Some art reflects and comments on the world. Other art makes the world.
When we create art we participate in a process in which form arises from emptiness. A poem, a pot, a painting comes into being, like snowflakes appearing in the air. The thing was not there before, and now it is. Where did it come from?
All art is part of this process, whether it be the creation of a dance, a portrait, or a weaving, but some kinds of art — craft, installation and construction pieces, in particular — seem especially grounded in the reality of making things. Rumi gave us a poem in which he said we build ourselves like honeycomb. This kind of art does that. It builds our lives — we can step inside it, eat off it, clothe ourselves in it.
The art in today’s blog invites our world into being.
Kim Mosley (http://kimmosley.com/blog)
Dwayne Bohuslav, a member of San Antonio Zen Center, created this interactive, movable meditation space titled "Ayatana.” Much of Dwayne’s work involves installation and performance and asks for the creative involvement of the people who interact with the piece.
“Ayatana” was constructed for HCG Gallery in Dallas, TX in response to an invitation to participate in a Group Show titled "Postmodern Primitives — Contemporary Inspiration from Ancient Culture." It was exhibited from May–June, 2008.
More of Dwayne Bohuslav’s work may be seen at www.movingbodies.org
Everything that exists arises in the mind.
When sitting in meditation, we concentrate our mind on the object of our observation — sometimes a physiological phenomenon, sometimes psychological — and we look deeply into that object in order to discover its source and nature.
The “forms” for sitting and bowing have been developed over 2000 years in order to focus one’s mindfulness — paying attention to each act and the feelings that arise in response to it — but not to be a hindrance to trying.
You are invited to enter, if you wish, explore and sit. Just sit. Before entering, please remove your shoes and leave them on the floor outside. Standing, bowing, sitting: focus moment-by-moment on your actions—on the physiological (breathe or toe, earth or wood); on the psychological (feelings or perception); and on the physical forms that arise out of this consciousness.
Whether standing and bowing, sitting on the cushion facing the wall or facing the space, respect the space and the space will respect you.
In my work as an architect I make designs, which I fondly think of as maps. A map delimits a field of conditions. It interprets a given context, and thereby facilitates an intentional path. The face-to-face encounter in shaping material is not separable from the apperception of context. Even if the design process is intentionally curtailed or ignored altogether, a map arises at the instant of a shaping action.
Design, as an engagement in critically shaping a map, is an exercise of awareness, and it is a key to skillful action. For me, this convergence of awareness and action is the mysterious creative force of the co-arising universe.
To understand the “mapping faculty”, it may be useful to begin with an evolutionary perspective. Understanding the elementary behavior pattern leads toward speculation about the higher potential of this faculty.
Responding to a perceived stimulus is perhaps the most basic conscious behavior that an organism can demonstrate. The force of life proliferates through
stimulus → perception → response, manifesting through evolution in myriad organisms and their structures.
Leaves reaching for sunlight;From the rudimentary stimulus-response sequence, behavioral scientists1 believe that a progressive process of mapping facilitates the evolution of life forms. The reflex of holding the hand up to block the sun from the eyes implies a neural “map” that can guide a motor response in the hand to serve the discomfort of the eyeballs in a remote region of the body. This is a compulsive reaction, a cause and effect routine performed before cognition, at a cellular level. The creature that performs such a routine must have an internally mapped sequence, a chain of response following a given pathway inside the organism. Compulsive responses to stimuli can be observed in the simplest microorganisms.
Wiggling larvae in waxen hexagonal chambers;
Still egg under downy breast inside bowl of twigs;
Child’s hand blocking sleepy eyes from sunshine;
Scholar passing beneath carved acanthus of stone archway into lofty archives of air conditioned library.
In the animal kingdom the ability to map extends to territory external to the perceiving creature. By comparing behavior patterns of creatures from single cell organisms to large mammals, scientists have identified incremental steps in the progression of mapping abilities: compulsive reactions, goal oriented actions involving simple recognition, and a spectrum of cognitive planning abilities. In each case, a map — an understanding of sequential and/or spatial relationships — facilitates a responsive routine, such as pushing an egg back into a ground nest, or finding food and bringing it to larval nurseries, or moving and arranging logs to form a dam. The routine may create more propitious physical conditions, and thus greater potential for survival and evolution.
The process begins thus:
stimulus — sensory perception — response →The most basic, internal mapping of the cellular creature remains an integral foundation in more complex creatures, supporting the higher capacity of external, cognitive mapping. The resulting survival niches typically relate to nutrition, safety, and procreation. In humans it seems that the cognitive, external map has become integrated into a still higher capacity: what I will call imaginary mapping. Whereas cognition perceives conditions in the sensible, external environment, imagination perceives conditions that may not exist in the sensible environment, internally or externally.
successful response creates survival niche →
survival niche allows creature to live and procreate →
procreation creates possibility for more complex structures to develop,
with more complex sensory perceptions and internal
mapped responses become behavioral routines →
Creating bigger survival niches and potential →
Then, there is a leap to
perception of conditions neither internal to the creature, nor in direct sensory contact →
the external map creates capacity for still more complex routines →
successful responses increase survival niche and evolutionary potential →
and the positive feedback loop continues. . . .
If we define the expression of a creature as its fullest manifestation of its potential for life, then we could posit that the ability to map presupposes, or is somehow integral to the expression of the creature. In certain simple creatures, the fully manifested life principle demonstrates a quality not unlike art, as we may observe with the silkworm’s thread or the paper structures of wasps. Many creatures seem to have reached creative fulfillment in their behavioral expression. For example, wasps have been making amazing paper mansions for quite some time, and they do not appear to be inventing categorically different routines.
Retire when the work is done. This is the way of heaven.2
How does the human express its fullest manifestation? What kind of fulfillment could arise from maps of the imagination? With imagination, the map itself may become a sensible manifestation, in the form of language, drawing, and other representational arts. It seems our creative process, our art, maps territory beyond a biological survival niche; a play of consciousness in silk, paper, bricks. The sages say the map is not the territory. The scientists say the mapping capacity opens the way to greater life potential.
We cannot manufacture a strand stronger or finer than the product of a simple worm. The worm seems to be perfected. Perhaps our perfection lies in the capacity to imagine.
You are perfect, therefore you could evolve.3
1-The concepts described are generally taken from James L. Gould and Carol G. Gould, Animal Architects, New York, 2007.
2-Lao-tzu, Tao te ching, translated by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English, New York, 1997. Number 9.
3-Modification to aphorism attributed to Suzuki Roshi – You are perfect; and you could use a little improvement.
Grace Riggan, who has shared with us her thoughts on building, is a member of the Austin Zen Center. She and Joshua Bowles design and craft homes and spaces through HomePlace Architecture + Carpentry. Their work can be seen at www.homeplace.biz
Shoji screens have captured my imagination for many years, although I have never visited Japan. It is from films and books that their magical, luminous quality entered my imagination.
There are many shoji screen simulacrums available in the American marketplace, but shoddy construction and cheap materials disabuse us of their pretense. The essential qualities that I wished to create were excellent craftsmanship, smooth and light gliding action, harmonic proportion specific to the room, and the proper effect of light diffusion.
Embarking on the research and practices that would reveal these qualities to me, I was drawn further still into the allure and the simple virtues of these elegant space dividers.
First, I sought out the proper materials and tools to practice traditional Japanese woodworking methods, outside of which the special qualities of shoji seem to vanish. I learned the proper tune and use of Japanese hand planes, hand saws, chisels, marking gauges, and other tools. I learned to make my own gauges and squares for project-specific accuracy and facility. I made my own simple, traditional work stations that allowed for the best posture for careful craftsmanship. In practicing these postures and techniques I began to know what type of wood to seek for various members of the shoji assembly.
I settled on antique, reclaimed cypress for its clear, colorful grain and relative hardness as a “softwood”. For the frame members I used “tank” cypress — large planks (2 ¼"x6 ¾"x11') that had previously been made into cylindrical tanks for pickling. For the panels at the bottom of the screens, called “hipboards”, I selected “sinker” cypress. Sinker cypress lumber comes from logs that sank to the bottom of bayous or rivers when harvested long ago, and has now been reclaimed and milled. This type of cypress has a lovely range of colors in its grain as a result of the uncommonly oxygen-deficient environment underwater.
With a large stack of rough, old lumber in our shop, I took on the challenge of making 2 sets of shoji screens. I determined that I would use a modern table saw for the rough milling. But first, I wanted to understand the unique properties of each piece of lumber. I studied the grain and character by visual examination, with pencil drawings, and by handplaning. Planing the wood acquainted me with its working qualities, and showed me which end was the trunk and which the top of the tree.
Understanding the character of the various pieces and knowing how the tree stood in its lifetime would help me orient the wood within the shoji assembly for the most appropriate and pleasing configuration. This was the first step in working the wood with respect.
The design of the assembly followed traditional rules where possible. The layout and proportions were refined to create the most harmonious proportions for the installation. The rough mill of the lumber — that is, milling the rough lumber to pieces a bit larger than final dimensions — required critical judgment and precise workmanship. Respect for the trees, translated to respect for the lumber that was cut from them, demanded that the wood should not be wasted. I laid out the rough mill to create the proper cuts such that the panels would best reveal the beauty of the grain and character, but also to minimize the left-overs.
With the rough mill complete, the process of selection and layout continued for the individual panels. There were to be 2 sets of 3 panels each. From this point on, stiles, rails, kumiko (the woven lattice pieces), and hipboards were assembled with traditional joinery, cut and chiseled with traditional hand tools. Shoji joinery is quite simple — blind mortise and tenon, and dado joints primarily. Inspired by the writings of Toshio Odate, I tried to create paper thin blind mortises for the greatest strength, and to cultivate the experience of unseen quality.
The kumiko, or lattice pieces, are “woven” to give the panels lateral stability and strength. There are no fasteners in the shoji screens. The wood joinery set in place with homemade rice glue impart the greatest strength and durability. I worked on one set of shoji at a time in an assembly-line fashion, clamping groups of pieces together for layout and cutting. Much of the precision with traditional hand tools can be achieved through good working posture, inner calmness, and unwavering attention. These are qualities that I seek to cultivate in my yoga practice, and these screens would eventually be my constant companion in my yoga space.
Each set of shoji has hundreds of mortises, tenons, and dadoes. The precision of the layout for these joints was essential; they would be matched up only when all of the finished pieces were ready for assembly.
Planing, and the care and sharpening of our planes and chisels, became a daily ritual. After days (or weeks!) of patient, repetitive work, when the pieces for 3 panels received their finish plane, I cooked a big pot of sticky rice and happily partook thereof before mashing the rice glue.
The kumiko were woven together, the rails met stiles, panels slid into slots. It was a rather rapid conclusion after so many hours of preparations. I made 3 panels in each cycle of work.
The installation was another exercise of careful layout, preparation, and final touches.
I built these screens in 2003. With no applied finishes, no hardware, no fasteners, their appearance and function has hardly changed in 6 years, which is a testament to the wisdom of traditional craftsmanship.
My understanding of pottery making grows as a spiral. I repeat the same general process of preparing clay, making, and firing, but with each round, my knowledge expands. While I'm waiting for the first pieces to become leather-hard, I have time to make another series, and then go back to the first to trim and join parts. This exercises my patience and ability to remember what I had previsualized at the beginning of a series. It's very easy for this to become a comfortable routine, but I am constantly on the lookout for unexpected opportunities as the cycle progresses. As with any other skill or art form, repeated practice brings awareness of the subtleties of choice available at every stage. What appears to be a simple mug or bowl is the result of deciding to take a certain predictable path or to explore that less-traveled and mysterious one.
I love gardening for many of the same reasons. It takes several seasons of observation to understand the soil, wind patterns, seasonal light, etc. in a particular location or micro-climate. A few years ago, I imagined how lovely it would be to see through our dining room window the ornamental grass, Miscanthus 'Morning Light' high on a berm in the perfect position that would allow the sunrise to make it's plumes glow. I prepared the soil, planted a small start of the grass, watered, and waited. Sure enough, in two years it was mature and thrilled us with its glory on autumn mornings. An unexpected bonus was that tiny finches made the tall plumes dance with the weight of their tiny bodies as they relished the seeds. Of course, not all plans end so happily, but each experience adds to a depth of understanding. I follow a similar process in pottery making — imagine a vase that is as full of life as a gourd, with a swelling belly and neck like a stem, in proportions that ring true. I sit at the potter's wheel, over and over again, changing proportions and curves with each pot, getting closer and closer to what I had imagined. I patiently wait for the pots dry, fire them to the bisque stage, and then apply glaze and hope that the final firing will "kiss" the pot with flame paths, accentuating the curves, leaving traces of the life of the fire that hardened it.
Pottery is a hollow three-dimensional form and to me, the interior is as important as the exterior: a pot is architecture on a small scale. I like to create a sense of harmony spiced with a little surprise to delight the eye and sense of touch, so subtle that you have to pay close attention to find it. The heat of tea warms the hands and the soul through a well-balanced teabowl, and the tea's aroma is directed to the nose when the bowl is lifted to the lips. I consider all these things while sitting at the wheel with the wet lump of clay passing through my hands. I make a little well in the bottom of the bowl to collect the last sip of tea, I raise the wall to direct the tea smoothly, and shape the rim to fit the lips, I leave a thick base so that a deep foot can be cut when the clay is half-dry, to raise hot bowl off the table and hand. Later I coat it with a glaze that will enhance the tea color. Some days the bowls are wide and shallow for summer, sometimes deep for winter, sometimes smooth and even, others times heavy with ridges left by my fingers to catch a flowing glaze. Every day is repetition, but never the same — a cycle that spirals upward in the way that clay is lifted into a pot by my fingers as the wheel turns round and round. It feels right.