If something negative comes to the surface, such as your despair and anger, or the despair and anger of your spouse, you need the energy of mindfulness to embrace it.
Breathing in, I know that anger is there in me.
Breathing out, I care for my anger.
This is like a mother hearing her baby cry out. She is in the kitchen, and she hears her baby wailing. She puts down whatever she has in her hands, goes into the baby’s room, and picks it up in her arms. You can do exactly the same thing–embrace the pain that is coming to the surface.
Breathing in, I know that you are there, my dear anger, my dear despair.
I am there for you; I will take care of you.
―Thích Nhất Hạnh, You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment
When we get caught up in evaluating performance, life, and art, become uninspired. How do we refresh our vision?
I found my seat in the darkened room. A soundless film was projected upon the bare wall and musicians waited in the darkness at the sides of the space. Soon, low electronic sounds began to enter that space, building slowly and steadily, and a dancer began to unfold herself into the light and shadow. The musicians phased in, bathing the room with a matrix of vibrations, living sounds. Something about the way the sound resonated in the room and within my own body reminded me of a session with a friend who plays therapeutic gong. It wasn’t about notes. It wasn’t about narrative. It was about vibration, vision and motion.
The first time I encountered the Transitory Sound and Movement Collective, it took me a solid twenty minutes to slow down enough to shed the excitement and yes, the anxiety and disorientation, that I felt in order to connect with the piece. One is accustomed to a story, or least a framework and purpose that one can perceive. One is used to evaluating the execution of those things. This is a different kind of experience, a physical encounter with sound and how it moves us, not far removed from meditation. I was lucky to have this experience twice last month. I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing TSMC again in a few days and enjoying the Zen-like atmosphere these artists create with through the vulnerability of improvisation.
Founder Lynn Lane is an important force here in Houston. He is quite probably the busiest arts photographer in town, shooting performances all over the city: dance, music, theatre. He’s shot me as a member of the Houston Grand Opera Chorus many, many times. But we had never met until my friend Julia Fox invited me to Echoes of Solitude in Grand Central, Transitory Sound and Movement‘s February show at the Rec Room, a new and exciting venue here in Houston that supports local artists with their Artist Residency Program and inexpensive rentals. I didn’t know what to expect, and that always peaks my interest.
Echoes of Solitude featured Ron Kiley’s film of foot traffic through Grand Central Terminal in New York City. Travelers moved through the frame, becoming solid and “real” only when they paused in their walking. In front of this visual offering, dancer AJ Garcia-Rameau and singer Julia Fox moved. Lane provided a matrix of electronic sound and field recording into which Fox and the instrumental musicians could enter, meander and exit, just as the film’s travelers had done physically in Grand Central. Ben Roidl-Ward (bassoon), Emily Nelson (flute/piccolo), Emmy Tisdel (violin/viola) and Caitlin Mehrtens (harp) occupied the shadowed edges of the performance space. The interaction of the aural, visual and physical planes, as well as that of the pre-recorded and the improvised, created a sense of being together and yet being apart, a feeling of loneliness within a group. The work rose and then receded, leaving a feeling of peacefulness, like the calm after a storm.
Echoes of Solitude capitalized on catharsis, the healing element in music and art, which seems often to suffer from our desire to evaluate and sometimes even from our desire to understand. I knew then and there that I wanted to see more. Luckily, there was a private loft performance the following weekend which I was able to experience as well, a different piece with many of the same musicians and familiar, yet different elements. The second time I was swept up immediately. This healing music is habit forming.
Rehearsal for Untitled: Darkness and Light in Eight, photo credit: Lynn Lane
I wholeheartedly recommend Untitled: Darkness and Light in Eight, the next show presented by the Transitory Sound and Movement Collective at the Rec Room on Tuesday, March 14th. TSMC is presenting a new piece there each month and I can’t wait to see where they will go next. Please follow these artists on the group Facebook page.
These are twenty of my favorite quotes from 2016, strung together into a meditation. Each quote has some resonance or synchronicity with the one that follows it. I hope the combination will give some meaning to things which we have experienced and things that we have yet to encounter. May 2017 bring you good things.
Traditional art forms remain astounding and disarmingly beautiful in an era dominated by technology. What makes this art so beguiling?
Ebru, a form of paper marbling, is an ancient art that originated in the 15th century in central Asia. Europeans first encountered it in Istanbul and were mesmerized by it. If you have seen old books with marbled beginning and end papers like the one above, you have seen ebru. Ebru, or abri, can be translated as cloudy or colorful (paper), depending on whether or not you translate the word from Persian or Turkish sources. In Iran it is called abr-o-bâd, or cloud and wind. The video below, an advertisement made for a class at American Islamic College in Chicago by artist Garip Ay, makes it easy to see why people have been so enraptured by this art.
Ay was born in 1984 in Siirt, Turkey and studied painting at the High School of Fine Arts in Diyarbakir. He then pursued and graduated with a degree in Traditional Turkish Arts from Mimar Sinan University in Istanbul. This video shows him working in a more traditional style, but he has made a name for himself by melding the techniques and materials of modern painting and ebru. You can see more of his lovely work on his blog. Evolution keeps the form alive.
Long before Europeans made ebru a status symbol for the wealthy and educated of Europe, this decorative paper began as the background to important official state documents throughout central Asia. This developed not, at first, in celebration of its beauty, but as an anti-counterfeit measure. When artists discovered its potential, ebru became an incredible outlet for creativity. As it grew in imagination and color, it was used as a background for poetry and scripture, written in the graceful legato of calligraphy. Some designs were complicated enough to stand on their own in the style of paintings. Ay and artists like him are continuing to blur the line between painting and ebru.
“This calligraphic fragment includes two bayts (verses) of poetry that describe the desire of unidentified antagonists to break or humble the beloved: “They want to break the wild-eyed / They want to break the black-eyelashed / They want to break the heart from the spirit / They want to break the objects of beauty.” In these verses with repetitive phrasing, the beloved ones or objects of beauty—the kajkulahan (literally, the “ones wearing crooked helmets,”)—are the target of violence and animosity. Written in black Nasta’liq script on orange paper decorated with light-gold sprinkles, the text is provided with a gold frame and is pasted onto a blue-and-white abri or ebru (marbled) paper strengthened with cardboard. The fragment is neither signed nor dated, but the script and the marble paper suggest that it may have been produced in Iran or India during the 16th–17th centuries.”
The current Turkish tradition of ebru was developed by a branch of the Naqshbandi Sufi order. These Sufis, Sunni Muslims exploring the inner, mystical, or psycho-spiritual dimension of Islam, saw their art as a form of meditation and passed it on to their followers. The process of floating paint on treated water to make beautiful papers and artwork requires discipline, skill and intense concentration. Keeping mind and body focused on producing beauty allows for spiritual growth.
Gum tragacanth, a paste obtained from the sap of several Middle Eastern legumes, is mixed into a shallow pan of water, making the water thick and sticky. Natural pigments are mixed with ox bile to create paint, which is splattered onto the surface of the water with horsehair brushes. The ox bile, or gall, not only keeps the dye floating, but makes the colors spread and keeps them from blending together. Paint can also be applied in a more controlled fashion with sticks made from rosewood. The floating colors can be manipulated with these rosewood sticks, with combs or with the breath. After a pattern is finished, a piece of acid free, unlacquered paper is laid lightly on top of the design. The design is thus transferred to the paper, making a one of a kind print, or monotype. Ebru requires a gentle touch, as well as a mind open to the movement of paint and water, which produce unexpected patterns. The artist must know when to shape the design and when to accept the direction it has chosen for itself.
The value of ebru lies not only in the beauty of the product, but in the process itself. There is not yet a computer that would have the dexterity or imagination required. Even more valuable is the effect of such a process on the mind, engendering patience, gentleness and a respect for beauty, color and imagination. These are things that our world needs desperately.
I thought I would try a new approach this year with my favorite quotes. This is always the most difficult list to compose, and, with the sheer number of quotes published in 2015, it was an even larger challenge than in the past. I decided on twenty of the three hundred and some odd posts and then arranged them in an order that provides an interesting flow. It isn’t exactly a story, but a meditation connected by themes and wordplay. I hope it is both meaningful and fun for you. Click on the author to read the quote. Love to you and yours in 2016!
Many secular observers and spiritual practitioners alike mistake mystical chanting as a kind of anthropological curiosity or interesting musical diversion from secular mainstream entertainment, sometimes labeling it ‘world’ or ‘folk’ music. But uttering or chanting spells, mantras or prayers shouldn’t be regarded as a romantic excursion to a distant past, or faraway place, or as an escape from our everyday stresses, for relaxation or entertainment. These sounds are meant to be experienced as the timeless unity of energy currents. The chanting of ancient esoteric sounds enables us to realize we are never separate from the one continuously existing omnipresent vibration of the cosmos.
If you truly get in touch with a piece of carrot, you get in touch with the soil, the rain, the sunshine. You get in touch with Mother Earth and eating in such a way, you feel in touch with true life, your roots, and that is meditation. If we chew every morsel of our food in that way we become grateful and when you are grateful, you are happy.
In a swamp, as in meditation, you begin to glimpse how elusive, how inherently insubstantial, how fleeting our thoughts are, our identities. There is magic in this moist world, in how the mind lets go, slips into sleepy water, circles and nuzzles the banks of palmetto and wild iris, how it seeps across dreams, smears them into the upright world, rots the wood of treasure chests, welcomes the body home.
―Barbara Hurd, Stirring the Mud: On Swamps, Bogs, and Human Imagination
Lise Bech is a basket maker who creates beautiful and useful objects from organic and sustainable materials, chiefly from various species of Scottish Willow. Each species has its own texture, pliability, and color which lend character to the work produced. The basket featured in the video below, titled Plantweave, is one of her more traditional designs, made from willows collected by hand from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. Her assertion that working with willow branches is “a cooperation” in which one must never “go past what the willow will do naturally” is a fascinating revelation about working with natural materials in general. Bech invites us to share her reverence for the plants which form her creations. She sees weaving as a meditative act which unites her consciousness with her local landscape. It is amazing to see the piece progress from a rough and unwieldy structure to an organized and stable one. Bravo, Lise!