NON-CONCEPTUAL ART

In the LA Times today, art critic Christopher Knight reviews an exhibit at the Hammer Museum called “Stories of almost Everyone”.  The intent, apparently, is to make the viewer aware of the stories that inevitably attach themselves to pieces of art.  Knight describes the premise of the show as follows:

...we have a tendency to project stories onto inanimate objects, including works of contemporary art…..The objects demand a suspension of disbelief”.

The exhibit consist of various pieces and performances of  “Conceptual Art”.  Knight does not like the show and from how  I read his critique, he appears to be suggesting that “conceptual art” is probably not the best way to go if you want to get around the “concepts” surrounding art.

Above is a photo taken at a recent art exhibit near YOU.  The name of the exhibit is “Introducing Non-Conceptual Art: No Stories Necessary”.  I’m unclear, from the photo, whether the object in the exhibit is the: 1) art piece, 2) the artist or 3) the audience.  Hummmm.  Could it be “all of the above”?

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DRAMA AND THE SILENT RETREAT?

A play about attendees at a Silent Retreat?  What would that look/sound like?  What are the chances of my reading the article below a day before attending a week long Zen retreat conducted in silence?  Reading about art is not the same as experiencing it first hand, but I think you will find this article/ interview of interest.  It is about the playwright Bess Wohl and her play “Small Mouth Sounds”.  Most of my blog posts have to do with the interconnection between the visual or performing arts but I’ve not written much about the dramatic arts.  I haven’t seen the play but I’m guessing my experience of silence over the next week will be affected by this article.
“Play’s silence speaks for itself” LA Times Jan. 11, 2018

A minute of silence onstage feels like an eternity. So imagine what 100 minutes of silence would feel like. That’s exactly what playwright Bess Wohl did when she set out to write “Small Mouth Sounds,” which makes its Los Angeles-area debut at the Broad Stage on Thursday.

Set at a silence retreat in the woods, the play explores the lives of six people as they struggle to connect, and find inner peace, without uttering a word. The play has a few moments of speech, but the only substantial dialogue comes from the person running the retreat — a bodiless voice offstage.

For a writer who admits to relying on witty banter for some of her best work, the play proved a dramatic challenge and a creative triumph for Wohl and director Rachel Chavkin, the latter fresh off the raves she earned on Broadway for her inventive “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812.”

As part of a national tour that will take “Small Mouth Sounds” to Dallas, Miami and Philadelphia, Wohl talked with The Times about her process and explained why silence is sometimes louder than words.

What made you want to write this play?

The idea came when I was on a silence retreat. I had been — I wouldn’t say dragged — but encouraged to come by a close friend. I didn’t realize we were going to be in silence. I thought it was going to be a girls bonding weekend. I brought snacks and wine.

But on the first night of silence I simultaneously realized, “Wow, this might be fertile ground for a play.” I had this impulse based on observing other people and thinking they would be great characters to explore, but I didn’t know anything about them because I hadn’t spoken to them.

So the whole thing became this projection of my fantasy about who they might be. I got really interested in the way we project fantasy on each other all the time, and I was interested in engaging the audience in that process.

Did you do more research?

I went back to a bunch of silence retreats. I went to one with my mom, but we only lasted about halfway through. I just got deeper and deeper into this idea. There was a part of me that really enjoyed the perversity of trying to make a play where people don’t speak, and what that would be like. It was all a great experiment.

I started it in 2012, and there were series of workshops with actors. I wrote a bunch of drafts. My first draft, I couldn’t help myself and all the characters immediately started talking and breaking the rules. Then in the second draft nobody spoke ever, and that felt kind of false. What I ended up finding was balance.

I did a lot of workshopping — putting the play in front of groups of 20 or 30 people, so I could understand what information they needed to follow the plot. There was lots of testing with other people, which was part of the joy of a silent play. You have to see it in bodies and spaces.

What does the script look like?

The beginning is about 12 pages of character descriptions. I felt if I were going to ask actors to play characters that barely spoke, I had to give them enormous backstories to ground them. My hope is that the audience can intuit that there’s a lot going on beneath the surface. After that there’s about 40 pages of stage direction, and there are some monologues in the play. The other piece of perversity is that the character who speaks the most is never seen in the play.

I was interested in creating these obstacles in both directions. What is it like to hear and not see, and vice versa.

I realized how hard it is for me to personally sit in silence. The play begins in silence. You watch someone in silence for a full minute, which onstage feels like a very long time. So when I watch I go through a whole arc of anticipation and agony. Part of the project is teaching myself to slow down and sit in silence with something I made. As a playwright it’s hard to evaluate your work because the voices in your head are so loud. In part I was trying to quiet those voices.

I always think any kind of change or growth is jagged — but I definitely have moments now when I can access the quiet I didn’t have before. And then a minute later the voices are back.

How did you hook up with Rachel Chavkin to direct?

I got so lucky with Rachel. We had a coffee, and she had read the play and came to the first meeting with such a clear vision of what she wanted the audience to feel by the end of the play. She wanted them to feel as if they had been at a silence retreat. She said they should leave the theater in a different metabolic state than they came in with.

How would you describe the plot?

It’s tricky to put it into one sort of nugget because every time I watch the play, I see it in a different way depending on whatever I’m going through in my life. What’s interesting about a silent play is that the audience brings a lot of perspective. The audience can project their own experiences and ideas onto the characters.

The play is a lot about the question of inner peace. A character asks whether peacefulness is a worthy goal right now given the chaos of the world. He says maybe we shouldn’t be at peace in a world that has so much difficulty.

How do you feel about the cast that will be performing at the Broad Stage?

I have the greatest respect for this company of actors. Part of what’s hard about this play as an actor is that it’s impossible to perform without being fully present, because there’s no dialogue to coast on. You can’t be saying the words while thinking about the hamburger you’re going to eat at the bar afterwards. Being present is all there is.

Do you think the show will play differently in L.A. than in New York?

I’m really excited to see it in Los Angeles. L.A. has a great community of spiritual seekers and yoga practitioners and people who have been on a lot of these retreats. I wanted to make something accessible whether you’d been on a million retreats or had no idea what one was about.

I’m hoping that people in L.A. can see themselves and laugh a little bit and also engage with the ideas.

What’s next for “Small Mouth Sounds”?

This play is going to continue to tour, and that will be really fun to keep sharing it with people around the country. When I first started this play — as my little experiment, will people engage with this, will people fall asleep — I never imagined it would be a multi-city tour. It was such a tiny, weird idea. We had auditions where we just had actors come in and sit in silence and leave.

What’s next for you?

I have a new play that I’ve been working on that tries to look at questions surrounding climate change. I’ve been working on it for years and am figuring out how to tackle it. Hopefully there will still be a planet next season.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

‘Small Mouth Sounds’

Where: The Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; ends Jan. 28.

 

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“THERE’S NOTHING OUT THERE”; NEW RELEASE BY WILSON BROS/SHRINK WRAP

 

Photograph by Eric Kuniholm and Jane Mushinsky

Embedded in this new tune, one of the voices says ” Your mind can’t understand this, but see if you can get a feeling: You’re not separate from everything…..  There’s nothing out there.”  So the title of the tune is “There’s Nothing Out There”.  See what feelings arise as you listen to the music and as you look at the accompanying photo submitted Eric Kuniholm and Jane Mushinsky.

Here are some suggestions for listening:

1) Play the music when you have enough time to mindfully listen without worrying about being distracted by other issues.

2) Use whatever rituals you usually use when preparing  to move out of the  flow of ordinary life.

3) The music was especially created to be heard through headphones.  Try to avoid earplugs, if possible.

4)  As you listen, focus on your bodily reactions (i.e. sensations, feelings, emotions etc., whether positive or negative) rather than the meaning of what you are hearing.

5)  Try listening to the piece more than once be open to having different experiences with each exposure.  Try dancing/moving while you listen!

“IMPERMANENCE”: A NEW RELEASE BY WILSON BROS/SHRINK WRAP

 

Last week (see http://artandzentoday.com/?p=5038      ) I posted the first of a series of musical pieces that incorporate “messages” or “lessons” that I would like to incorporate into my life.  The idea is that perhaps these messages will have a greater impact on me if they are embedded  into music that I helped create  ( along with my brother, James).  The newest release deals with a subject that I especially have been resistant to hearing.  I would be interested in hearing from you about how you react to “Impermanence”.

Here again are the suggestions for listening to this series of music.  I would especially recommend the idea of moving while listening.  This may take the form of what we usually call “dancing”, but it may also involve simply swaying your body or tapping your foot as you sit and listen.  There is evidence that this makes the listener a more active participant in the hearing process.

Here are some suggestions for listening:

1) Play the music when you have enough time to mindfully listen without worrying about being distracted by other issues.

2) Use whatever rituals you usually use when preparing  to move out of the  flow of ordinary life.

3) The music was especially created to be heard through headphones.  Try to avoid earplugs, if possible.

4)  As you listen, focus on your bodily reactions (i.e. sensations, feelings, emotions etc., whether positive or negative) rather than the meaning of what you are hearing.

5)  Try listening to the piece more than once be open to having different experiences with each exposure.  Try dancing/moving while you listen!

 

 

PRESCRIPTION FOR DEPRESSION: SUN, DRUM, DANCE AND COMMUNITY.

There is reason to believe that many people are feeling depressed about the state of the nation and the state of the world.  If you relate to this, you might find the short statement below to be a useful reminder of some rather simple coping mechanisms.

Below is an excerpt from what a Rwandan told Western writer, Andrew Solomon about his experience with Western mental health and depression.  Thanks to Alessandra, a good friend and avid Art and Zen Today reader for calling my attention to this statement, as published on a Blog called “Under The Blue Door”. ( https://underthebluedoor.org/)  By the way, you can learn more about Alessandra by typing her name into the search box at the upper right- just doing that may help with your depression.

The Rwandan Prescription for Depression: Sun, Drum, Dance, Community.

~A Rwandan talking to a western writer, Andrew Solomon, about his experience with western mental health and depression.

“We had a lot of trouble with western mental health workers who came here immediately after the genocide and we had to ask some of them to leave. They came and their practice did not involve being outside in the sun where you begin to feel better, there was no music or drumming to get your blood flowing again, there was no sense that everyone had taken the day off so that the entire community could come together to try to lift you up and bring you back to joy, there was no acknowledgement of the depression as something invasive and external that could actually be cast out again. Instead they would take people one at a time into these dingy little rooms and have them sit around for an hour or so and talk about bad things that had happened to them. We had to ask them to leave.”

THE WORLD IS SOUND

I have been exploring the notion that the World is Sound in both my meditation and music practice.  I don’t usually miss the East coast but I sure would like to see this exhibit.  Below is an article I found on “Lion’s Roar”.  At the end of my post is a short promotion video for the Exhibit.

Touching Sound: A visit to the Rubin Museum’s thrilling new exhibit

BY 

 

From The World Is Sound: Milarepa, Central Tibet, 15th – 16th century; Parcel gilt silver with gilt bronze base; 5.12 5″ h. x 4.125″ w. x 4″ d. Long-term loan from the Nyingjei Lam Collection, L2005.9.62 (HAR 68492) 012; Photo courtesy of the Rubin Museum of Art.

“The World Is Sound,” at New York City’s Rubin Museum of Art, features the work of Éliane Radigue, Laetitia Sonami, Bob Bielecki, Christine Sun Kim, Hildegard Westerkamp, John Giorno, Pauline Oliveros, and more. Lindsay Kyte takes you there.

The entrance to the Rubin Museum of Art was alive with sights and sounds as their annual block party, this year called “Sounds of the Street,” welcomed visitors with free admission on Sunday, July 16. Revelers danced to live music, children made crafts, families enjoyed tasty treats, and then, it was through the doors to experience The World Is Sound, the Rubin’s newest exhibit that encourages visitors to “learn to listen with your whole body.”

When I got to the exhibit, housed on the sixth floor, at the top of the museum, I saw visitors giggly from the outdoor festivities suddenly stop, lower their eyes, and begin to intently listen. It was unusual, this experience. A museum visit can often be a hands-off, glass-encased, roped-off glimpse into a past and people that seem so far removed from our current state of being. But not this exhibit.

The first piece I encountered was “Four-Armed Avalokiteshvara in His Pure Realm of Potalika,”—pigment on cloth, and framed in glass. Seemed like a typical “look but don’t touch” experience. However, I saw visitors doing strange things. The piece was featured in a little alcove between two walls (as were a lot of other pieces), like this one:

Photo by Filip Wolak, via Rubin Museum of Art.

People were walking up to the glass frame and putting their faces close to the piece, standing still, really seeing it. Or so I thought, until it was my turn.

A sign indicated I should “touch the wall to listen to the mantra.” Tentatively, I did, as I leaned in toward the piece. All of a sudden, inside that alcove, the sound of monks chanting filled my ears. And, with my hand on the wall now feeling the vibrations of the sound, it felt like I had put my hand on the heart of some being, who was now chanting for me the meaning of this piece, to make it come alive for me. This tactile experience of the sound was so unexpected I was nearly moved to tears.

The World Is Sound, according to the Rubin’s description, “employs sound in new ways to animate and intensify the experience of art in the Rubin’s collection. Organized cyclically—from creation to death to rebirth—the exhibition explores different dimensions of sound and listening and its many functions in Tibetan Buddhism. Featuring work by more than 20 artists, The World Is Sound juxtaposes new site-specific commissions and works by prominent contemporary sound artists with historical objects from the museum’s collection of Tibetan Buddhist art to encourage reflection on how we listen and to challenge entrenched ways of thinking.”

The showstopper was the “leg bone trumpet.”

A row of headphones attached to a wall allowed visitors to hear creations by sound artists. A long bench in a white-walled room invited visitors to lie down to listen to a translated Tibetan funerary text, which could only be heard once you were fully lying down:

Photo by Filip Wolak, via Rubin Museum of Art.

A glass case of ritual text with musical notation suddenly came alive with sound as you stepped up to it. And one of the most popular experiences, on the day I visited, was a display wall of glassed-in musical instruments, which looked like a typical museum exhibit. Except when you approached each, suddenly, you heard the sound of it being played:

Photo by Filip Wolak, via Rubin Museum of Art.

The showstopper was the “leg bone trumpet (kang ling),” associated with the Buddhist concept of impermanence, as it is made from a human leg bone retrieved from a Tibetan sky burial. Played as a musical instrument, it elicited a hushed “wow” from myself and the lady next to me. We just stopped, and listened, and looked at each other.

It was then I realized “looking” is often a private experience, but “listening” is often shared, even with strangers, as you try to grapple with the juxtaposition of life outside dancing on the street and a sound that immediately places death in front of you to remind you that this moment is just that—only a moment.

The World Is Sound is on view at the Rubin until January 8, 2018.

 

“REMEMBERING STEPHEN LEVINE”: A TALK BY WILLIAM LESLIE

                                          Stephen and Ondrea Levine

In my last post “An Incantation to Time’s Disintegration of Memory: The Art of Gwyn Henry”, we began to move into the matter of “impermanence” which is a key concept in Buddhist understanding and practice.  In future posts, I  will be exploring impermanence further through my art.  For now, we turn to a lecture,  by artist and philosopher William Leslie which I video taped at at The Vista Zen Center last November.  His talk focuses on the work of Stephen Levine.  For over thirty-two years, Stephen and his wife Ondrea  provided emotional and spiritual support, from a Buddhist perspective, for those who are life-threatened, and for caregivers. They are the authors of numerous books, including Who DiesEmbracing the Beloved, and A Year to Live, among others.

 Stephen Levine died in January 2016 and William’s talk is titled “Remembering Stephen Levine.  You can watch the video of this talk by clicking on the link below.  The talk itself is only about 19 min. long; the remainder of the video captures the discussion that followed.

https://youtu.be/eF-Qhm306w0

William Leslie’s background includes degrees in physics and philosophy.  He served as an infantry soldier in Vietnam and as a Peace Corps Volunteer in India.  Presently, he teaches philosophy at Palomar College in the San Diego area and maintains a small studio in his home producing “Lightsculptures” for homes, restaurants, hospitals, businesses and religious institutions throughout the country. His work can be seen at:

 http://www.papersunlightsculpture.com/

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RITUAL JOURNEY: THE SHUSO HOSSEN FINALE

Today’s post consists of the last of the segments from my Shuso Hossen Ceremony.  It was lead by Alessandra and William and was a beautiful and fitting closing segment to the Ceremony and my year-long examination of the place of Zen ritual in contemporary society. You can see this segment of the Ceremony at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8a3ypmW7qk

You can see other segments of the Ceremony (which took place in March 2016) and a series of talks on Ritual that led up to the Ceremony at the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKjCTdN9J7bhP7QCS16d1sA

 

ART FROM THE HEART: BETH TALKS ABOUT HER SUMI-E AND ZEN PRACTICES

Beth (Esho) is no stranger to the pages of Art and Zen Today.  Three years ago we published Beth’s article “BETH MOSKAL MILLIGAN ON SUMI-E PAINTING AND ZEN PRACTICES”  where she wrote about her studies with Sumi-e master Takashi Ijichi and Zen practice with Jake Roshi. ( http://artandzentoday.com/?p=3243 ).  The short talk from the Shuso Hossen , captured in the video below, expands upon this earlier article.  Pay attention to the points that Beth makes in the video; I think they are very consistent with my musical responses to the Shuso Koan as seen in a video posted earlier (   http://artandzentoday.com/?p=4678)

To see Beth’s “Art From the Heart” talk at the Shuso Hossen, please click below:

https://youtu.be/VJ4aP_xNhyA

Scroll Down to see other performances at the Shuso Hossen Ceremony.

 

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Shuso Hossen Performances by Judy, Sean (Taigu) and Ian

 

                                                   Bread by Taigu

Today’s post includes another video involving three more of the fantastic contribuitions by members of The Vista Zen Center to my Shuso Hossen Ceremony.  In this video, Judy leads the group in a rousing version of “Enmei Juku Kannon Gyo”.  Next, Sean talks about how his passion for bread-baking has become part of his Zen practice. Then, Ian sings Bob Dylan’s song “It’s all over, baby blue”, which he sees as a song about letting go.  All previous videos from the Shuso Hossen Ceremony can be found on the Art and Zen Today YouTube channel or can be found by using the search options to the right of this page.  Click below to see today’s video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VbYHEvwjMJg

 

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