase “one step forward, two steps back” a thousand times but to actually walk it for over an hour taught we that there was nothing wrong about oscillating between moving forward and backtracking. I can be terribly critical on myself for backsliding around certain emotional issues. My inner critic is on me all the time for pining over lost connections, or feeling sad or angry about something “I thought I had gotten over.” What I learned walking it was that:

  1. Things take time
  2. Different issues process at different speeds
  3. 3) If i’m going to try and tackle everything at once there is going to be some backsliding.

I think the way I chose to take my bags says a lot about me. I decided I wasn’t going to talk and initially imagined I would do it all by myself. I was going to carry the bags, not cart or bike or drive them. I was going to take it all at once. I’ve since thought of other ways one might have decided to deal with the concept. You could carry each bag, one at a time, from camp all the way to the temple, making 5 shorter easier trips but in the end probably taking more time. You could test your endurance and take all 5 bags, strapped onto your body, and carry them without stopping, potentially at the risk of hurting your body. I feel like the path I chose was a good metaphor for how I deal with my emotions on a daily basis.

I hadn’t gotten very far down the road with my leapfrog system, which was suiting me fine, when two young men on bikes approached and simply picked up the extra bags I couldn’t carry. I briefly attempted to pantomime that it was my task to carry them, but they weren’t having any of it. They insisted on helping me. If they had to help they at least had to follow some of my procedures. I wouldn’t allow them to put the bags into their baskets on the bikes, explaining through pantomime that they had to be carried in the hand. Happy to help the men on bikes accompanied me all the way to the Man, the namesake of the festival, which resides in the middle of the playa. They joked and sang and pondered who I was and what I doing, while I walked alongside in silence. I was astonished at my reaction to someone else helping me. It was very hard. I really wanted to do it all myself. In hindsight I’m so thankful to those two gentlemen, and a third friend they summoned halfway through, because if they hadn’t helped me get through a third of my trip I would have been truly exhausted.

I hadn’t visited the Man yet but coming upon him I was immediately drawn to the gateway in front of me. The theme for Burning Man last year was Carnival of Mirrors, and the base of the Man was surrounded by a maze and midway. The gateway on this side of the man happened to be a grinning devil, mischievous and compelling. I felt in my gut that this threshold needed to be crossed. My demons had to be faced before I could leave them behind me once and for all. I stopped and thanked the three gentlemen on bikes silently before steeling myself to take each bag through the portal one at a time. Some bags were easier than others, and I was surprised at the adrenal response my body had when I looked the devil in the eye and defiantly crossed beneath him into the sanctuary around the man. It simply seemed like the right thing to do at the time.

I began my system again and passed through the portal facing the road between the Man and the Temple. Looking over my shoulder I saw two dancing elephants intertwined with the words “Leave all despair behind, ye who enter here.” The unexpected contrast from the Devil gate caught me completely by surprise and I was delighted by this other threshold. The words resonated with the “rightness” of my actions. And the elephants felt like a call from the universe to remember my journey and all I learned from it. Filled with a curious uplifted feeling I continued down the road to the Temple.

About halfway to the Temple from the Man I made the discovery that I could in fact carry all five bags at the same time. I carried them a short way but it was extremely taxing on my body, causing my arms to ache and my shoulders to strain. I went back to an even simpler system, as I was tiring, only carrying two bags at any time so it would take me three trips to move forward instead of two. I also decided that despite the pain it might cause me I would carry all of the bags into the temple once I reached that final threshold.

I was terribly worried the the Temple Guardians wouldn’t let me leave so much within the sacred space. In the end there was no cause for worry, but this fear that, taking time to process my own emotions will take up too much time or space, is a relatively constant one. I don’t allow myself to cry as often as I might like to, fearing I’ll be shamed or criticized. I don’t let myself stay angry or upset when I might just need to feel my feelings. So instead I carry them around like a heavy weight.  Having my fear rear its head to absolutely nothing when I arrived at the Temple showcased them outside of my own little inner dialogue. I’m the one most invested in my emotions and for the most part no one is going to be bothered if I choose to express them in healthy ways.

Finally I reached the perimeter around the Temple, bikes scattered all around it. I was preparing to gather up all my bags, strategizing how to get them all at once so no one would bother me, when another man came up with a shining smile and picked up two of the bags. His presence was so sure and so giving, and he didn’t say a word. I gave one small protest, then finally getting it, walked into the temple with a kind stranger from the community helping me. I burst into tears.

I got it. I can process all this crap alone but I don’t have to. There are lots of people out there, some who I know and some who I don’t, that want me to be free of whatever plagues me and are ready to step in as allies. I know this applies to other people because I offer it up all the time, a hand extended to anyone in need. But it finally, truly landed that this also applies to me. Sobbing as I walked, I marched inside and set my bags down. The smiling man gave me a warm hug, looked into my eyes, and then left me with space to wrap up whatever it was I came to do. I arranged my bags somewhat haphazardly, wiping tears from my cheek, half-heartedly choosing which words to have facing outward and which ones to leave facing the wall. I gathered myself for a moment and then feeling like there was nothing left to do began to leave.

Before exiting out the back of the structure I took one last look over my shoulder at the bags. The only word I could see was Acceptance, unintentionally placed by my own hand, a final sign from the universe that the process was done, this leg of the journey was over, and all that was left was to accept what was given to me.

The day had been bright and clear through my whole trek, but as I left the space the temperature dropped and the dust picked up turning the world to white. With my task complete and my baggage left behind it mirrored the way I felt inside. What next? Another friend of mine, after hearing this story, felt that the winds had picked up to sweep my baggage away. Both interpretations feel relevant.

I’m still recalling and realizing things i’ve learned from my process. I would recommend a similar project to anyone curious to physically explore their emotional landscape. I’m happy to chat and collaborate with anyone moved by my journey.

I have been blessed with the opportunity to revisit this journey in an upcoming production with Turning the Wheel, “Stardust and Water.” Learn more about this production on TTW’s Website.

Stardust and Water Postcard

Photo Credit (Thank You!)

  1. James Wind Photography: http://jameswynd.com/
  2. Curtis and Peggy Mekemson: http://wandering-through-time-and-place.me/2016/01/07/burning-man-themes-reflecting-the-mind-of-larry-harvey/

  3. Curtis and Peggy Mekemson: http://wandering-through-time-and-place.me/2016/01/07/burning-man-themes-reflecting-the-mind-of-larry-harvey/

Seeking Bliss

I have been on quite the journey since the last time I posted. I packed up and left Chicago, was planning to move to San Francisco, then through a convoluted series of events I found myself in Sunny Los Angeles. I like LA. Its always warm and sunny, the people are neat, and there is a ton of art.

All that aside, I’ve felt impatient with the transition. Impatient about making new friends. Impatient to “be” where ever it is I envision myself in the future. Impatient to make art. Time is simultaneously way too fast, and way too slow.

In hopes of finding some wisdom from the beyond I spent the afternoon exploring different concepts of patience. I researched the meaning of the word. Read through various philosophical and religious perspectives. After a while I decided to meditate and draw a card from the Triple Goddess Tarot. I drew “Infinite Bliss” today, a card I don’t often pull, which transcends the traditional 21 cards of the Tarot. I was immediately drawn to the description of the goddess archetype for the card: the Great Bliss Queen of Tibet.

Naked and red in color, She stands, one foot slightly in front of the other, on a radiant Sun-disk. In Her right hand, She holds a small drum of skulls, which is played raised to her ear. In Her left hand, She holds the handle of a curved blade that rests at Her side. Beyond are a series of luminous, rainbowlike bands of color arranged in a semicircle. Finally, a band of flames encircles the entire image.

While meditating I had pondered an artistic endeavor centered around bringing consciousness to patience. To be patient, according to Google search, means to have the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset. With this in mind, I imagined a project with a tedious task, such as creating an image through a series of seemingly redundant steps. After reading the description of the Goddess I knew I had found the subject for this idea.

Here is the final result of my Patience Project:

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To create this final piece I sorted through piles of magazine images to find the various symbols described above. As I sorted I kept coming back to the mantra of patience. More than once I noticed myself speeding up, becoming less diligent in looking for what I needed, or feeling anxiety about finding the right images to create what I saw in my minds eye. When I noticed these impatient thoughts, I would pause and recommit to my experience.

Once I found all the images I wanted, I cut them out with great care. I often rush and fudge cutting images out because I am so excited to get to the final result. Once the images were cut out I traced them onto the page. I decided at the beginning that I didn’t want to merely create collage of the Great Bliss Queen. I wanted to deepen into the practice of patience through repetition. Tracing the images took time, and I had to stop and reset at several points. After I had traced all the images I began embellishing the lines with Paint Pens, and allowed myself some creative license. Finally, I cut the final composition out and mounted it.

The whole process, from when I finished reading the description of the Great Bliss Queen to taking the picture above, took about two hours. I had created quite the mess, and even though I had other things to attend to I felt that cleaning everything back up was an important part of the process. Normally I would simply leave everything out, as tidying up my materials before starting often gets me in a good headspace for creating art. That being said, it felt good to leave my studio space tidy and spacious.

The Mess

The Mess

After completing my piece I was curious to see how the Great Bliss Queen of Tibet is normally represented. I couldn’t recall ever seeing a picture of the Goddess. I was surprised by how close my drawing was to traditional representations of her. I was especially tickled that the image for the body I chose closely mirrored the body position chosen for her in other works.

Great Bliss Queen of Tibet

I was inspired by this artistic meditation. I am curious what other images of the Goddess I might feel compelled to create, especially as I continue exploring this theme of patience. Rumi said “Patience is the key to Joy,” and if that is true then I am determined to find the Key to Patience.

Yupo Print – Blue Dragon

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Yupo Print - Blue Dragon

At Women’s group last we played with Alcohol inks and Yupo paper. The affect you get when dropping the inks on the paper is really cool. The inks spread really easily across the paper, which creates a lot of movement and vibrant color.

Before we made this piece we we meditated on water, the fluids of our bodies, and how to flow through life. The intention of the art project was to let the colors and inks flow without trying to “create” something. There was also this citrus solution which softened and manipulated the color of the ink.

After we had created our pieces we were asked to look and see what appeared in the image, like a colorful and elaborate ink blot. I immediately saw a stormy chinese dragon. After talking with my mentor she explained that Chinese Dragons often represent feminine power. I think it is a fitting image for where I am in my life, recovering from the flood and my own tumultuous inner landscape.

What do you see? Feel free to comment below.

Collage from Summer Camp: Inner Landscape

I had the opportunity to go to the Turning the Wheel Summer Workshop again this year. I wasn’t able to attend last year because I was in Paris, and the last time I went was back in 2008. It was nice a cyclical to go back right after graduating from college when the last time I went was right after high school. Everyday there was a chunk of time dedicated to creative playing. The options were Yoga, Drumming, and Collage. I chose to do collage and it turned out to be an adventure into my own creative spirit.

We started the time with a small guided meditation exploring our “inner landscape.” Then, once the meditation was complete, we had access to over 5000 laminated images that had been collected over many years to create a collage of what our journey had revealed to us. We were not allowed to keep the images once our collage was complete, but the facilitators kinkoed the finished creations, and a good friend of mine took a pic with his nice camera.

It was really exciting and refreshing to collage with images that had already been found for us. There were no distracting ads in magazines to mull over and no time was eaten up by cutting and glueing the images down. Instead we simply had to let our eyes wander over the tables overflowing with images, find the ones we liked, and tape them down. Once we chose the images we desired we also had access to a number of words which could be woven into the collage to create poem or infuse meaning. I didn’t end up making a poem, but instead chose words that were meaningful at the time to help me remember what I was thinking when I chose certain images.

Here is my final creation:

Zen Playground: Inspiration, Analysis, and Interpretation

It is as difficult to understand Zen Gardens as it is to understand one’s own self. (Parkes, p.10)

Zen Playground” was a performance I created in December and various different inspirations were synthesized to create my final project. Artists discussed in classes, concepts discovered in other lectures, and previous aspirations from my own life came together to create this performance piece. The performance revolves around three key ideas: physicality, inspiration from children, and appropriating Zen imagery for a western audience. The original concept came to me many years ago when I discovered this small play area that evoked the image of a Zen garden to me.  The work had been bubbling away in my mind since I had first found the playground back in high school. The play park had a series of small rocks alongside various play apparatuses in an somewhat circular space. I immediately was struck with the idea of recreating a Zen-like garden in the playground. Since this initial inspiration I have learned more about Zen and have created a clearer vision for my appropriation of the Zen garden concept.

Several artists from the Gutai movement sparked my interest from Ming Tiampo’s article Gutai: Decentering Originality, because they drew their inspiration from youth. Murukami Saburo’s “At One Moment Opening Six Holes” from 1955 was originally inspired by his son throwing a tantrum and ripping through the paper screen in their home. This work is extremely provocative because of the amount of physical involvement the artist had on its creation. Watching the artist struggle his way through a series of screens is almost painful to watch. At the end of his performance he is panting and sweating in front of his audience. The Gutai movement is deeply entwined with two of the main principles for my own performance- physicality and children. “Early Gutai sought originality by investigating the nature of creativity. One place they looked to as a model was children’s art, (Tiampo, p.24)” I wanted to use the children’s playground to this same affect, drawing inspiration from where children play rather than how they play.

Another idea that I drew inspiration from was my lectures on Zen in professors J.P Park’s “Art In China” course. We spent two weeks discussing the origins and principles of Zen in his lecture. Three concepts from the Zen practice that stuck with me were that (1) enlightenment could occur at any time, (2) that children were closer to enlightenment than adults, and (3) that enlightenment could be achieved through repetitive tasks. The masters that codified Zen practices were anti-sutra and in general contrary to previous Buddhist beliefs. Instead of sitting and reading about enlightenment, actions and thought had to be taken to reach it. Spontaneous action in juxtaposition to repetitive action replaced previous Buddhist traditions. The act of working on a garden was a logical repetitive task that could possibly lead to enlightenment and also served to help the monastery through the cultivation of food.

Allen Weiss discussed the various aesthetics, symbols, and stories that have come to be included in Japanese thought, specifically in regards to gardens. He explained the experience of a Zen garden as follows:

Each person arrives with different beliefs, different expectations, different protocols of viewing. Where one finds the living presence of nature, another seeks a revelation of the transcendental void, while a third discovers sublime beauty. One need not become a Buddhist monk seeking satori to appreciate the Zen garden, yet, as with all art, the form and depth of appreciation depend on what one brings to the scene. These temples and gardens are thus simultaneously sites of meditation, magic, devotion, knowledge, curiosity—even commerce, play, and profanation. (Weiss, p.128)

His explanation of the function of Zen gardens lead me to believe that any artistic license I took on the concept would be acceptable. Huineng, the sixth patriarch of Zen, was often in favor of breaking down old traditions and re-appropriating ideas. In many ways Zen is all about anarchy, paradox, and irony. Zen gardens also function as a form of visual Koan. A Koan is a form of riddle that has no answer. Through puzzling through the nonsensical question with a nonsensical question enlightenment might possibly be reached through escaping normal trends of thought. The synchronicity between the inspiring artists of the Gutai movement, my own inspiration for this performance, and these concepts within Zen Buddhism was extremely exciting.  Keeping this in mind I went forward with creating my own garden at the playground.

I chose to use a child’s toy rake to groom the garden. Not only did it create an aesthetically pleasing line in the sand, but it also visually linked the viewer to a child’s role in the performance. Raking the garden was much more physically exhausting than I anticipated, but the repetitive and concentric circles helped establish a rhythm and reflected the physicality that had inspired me in other art pieces. In the end I was quite happy with the garden I created. Unfortunately I had wanted to work on the garden for more time but technical and weather issues prevented me from executing the performance as perfectly as I wanted. Originally I wanted to stop whenever a child appeared to play in the park, and start over once they left. No children came to the park for the full duration of my performance, and ironically as I was packing up my materials two families came to the park. This aspect of the performance was out of my hands. Also it snowed and was cold the first day I planned to perform, and so I had to reschedule to a day when there was no more snow.

Luckily, I was struck with another ray of inspiration for the music of the piece. Two men came to play basketball in a nearby court while I was working on the garden. The sound of the ball hitting the rim for the net reminded me of sounds I associated with Buddhist temples. I looped the audio clip to create a rhythmic chime. This creation of a sound that would perceived as authentic, when in fact it was completely fabricated. This idea is similar to the music Jaye Rhee created for her “Cherry Blossom” performance. She plucked at a chinese instrument to create a composition that sounded asian, but in fact was not. Incorporating this into my final video finalized the appropriation of Zen visuals and sounds for a western audience. In all I was very happy with the performance and it accomplished almost everything I hoped to.

Bibliography:

Berthier, François, and Graham Parkes. Reading Zen in the Rocks: the Japanese Dry Landscape Garden. Chicago, Ill. [u.a.: Univ. of Chicago, 2000. Print. 

Park, JP. “Zen.” Art in China. Visual Arts Complex, Boulder. 18 Oct. 2011. Lecture.

Tiampo, Ming. Gutai: Decentering Modernism. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2011. Print.

 Weiss, Allen S. “Heimits Of Etaphor: Ideology And Representation In The Zen Garden.”Social Analysis 54.2 (2010): 116-129. Academic Search Premier. Web. 8 Dec. 2011.

Sketchbook Saturdays: Magazine Practice

I don’t know if anyone in the world really cares to see my process as an artist. Well to bad world I’m posting it anyway. 1. in case someone out there finds my various sketches and doodles inspiring or helpful and 2. because I would like to have my skethbooks preserved for posterity in case something terrible happens to them. Some have already fallen prey to spilled cups of tea, water, and sun damage so I’m getting things together quick.

Today I’m sharing some of my practice sketches. ^_^

One of my favorite ways to improve my drawing skills that I haven’t practiced in a long time is to take images from magazines and try to draw them. Doesn’t always turn out great, but it is a quick and easy to take what you see and recreate it. As far as I know still lifes are still the number one way to improve art skills and gain a deeper understanding of how scale and size and shadow work. However we can’t always have a convenient pile of random things to draw in front of us, so hence I turn to magazines. Plus its already 2D, which I realize is cheating but it makes me feel better.