From December 27th to January 11th I attended an artist in residence program in Haridwar, India. The residency in entitled "365 Hairdwar" and is residency whose focus is upon spirituality.
I became interested in this residency because I am currently working through my own sense of spirituality. Being that I am not a practitioner of organized religions, my spiritual practice has been very organic and not very structured. Growing up in a western society I feel that there is a very narrow viewpoint on what can be considered a spiritual practice. In the west we commonly associate one god, or higher power. But what I found so fascinating about the East was this undeniable infatuation with all of life being equally important. There are many gods, many prayers, many mantras, and many avenues of appreciation for the lives that we are given.
When I first arrived in India, it was very late and I was alone. I landed in New Delhi and I immediately became overwhelmed with visual and emotional stimulation. My first rickshaw ride was one to remember! The traffic was nothing like I had seen in the West. Everyone honks their horns to let you know they are around, and the lanes are viewed as guidelines rather than strict boundaries, and stray dogs are everywhere!
I arrived at the train station and naturally, was very lost.... I eventually befriended a lovely girl from Mumbai who was a graduate student in Microbiology and she helped me find my train. After a 15 hour plane ride, I endured a 7 hour train ride to arrive in Haridwar.
Upon my arrival the sun was shining and the energy in the city was amazing. I met up with my host from Azimvth Ashram and we went straight to our home. The architecture was incredible... all the rooms in the houses led directly outside and the smell of dhoop filled the air.
On the first night I went down to the Ganges river to attend the evening prayer ceremony. I had never seen so many people gathered together for one moment of spiritual practice. The Ganges is viewed as holy water. Shiva himself pulled the river from the sky and gave it to the people. It is believed that when one bathes, dips, drinks, or worships the water, that good fortune and health will come to you and your family. I was infatuated with the use on mantras, community, dance, fire, light, flowers, colors, energy and warmth.
Every morning I participated in a morning session consisting of sun salutations, mantras, breathing exercises and om chanting. I learned different stories of the many gods of Hinduism, and the true perception of a yogis practice.
The days were split between studio time and adventure. I went to places like temples, schools, ashrams, museums, natural landscapes, markets, and took in all of the history of guru teachings that I could in such a short time. The people were so intrigued by me interest that everyone was very open, they shared their stories, and many invited me to their homes. After attending a fire prayer one particular evening, the priest invited me to his home for tea and lessons. There he provided me with many readings (all in Hindi but I WILL get them translated) on the foundation of Hinduism.
From a community standpoint, I was inspired by the artisans practice, and how most have one job that they are the master of. From natural dying, to jewelers, seamstresses, maids, shoemakers etc... the people of Haridwar live in a very dependent manner and they all utilize each others skills. I became interested in the mala (a series of 108 beads that are used for meditation and prayer) and using the beads to create a mosaic. I went to a dyer and had him hand dye wooden beads and tulsi beads to work with. I noticed that gathering materials for a non functional art piece was much different from anything I had experienced in the west.. To get a piece of wood I went to the furniture designer who wasn't keen in selling raw wood, as his business is to sell completed furniture. I enjoyed the process of gathering materials and just using what I could find to make something. While I am not incredibly found of the piece that I made, it is embedded with symbolism and my personal experiences.
One of my favorite things that I did while in India was have a personal prayer ceremony. You see, any object can be a spiritual object, it just is a matter of setting good intentions. We has a priest visit the house one afternoon to give blessings to my beads, and glass orbs. I have attached a video below as an example of a traditional fire prayer.
To read more about this work of art and my experience at 365 Hairdwar check out this article!
I honestly know that this experience has changed my perspective on life but I can't even find the words to share with you to make that feeling resonate.. One thing I know for sure is I fully intend to spend as much time in India and I can. Partially for the food ;p But mostly because I am attracted to India's way of life, the level of being present in the moment, living happily, and loving unconditionally .
My world has opened up from experience another culture so closely <3 And what I learned the most was how much I actually don't know...How I have been sheltered by one society, one culture, one of which that I don't feel I belong sometimes, or even resonate with... so that has guided me to make goals of experiencing as much of the world through making as I can.
As I am moving toward my MFA candidacy show in the Spring of 2018, I am thinking a lot about the space between meditation and art. For me I see an artistic practice as a lifestyle, much like a yogi. A practice in which one does not simply clock in and out of like a standard job. My artistic practice is very much a practice in which I am conditioning my skills on being present. I dive into my artwork to dive into my mind and enter the space of emptiness where my body and mind are completely at ease. In western society we call this flow, and in eastern societies we call this emptiness. Nevertheless the content is the same; the definition of the flow theory is accessing the “mental state of operation in which the person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.” The definition of the Buddhist theory of emptiness is, “ an ontological feature of reality leading to a meditative state of mind or a phenomenological analysis of experience.”
After traveling to India for a two week artist and residency program focused upon spirituality, I discovered a new definition for this "lofty" concept. I mean what does it even mean to be spiritual? Much like my view on an artistic practice, I have concluded that there is no definitive answer. Spirituality exists within the practitioner. One may determine their own spiritual context in life and it may take a lifetime to find out. It may be in religious constructs, or perhaps in cooking, being in nature, or for me, the making of artwork.
There are no rules.
A spiritual practice is the quest of the self. where one confronts the great mystery of being human and within that find a method for which they experience joy.
So basically it’s about the embodied experience… the collaboration of the senses and the thinking mind that drives me to make work. I find that process drives me to enter this state of mind, but process isn’t necessarily the work itself. It’s through repetitive movements and actions that I am able to get to that place within myself. “Meditation in most traditions tries to calm and focus the mind, but also to integrate the person: to bring the body, mind, and action together, to bring the senses and their objects (seen, heard, thought), together.”
I am drawn to flameworking as a form of meditation because the singular act of making things alone leaves me with only myself and my thoughts to make decisions on. This is quite different from what I am used to in the hotshop since I usually work with a partner. I choose to make loose plans and trust my intuition to make the forms that I believe are laying somewhere in my subconscious.
Intuition is this word that I keep coming back to and have recently tried a bit harder to deconstruct. Intuition to me is ancient knowledge that we aren’t even aware we have. It happens when we understand something right away without having to look for deeper reasoning. It comes from the experiences that we have had prior to the present moment and the experiences that are embedded in the chemistry of our cells. I truly believe that humans are a microcosm of the universe and that we are all made of the same stuff. On a looser end of reincarnation, I don’t see how we aren’t in some manner a form of reincarnated energy. Physics states that energy cannot be created nor destroyed, only transformed. To become one with that theory, I have begun to view myself as energy, just a burst of life right here right now… and eventually I will become something else. I feel connected to the sense of myself as energy especially when I am dancing or practicing yoga. When I can really feel my body and my body is the driving force of my expression, I enter the state of emptiness I long for. Art is the best way to practice being present, being awake in daily life, making work is how I tap into that.
I think that our senses have allowed us to understand the world in a way that is much more complex than the mind alone, and through making artwork, I am able to access bits of of that realm of my being. Just simply being a conscious being allows us as humans to understand life on a complex level compared to other species. We are aware that our lives are short, we are fragile. We don’t really know what humans are for, and we spend most of our lives trying to figure this out. One thing I firmly believe in is that I am the creator of my reality. Perception ( the resulting product of being conscious) of myself and the world in which I reside is something is fluid but always changing. Perception is something that I cannot avoid, and it is essential to being human. I am interested in how we as bodies occupy space, and how our presence makes a difference to the spaces that we encounter. How these bodies hold who we truly are, and become vessels for which our daily lives are experienced. My interests in the intangible, transient and unseen stem from the desire to deconstruct my essential self.
My artwork is not about suffering but rather transcending the feeling of suffering. I feel that I am constantly trying to discover through making. I have the desire and my hands have the need to make, but the why is not always there in the beginning. I know that I seek a truthful and authentic obsession with our purpose as human beings, but how can I answer this question when our entire species has spent our evolutionary lifespan trying to figure this out? It’s through the process of making that I gain clarity and a deeper understanding for why it is that I am doing what I am doing. I gain insight through making, I learn more about myself, my work, my life, and where is is positioned in the world around me. I hope that a viewer can gain some insight into their mindfulness in life as well. My main goal in making art is to find a sense of clarity in my own life- to find a sense of joy and be present in the moment of whatever it is that I am making or doing.
These books have guided me, perhaps they'll guide you too.
I was recently challenged by a dance friend to embody something through movement. For my challenge I chose the elements.
I am fire.
I am water.
I am air.
I am earth.
I am ether.
I am the elements manifested as a microcosm. I move with the rhythm of the universe.
I am inspired by movement, but not just any movement... MY movement. I see the world through my movements. My body is the lens in which I interpret reality. By embodying two of these elements, I move intuitively. The movement causes me to enter a meditative mindset, allowing me to be present in the current moment.
Now is all that exists.
I expect to be doing more movement explorations in the future.