One of the things Teens Guide Council does at the Rubin Museum of Art is design and lead tumbles. Our mission for tumbles is to start with an inspiring piece of art at The Rubin Museum and ignite a conversation with our audience members. After we had shared that meaningful conversation, we then lead groups to related arts and culture experiences around the city.
Here’s a tumble that led us to Jackson Heights!
Another tumble ended up at the American Museum of Natural History.
“On a beautiful sunny Wednesday, we embarked on our final TGC tumble! A small group of us started at the Rubin Museum, where we all walked up to the third floor to have a discussion about the Amogapasha Mandala.
We didn’t want it to be like a lecture, so we all approached the piece just wanting to have an open conversation about it. Julia led us through a guided visualization of walking through a palace in our minds, weaving our way through a ring of fire and through great doors guarded by red elephants, and we discussed what we all saw when we got to the center of our mandalas. Though there’s a beautiful figure of Avalokiteshvara, the Buddhist deity of compassion, at the center of this mandala, many of us didn’t see anything at the center of our visualized mandalas, or weren’t sure what we saw. We discussed how a mandala is used as a way to make something really big and difficult to explain, like the universe, our minds, or spirituality, easier to grasp and visualize. We then all got on the C train and traveled uptown to the American Museum of Natural History, where we went into the Hayden theater to watch the film of what the Big Bang would have looked like.
We all agreed that the film grasped us with its beautiful imagery, and made us start to feel very small compared to the whole universe. We started to ask ourselves, what is the center of the universe? Maybe each of us is the center of our own universe? We all agreed that the film, like the mandala, took a really big and unfathomable topic and made it slightly easier to understand and visualize. Heading outside, we realized that the theater is shaped like a globe, with a pathway that leads around it through all the phases of history of the universe. We sort of felt like we were all walking back out through a mandala, completing the experience!”
Another tumble ended up in Central Park.
“My group started with an experience at a piece from Lisa Ross’s Living Shrine. Together we explored the piece and were able to have a rich conversation. Each person was unique and so brought their own perspective to the piece.
Filled with ideas about nature, shrines, sacredness, consecration, and much more, we tumbled out of the museum and into central park. In advance, my group had devised a Yoko Ono style list of activities that our guests were encouraged to partake in. Some teens went to gather materials from around central park and then used those to create personal shrines. They then shared why they made what they did and how each shrine was personally significant to them. Other people focused on being present in the moment and how the little things that people do are sometimes the very things that consecrate special experiences. On this vein teens gave out flowers to strangers in order to make them feel special, engaged others in a conversation about what frustrated them and proceeded to write them out in chalk, and much more.
Some teens even got on mini row boats in small groups and took a journey on the lake. While out on the water and surrounded by nature they continued the discussions that they had started at the museum.”
Overall, no matter which tumble teens engaged in they walked away having had a memorable and meaningful experience.
We were so excited to have the chance to meet Shelley Rubin, one of the co-founders of the Rubin Museum! Shelley was kind enough to share with us her version of the museum’s founding, as well as tell us a little of her own story and about her current project, A Blade of Grass, which helps artists make art for social change. We loved hearing directly from her the story of how she and Donald Rubin found the first White Tara painting that lead to the rest of the amazing collection of Himalayan art they acquired. We all left very inspired by Shelley’s commitment to art and culture, and grateful for her wonderful kindness and generosity!
Flipside Career Focus: Visit to the Art Conservator
In celebration and exploration of Flipside, which displays the often hidden unexposed backsides of Tibetan paintings, RMA Teens journeyed to the Brooklyn Navy yard to meet with members of the Art Conservation Group—a group of art conservation specialists who have helped behind the scenes to preserve many of the Rubin’s own, and often very ancient, pieces. What started out as a gloomy day weather-wise quickly turned into an exciting trip consisting of behind-the-scenes access into the world of art conservation.
We entered the spacious warehouse building where the art is kept, and where, as we were to learn, the conservators spend their hours deliberating over what it is that plagues the art and how best to conserve it. Us Teens then sat in a rather oblong circle, like we often do, and Leslie, the Group’s founder, began speaking to us about her role as an art conservator. Right away we were captivated, listening intently to Leslie’s description of conservation duties, which, to summarize, include locating the “problem” with the art piece, sending samples of it to a lab to identify possibly harmful microorganisms, and figuring out the safest and most effective way to “cure” and conserve it. She explained that Renaissance art is easier to conserve than modern art, because the materials Renaissance artists used were both more organic and more permanent. She explained that salt pollution is a killer for conservators, seeing as it causes most materials to discolor and deteriorate, and often makes objects very difficult to clean. Beyond fun facts regarding conservation, Leslie went into detail about her personal inspiration for becoming a conservator, which arose from a love of art but no desire to be an artist, as well as about the academic processes necessary to becoming a conservator. It is essential to have an extensive knowledge of art history, the fine arts, and chemistry, and a whopping three college/graduate degrees in order to be a professional art conservator. Leslie noted that having to succeed in chemistry class was a struggle, considering she came from an art background, which I’m sure would resonate with the lot of us.
As our seated discussion wrapped up, we prepared to see, first-hand, Leslie and her team’s most recent projects. After being told to keep our hands in our pockets so as to not accidentally (or purposefully) touch the fragile art, we were led into a huge room with intensely bright lighting that contrasted the dark outside sky. All of the Teens, Pauline included, gasped out of excitement and near disbelief. We found ourselves faced with beautiful modern sculptures, as well as some kind of tribal art, clearly from two completely different dimensions, but all in a room together. Many of the items in the room were waiting for diagnoses—for the team to inspect, investigate, and detect the issues to ultimately cure them. At one point, I simply couldn’t contain myself any longer and just had to ask Leslie how much of a rush she gets when she touches these incredible, and usually very old and historic pieces of art. Her eyes lit up as she responded with an enthusiastic “It’s awesome,” and I couldn’t imagine the feeling being any less.
We stayed talking with Leslie for longer than scheduled, clearly inspired and very curious still. After thanking her on the way out, we convened outside to reflect on our fresh experience. The opinion was unanimous: Art conservation is awesome. What I realized both stands out and appeals to me is how hands-on and investigative the nature of art conservation is. Furthermore, conservation integrates art and science in such an interesting way that makes the connection seem utterly natural.
With regard to the Rubin, it is remarkable to understand now how and why its art is able to remain so intact and beautiful. Without the discipline of art conservation, it is very possible that much of the Rubin’s art, all of which we love so much, would be falling apart faster than a sand mandala on a windy day. Art conservation is the key for maintaining the beauty, integrity, and health of art. Like a doctor diagnoses his or her patients and attempts to treat them, so does a conservator for art, and for that reason, it is a very honorable, very essential profession.
On a rainy day in May, a group of teens gathered in the museum to explore the nature of sacred space. Completely organized by us (the Teen Guide Council), the event, which we decided to call “Sacred Spaces and Divine Places,” became a warm, creative space for teens to come in and spend an afternoon. Teens entered the museum and received a special tsakli card (similar to those displayed on the fifth floor) with a unique symbol that they would carry through the rest of the event. The conversation, lead by us but very informal, circled around what it means to make something sacred. We discussed everything from the Shrine Room to the consecrations on the backs of paintings in “Flip Side” to Lisa Ross’s “Living Shrines” exhibition (Lisa Ross herself even dropped by for a very special guest appearance!). We then dove further into a discussion of sacredness as we entered the theatre, which was filled with all kinds of art-making activities. You could begin by making a tsa tsa with artist Jane Mi, filling it with good wishes and consecrations, then move to a Tarot card reader to have your fortune read, then make a shrine-in-a-bottle using your own personal symbols and wishes, and finally consult with aroma therapy artist Sharon Slowick to create your own mixture of special scents to fill your shrine. Lastly, we all journeyed up to the stage, where artist Joe Mangrum was creating a beautiful sand mandala. Anyone could add their own mini shrines and tsa tsas to the big shrine, contributing to the collective art offering. In the destruction ceremony, Balinese dancers emerged from the wings to offer a fascinating traditional masked dance. Before leaving the museum, we all gathered on the stage to destroy the shrine that we had created, sweeping it toward the center of the stage, and each person gathering some of the sand to take out into the world with them—a symbol of the fact that the true shrine is within each of us. All in all, the event was a beautiful and fun experience, and we’re so glad that everyone chose to spend their rainy afternoon with us at the Rubin Museum!
Tim McHenry, the delightfully creative and talented Director of Public Programs and Performance at the Rubin Museum of Art, was kind enough to agree to meet with our RMA Teens crew to discuss what goes into creating a truly successful event. He began by sharing with us that the best way to convey information is always through an emotional experience, and especially through laughter. If you can start and end with laughter, you’ve got it made. Tim McHenry has staged many, many amazing events at the Rubin that throw together wildly different topics to change the way the Rubin’s collection and philosophies are perceived. For instance, he organized a huge game of telephone that took place on the High Line, where over 300 people whispered a Buddhist teaching into each other’s ears until it reached the very end. He also conceived the Dreamover, an amazing event at which you get to sleep over at the Rubin underneath a piece of art, and then have your dreams analyzed by a specialist. He told us that he likes to use events as a way to excite people into exploring themselves and the world further. He then helped us brainstorm ideas for our own event. We had a lot of fun coming up with some crazy plans, such as creating a giant, collaborative, 1000-armed Avalokiteshvara statue out of old mannequins, or a Naga-style Project Runway, or even yoga for dogs! We threw around a lot of ideas, but ultimately Tim helped us realize that as long as we include room for laughter and surprise, we can work together to create an amazing event!
We’ve been having all these amaaaazing discussions and adventures related to Flipside and Living Shrines. Soon it will be time for you to join the fun! Please come to our teen event totally designed and run by the Rubin Museum of Art’s Teen Guide Council. Meet us and join in conversations on the exhibitions and collaborate on a giant art shrine! Can’t wait to post pictures and videos here of YOUR experiences in these shows… xx
Both our Art Labs and our RMA Teens crews embarked on pilgrimages to 5 Pointz, the amazing graffiti mecca for artists from all around the globe. In Lisa Ross’s “Living Shrines” exhibition, we had been discussing the meaning of pilgrimage. What does it mean to travel far from home to reach a sacred place? For the people living around the deserts in Uyghur, China, pilgrimage is a holy duty to fulfill. Lisa Ross’s photographs let us know that these desert shrines are sacred and special, created with care, in honor of a greater spiritual purpose. 5 Pointz is special because, as a place to do graffiti legally, it has become not only a destination for renowned graffiti artists all over the world, but a community gathering place for celebration. The Uyghur shrines, though Ross’s photographs are empty of people, are also the sites for great community and arts festivals that bring many people together in celebration of a common cause. Our journeys to 5 Pointz were illuminating in that they helped us think about what makes a space sacred: is it the place itself, or do we have the ability to make anything sacred through our own actions? At the end of our tours with Meres, the curator of 5 Pointz, he taught us how to do graffiti. In fact, leaving tsa tsas, little statuettes of deities, at the site of a pilgrimage is a common practice in Buddhism. So we got to leave our mark on this pilgrimage site in our own way, too, through creating a piece of art!
Have you ever kept a wonderful secret? A secret so wonderful that you wanted to tell every person you came across? Or have you ever seen the blueprint for a building or a map of underground tunnels? The new Flipside exhibition evokes all of these experiences at once. Flipside focuses on the consecrated backsides of Buddhist thangka paintings (instructional paintings). The consecration of the back of the work transforms each painting from an artwork to a holy object. Thus, Flipside demonstrates the architecture of each work: the infrastructure that supports the depiction on the front. Extending this idea of support, the backside is the spine of each piece, the spine that keeps the spiritual beings, ideas, and lessons of the painting standing straight.
Flipside has greatly impacted my perception of another new exhibition at the museum: Lisa Ross’ Living Shrines of Uyghur China. This exhibition presents several photographs of a body of work Ross took over an eight-year period in Uyghur China. I see so much movement in these photographs, and it was movement that connected these two exhibitions for me, that is, the activity or the flow of meaning, whether it be between one side of a painting to another or the wind blowing a cloth on a shrine, which maintains the sacred aspects of both the thangka paintings and the shrines. Indeed, what is the lifeblood of the sacred, and how is the blood flow of the sacred maintained? Today Teen Guide Council met with Lisa Ross and in our discussion one of her comments provided a very interesting response to this question. She spoke of the temporal materials that characterize these shrine, sticks, wood, cloth, animal carcasses and bones, objects that all wear away in the desert. Thus, people are constantly adding new materials and elements to the shrines in order to preserve them. Although these shrines identify burial mounds and honor the dead, they demonstrate, quite intensely, the presence and activity of life.
Both of theses exhibitions convey liveliness and energy and both deal with ideas of what is sacred and how to demonstrate and maintain what is sacred. Together these exhibitions reminded me particularly of Buddhist mandalas. Mandalas are mental tools used to focus one’s will unto certain goals and to then help one achieve those goals and a higher state of being. One meditates by mentally traveling through rings of fire and a palace (the mandala) until one reaches one’s goal at the center of the palace. I myself think about mandalas often in a non-religious way. They still deal with personal and sacred actions for me but they are also simply the building of good and healthy habits. Thus, in any sense, mandalas are a way of conditioning one’s mind; they are tools to craft one’s mind into a sacred place, into a shrine. They are tools that may be used to craft one’s own will into a sacred structure. How else might we craft our own will into sacred structures?
Living Shrines and Flip Side: Discussion Questions
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about discussion questions pertaining to the two of the Rubin’s current shows, Living Shrines and Flip Side. I hope to be able to use some of these questions in our discussions we will be leading in our next teen event in early May.
What are different burial rituals in different societies and in different ages throughout history and all over the world? (See the photograph of burial mounds)
In what way is burying a human body an act of consecration or a sacred or divine act?
A main highlight of Buddhism is about the lean away from material possessions and material goods. Why, then, are objects so sacred in some sects of Buddhism? Are objects and shrines a way to communicate with a higher, divine power?
How are the Islamic shrines in Living Shrines different from other shrines or shrine objects in the museum, such as in the shrine room? What might explain these differences?
What exactly is a shrine? Can a shrine be non-religious?
Is there one object that you treasure above all other objects? Why is it meaningful?
I’m enjoying pondering these questions with my fellow RMA Teen Guides, and I look forward to getting to ask teens who come to our event similar questions!
I’m really excited to be planning our second event. Our last one (Samsara: Journey to Enlightenment) was so successful in increasing RMAs accessibility to teenagers. I hope this one will be too.
The theme of this event, inspired by Living Shrines and Flip-Side will be,
“Creating divinity in objects or spaces through human presence.”
Both shows are extraordinary.
Flip-Side shows us an original and ingenious way of looking at traditional thangka paintings- from the back. Thangka paintings are typically symmetrical and meticulously detailed. Seeing printed consecration mantras and secret handprint blessings upon a raw canvas back brings new levels of connection to the pieces. It humanizes them.
Similarly, Lisa Ross’ Living Shrines shows the presence of humans in nature. Her portraiture style, combined with her eye for color, make it easy for viewers to grasp the meaning of a “shrine”- a place where one consecrates or commemorates something important to them.
At the event, we hope to create a collaborative shrine- a sanctuary where you can honor something privately, yet participate in a collective, bonding activity. As both shows do, we hope to recognize the personal, human presence that becomes apparent in veneration and in artwork. To what degree are they the same thing?
As I walked by the photo, I immediately felt a part of me drift into the photograph. Within seconds I could feel the wind blowing and the rocks and sand below my feet as I looked out onto the Living Shrines. I saw a perfect balance exist between the flags, the branches and the sand- however odd the coexisted perfectly. In the midst of the dessert grew new life while at the same time the dead were being commemorated. Looking at the colorful flags, I couldn’t believe that they marked a grave.
I began to think about all the other burial practices that I knew of: cremation, burying, etc. But the act of placing colorful flags to commemorate a person’s death was absolutely beautiful. I was deeply touched by the way the dead were not sent off sadly but rather positively by remembering not that they were gone but rather that they had lived among us. It made me think of life and death in a greater aspect, are we truly dying? If so, should it really be a negative thing?
It was once said that the only truth in life is death, death is inevitable. Death is a part of life that we cannot stop nor control. I admired the fact that the peopledid not forget the dead but rather kept them alive through creating colorful murals for them. However, at the same time, the people allowed for their dead to move on by placing a hollow stick through the grave reaching out onto the sky to let the dead’s spirits move on. Through this practice death was celebrated and accepted. It opened my eyes to a new perspective to an essential truth: death is inevitable, but it is your perspective on death that can truly change what role it may take on in your life.
One of the latest exhibits at the Rubin Museum of Art is Lisa Ross’s Living Shrines of Uyghur China. RMA’s Teen Guide Council got to visit it together for the first time this past Wednesday and we loved it!!!! We’d love for you all to check it out as well.
There was this one photograph in the exhibit i felt very connected to and incredibly intrigued by and wrote down my response to it. After re-reading it i realized it was kind of poetic. Here’s my unintentional poem in response to Lisa Ross’s fabulous work.
Lots of nature both in the bushes and the green trees, the scattered branches.The focus is mid-ground, at the front of the crib and some of those scattered branches. The color of the sky is like a gray blue, so it looks as though it will rain soon. The crib is a safe haven, a protector from the nature. The nature isn’t dangerous but it feels peacefully chaotic.
My eye is drawn of course to the yellow crib, but my a moment my eye slides away to the movement around it. My eyes are drawn towards the bushes below, the yellow is mimicked within the nature as it is in the crib and i can almost feel and smell the crisp air.
Such a cluster of emotions, from such a vivid image. I’m sad, im happy, im at peace, im destructive, im chaotic, but most of all i feel abandoned. The crib looks abandoned. But the crib isn’t an abandonment, its a celebration of someones life, a sacred place, a burial ground, a living shrine.
the first time I saw Lisa Ross’ show Living Shrines, i was confused as to how the title related to the work. Shrines, as far as I was exposed to, represented veneration. And when you venerate something—a person, an object, an idea, a concept—don’t you hold it to the highest regard, displaying it with grandeur?
Ross’ photographs capture structures of sticks and fabric in desolate areas. (Doesn’t sound so great when you put it like that, does it?)
But Ross infuses her works with something more.
The isolation of the objects gives them a sense of mystery that draws you in. You stay drawn in, because there is no one except you and the object the photograph focuses on. The photographs lack people, so instead of looking at someone looking at an object, you are with the object. They felt less like photos and more like windows through space-time that you could step through and be with the object. I felt instantly connected with the photos, despite never having thought much of modern photography before.
Another aspect of this accessibility, of course, is the shrines themselves. They are made from simple materials. One piece that I talked about, Unrevealed, Site 6 (Ritual Bathhouse), features a bathhouse on a river and a branch that holds it up. There’s a juxtaposition of humanity and nature: humans working with nature and nature supporting humans.
The rough imperfection of the shrines captures perfectly a feeling of humanity despite a person-less image. All of the cloths, someone noticed, were different from another. People from all different countries must have came together, and whether or not they actually built it at the same time together, all contributed to the creation of the bathhouse, or any of the other shrines in the other photos. There’s a sense of community. You can feel the energy from such a simple image; it seems alive. It seems like people brought much more than the literal building materials into the structure. Their spirit also remained.
going back to my question of the sacred: Do you need something fancy for a shrine? Not necessarily. Lisa Ross’ Living Shrines exhibit shows no grandeur, yet it celebrates the spiritually great—perhaps the human spirit itself. It’s not in the looks. Beauty and sacredness can be found in the most simple things, and the simplicity of it all makes it totally accessible. Anyone, of any age or class, could have contributed to the fabrics waving from those shrines. Spirituality is everywhere and for everyone, and that is something Living Shrines made me realize.
Lisa’s Living Shrine photographs have captured still, motionless and inanimate objects. However these photographs come alive when you experience them and they create a whole new meaning of these lifeless objects. In my eye, they become almost magical and mysterious as these shrines begin to represent individuals or communities. Each shrine becomes a character of many unique traits. All of these shrines bring together communities of all different people to come together to tie one of their own pieces of cloth on to it. I feel very connected to these shrines because there were so many people just like us there, any one could of contributed to one of the shrines. Each shrine is like a humble little person inviting us to join them. All of the shrines have so much importance, but they are all made up of simple objects and are very accessible to everyone that could be passing by!
A major part of our Flipside Adventures is thinking about what makes something sacred. There’s an AMAZING (GO SEE IT RIGHT NOW!!) exhibition at the Rubin Museum of Art also up right now called Living Shrines. In this show photographer Lisa Ross captures photographs Muslim sacred shrines (mazar) in the Taklamakan Desert, often adorned with recycled flags and fabrics.
Related to our Flipside and what makes something sacred conversations we’ve been spending a lot of time in this show because we’re really in love with these shrines. We love that the recycled materials these shrines are made of are completely different than the types of shrines we’re used to seeing. There’s something about these that feel very human, as if we could have made them with our own objects…which somehow makes them more accessible. We feel like seeing these encourages us to think about what our own versions of shrines are.
It makes us think a lot about what makes something spiritually alive. In the case of flipside, its the consecration ritual done on the back of a painting with handprints of famous teachers and mantras. But in the case of these mazar shrines, its the simple materials that normal people like us have left on the shrine that contribute to it being spiritually alive. They make something sacred by leaving their mark.
This is one of our favorite shows EVER so we’ll be talking about Living Shrines a lot in our Flipside Journey. Also, Lisa Ross has been really generous to meet with a lot of the teen community at the Rubin Museum, so we’ll post conversations with the artist as well. xx
Continuing our theme of consecration of the present moment for Flipside, Teen Programs experienced Japanese Tea Ceremony at the Urasenke Chanoyu Center where the mission is “peacefulness from a bowl of tea”. ;)
Going to the center was a way for us to experience “the way of tea” and the philosophy behind whats considered to be the art of appreciating the beauty of the present moment. Going into the tea house feels like NYC slips away and all of a sudden you’re in Japan. All the materials for the tea house were shipped from Japan and great attention was given to every detail. Even the clay walls of the tea house are of the same ancient technique that you see in traditional buildings in Kyoto and would have had to been put in by a traditional craftsman who builds tea houses specifically. Everything in the area we entered was designed to be beautiful to the eye. There are two gardens one must traverse on the way to having tea. When you pass through the gates after the first garden, you are symbolically leaving behind the everyday and entering the realm of the moment, almost the realm of the gods. As a special guest of the tea ceremony, its believed that you are like a god and are treated as such. They greet you with an expression that recognizes you as a god when you come in. It reminded us of how people say “namaste” in india and sometimes even in yoga class which means the divinity in me recognizes the divinity in you”.
Pass through these gates… walking on the stepping stones to a different more contemplative state of mind.
Once you sit in the tea hall on traditional tatami mats, there are many beautiful things for you to look at such as the alcove with calligraphy towards the back or the subtlety of the white butterfly designs on the sliding doors to the left. Everything is meant to be directed towards being in the present moment. There are no watches allowed to remind us of time and even the conversation topics must stay to whats being noticed in the room and about the ceremony to keep you absolutely in the present.
The way you sit and act in tea ceremony is highly choreographed: its like a performance in which the tea master and the audience both are acting their roles. The way you use your hands in a very specific way puts you in touch with the grace of the tea ceremony. For example, you have to place your hands together in a triangle on the mat in front of you when you bow, or hold the cups with specific hand movements. It reminded us of the mudras a buddhist practitioner would take when meditating in front of a painting to embody the god or the way similarly you take the poses of the gods in yoga.
One might meditate on a painting with a figure holding a bell and a vajra and then in ritual take the same hand positions with an actual bell and vajra.
Leaving the Tea Ceremony and coming out into the streets of NYC was surreal. We felt as if we had stepped right out of Japan.
We also looked at Avalokiteshvara in the galleries. Avalokiteshvara holds a bow and arrow in his left hand and a wish fulfilling jewel with his center hands to show that anything you want or can envision is attainable. If you can think it, you can do it. Sheri then had us do a yoga move pulling our own Avalokiteshvara arrows toward our goals.
In the Flipside Exhibition, we see how paintings are imbued and infused with the divine through the act of consecration.
In yoga, PEOPLE can take the positions as a way to embody the gods. Yoga positions (asanas) mirror the body and hand positions (mudras) of the gods. At the Rubin Museum of Art, we can see the gods are taking very specific poses with their bodies and hands. In yoga, people can take the positions as a way to access the specific powers of the gods.
For example, check out the warrior pose in yoga and then how you’d find it in Himalayan art.
Yoga is very active and the positions are meant to be hard so you can challenge yourself to have the discipline to stay in the present moment. When your body is in a tough position, its difficult to think of anything else, so it trains your mind on one thing. Also, the practice of yoga was meant to prepare your body to be able to sit and concentrate in meditation. It was meant to prepare you to be in the present moment.
We had a great time exploring some of the gods and their stories you might find in yoga and then headed over to Laughing Lotus Yoga Center on 19th st between 5th and 6th ave http://nyc.laughinglotus.com where we met with Sheri Celentano, Creative Director and Senior Teacher, who gave us a private class explaining what yoga was and incorporating the stories and mudras of the gods. Check out us talking about Shiva and then videos of us at Laughing Lotus!
The new theme we’re exploring in Teen Programs is…. (drum roll please) “Flipside” based on our newest exhibition Flipside: the Unseen in Tibetan Art. The exhibition Flipside features (for the first time ever!!) the usually hidden BACKS of Tibetan religious art.
Much of what is found on the back of Tibetan art objects relates to the consecration ritual through which the work transforms from being art to being a SACRED object. One can see the handprints of religious masters (including Dalai Lamas= the spiritual leader of Tibet or the “pope” of buddhism) and mantras (a sound, syllable, word, or group of words that is considered capable of “creating transformation) that literally give the painting its religious powers and make it spiritually alive. Historically, this has always been kept secret from the public, so its a very precious opportunity to be able to see the backs of these paintings. We think its one of the best shows that the Rubin Museum of Art has ever had.
We’ll be thoroughly exploring Flipside here in Teen Programs and will share it with you. Expect lots of details from the fronts and hidden backs of these paintings + our favorite conversations and thoughts about this show. Also, it super relates to another INCREDIBLE show the Rubin Museum has up called Living Shrines by Lisa Ross. Lisa Ross captures Muslim shrines called mazars. The handmade nature of these mazar shrines will be a great opportunity to explore WHAT MAKES SOMETHING SACRED—from the handprint of the Dalai Lama (religious leader of Tibet) stamped on the back of a painting to a person like us leaving a flag on a shrine there are many ways to make something sacred or make something spiritually alive.
In Teen Programs, we’ve got all kinds of fun explorations in the galleries and around the city planned that relate to Flipside and Living Shrines and what makes something sacred. More to come!
Radical Terrain Adventure: Wolfgang Laib and James Turrell at MoMA and PS1
In search of other landscapes and building on the concept of installation we started to think about with Meghan Boody’s Bestiary, we decided to visit Wolfgang Laib’s Pollen Installation at MoMA. Laib also was in a contemporary show at the RMA a few years ago called Grain of Emptiness, so we were excited to revisit his work in this new context.
Laib literally brings nature inside with his pollen installations that look like a yellow field. For these, he sifts the dry yellow powder directly onto the floor. It ends up looking a little like a Rothko painting except that the yellow from the pollen is much more vibrant than could ever be collected by paint. Paint used in a landscape painting can never express the full power of nature: the yellow in his work seems extraordinarily alive.
He lives in a remote region of Germany’s Black Forest, communing with the natural world outside his house as if he were a landscape painter. During the spring and summer months he collects the pollen he will use for these installations from the fields near his home, an incredibly time consuming process. The work he makes is transformative in that it communicates to the audience the meditative qualities, slowness and sense of calm that nature provides and he experiences on a regular basis. By placing the work in the busy MoMA, one cannot help but think about how in contrast to New York City and the packed MomA, the work is also a commentary on how in contrast modern life is increasingly mass-produced and frenetic. Like Boody’s work, Laib’s is transformative, and like Handelman’s, it looks almost like an abstract modernist painting, but is actually a commentary on modernity.
It was a special day, because right after seeing Wolfgang Laib at the MoMA we went directly to PS1 to experience the James Turrell work at sunset. Marc Handelman mentioned in his talk the other day that there’s much symbolism in traditional landscape painting about light and goodness (which also reminded us of all our Diwali conversations on the symbolism of light). He wanted to use light as well, but real light, almost as an elixir. He said that he didn’t want his work to be about light, he wanted his work to be light itself. Turrell has said that the problem with contemporary art is that a lot of people come to art and they just look at it. They don’t actually enter the realm that the artist was involved in. He wanted the light that he finds so powerful in landscape to transform his audiences so he simply used light as his art. The Meeting, on permanent display at PS1, is a simple room with a rectangle cut into the ceiling in which you can watch the sky. We sat in the Meeting for an hour, watching the sky turn from bright blue to black for sunset. It reminded us a lot of Wolfgang Laib’s Pollen installations in that both artists are using direct forms of nature in their landscape art to provide a transformative experience. We were especially moved by our experience with Turrell’s work, as living in the city we so rarely get to be connected with nature or even our sky. It was incredibly moving and peaceful.
Now for something completely different related to landscape! One of the interesting things about Radical Terrain is how diverse the concepts of landscape can be. Meghan Boody’s Magic Mountain feels like it should be in a completely different show, but we loved that it provided a completely different way to think about landscape. Her Magic Mountain is a fantastical miniature castle landscape encased in a glass bell jar. We loved talking about it (hear conversation here) and then went to visit her studio and Tribeca loft which she calls the Beastiary. Going to visit the Bestiary was like being inside one of her bell jar works, or living inside a personalized natural history diorama. Boody shared with us how she creates interior environments for clients so that they may have the possibility of living inside one of her fantastical creations. The all immersive livable art installations are based on her client’s desires and experiences. Boody integrates her artwork into her clients lives, creating for them a space of ultimate harmony and gratification. In this way, her work reminded us of the concept of the buddhist mandala: a specially designed cosmic castle which you enter to achieve harmony and realize goals. Her work and the Bestiary also got us thinking about landscape as an immersive transformative environment which led us to other related adventures around the city.
After a wonderful first few months of our Art Labs program the time had finally come for us to get started making our videos. In order to do this we worked with City Lore to get advice on how to tackle the technical aspects of creating and editing. With their advice in our tool belts we broke off into two groups and filmed our projects at the Lisi Raskin piece “After the Fall.” The experience was both challenging and fun. The filming of a conversation was exciting but the editing proved to be hard work. Check out our videos below!
Teen Programs met with Radical Terrain artist Marc Handelman to hear about the work he contributed to the exhibition and his thoughts on what radical landscape means. He described how he’s always been interested in the unconscious way that landscape can function and point to political issues. Handelman selected an Indian guache painting called Civilization by H. A. Gade’s to make his contemporary response to. He shared with us how he was struck by this work’s title and iconography. He liked the ambiguity of the title Civilization in not knowing which one: whether it was about the fall of the brittish empire, the indian empire, or about modernity in general. It reminded him of the Nazi thousand year theory in which the idea is that all empires fail. All civilizations eventually fail so it was believed that knowing this in the nazi empire that they wanted to build with solid building materials so that a thousand years from then, the ruins of the nazi empire would transmit all its glory. For Marc’s response he decided to make a hyper realistic painting of marble. He liked the idea of painting a slab of marble for its connotations of monumentality. With marble, one thinks about huge corporate lobbies, ancient roman facades. His painting of the marble is completely representational: it’s almost like a painting of an apple in that this is exactly what the stone looks like. His contribution is completely dependent on the guache painting in that the guache painting has been hung on his work and completes it. It’s like a temporary moment which might start a conversation. For us, his work brought up huge symbolism about how marble now connotes that the new empire may mean corporations and economy, somewhat crumbling in our time. We were excited about all the things Handelman’s landscape got us thinking about and made a lot of connections between the political implications in his work and a similar conversation we had on Lisi Raskin’s piece.
In celebration of our new exhibition Radical Terrain, RMA Teen Programs is exploring conceptual landscape. Radical Terrain highlights the exploration of landscape in Indian Art for the generation after Independence. The exhibition also features new work by contemporary artists making a response to the modernist paintings on view. The inclusion of the contemporary artists also provides an expanded conceptual understanding of what landscape art can be. In teen programs, we’ve been exploring the exhibition and making connections between the art in our galleries to other types of innovative landscape art in the city.
In the exhibition, we were immediately drawn to Lisi Raskin’s dynamic installation,After the Fall. Lisi Raskin has said that growing up she was incredibly influenced by a type of play initiated by her Aunt Robin who would take Lisi and her brother on adventures which involved trespassing. For example, they explored WW2 training bunkers and spent the car ride out there concocting imaginary stories of why they were going there—for example to investigate an alien landing site. She says that as an artist, she’s often recreating some kind of play adventure that combines a real loaded subject with made up stories.
Her work at the Rubin Museum very much feels like a play environment. One enters the space, and plays with all the toy soldiers and blocks on the rugs…there’s a record player where you can listen to music. It’s an immersive installation and yet a landscape at the same time: Raskin said that she was interested in using the rugs as a landscape as islands and places where a fictitious battle will happen. At first it feels very fun to have this play time set to a soundtrack, but the more you are in the environment the more you start to feel the irony of the play and how serious it is.
When one looks at the rugs you see they are actually Afghan war rugs initially designed by Afghan women who after the arrival of the Soviets began to weave the violence they encountered in their daily lives into sturdy, knotted pile rugs that had previously featured peaceful, ordinary symbols such as flowers and birds. At first the aggressive imagery was rather hidden for fear they would put off buyers. But with time and with the rugs increasing popularity, the images became so prominent that one can even distinguish guns such as AK-47s. Originally political, the rugs became geared for a tourist market and now it’s often western tourists who will buy Afghan war rugs. One also sees World Trade Center War rugs that portray imagery taken from US propaganda leaflets dropped by the air by the thousands to explain to Afghanis the reason for the 2001 invasion. Again, it’s something that once communicated political urgency and real violence that’s been changed into a commodity and has lost its seriousness.
One sees many examples of things that should be very serious in Raskin’s installation: toy soldiers, building blocks that somehow can be constructed to remind us of the fall of the world trade center. Raskin said that she grew up in the shadow of the cold war: it’s intensity which was poured into pop culture references such as Sting’s song the Russians or the movie Red Dawn. Somehow her work makes us feel that these serious things happen but we don’t directly experience them as the media turns them into entertainment and commodity almost immediately. It’s a fantastical yet deeply politicized landscape.
To explore our theme of opposites and paradox, we decided to check out the Asia Society’s Lin Tianmiao show. Just the exhibition title “Bound, Unbound” communicated paradox for us.
Something you see repeated throughout her work is her winding silk and cotton threads around objects so they almost look mumified. Household tools, tree branches and animal bones that sheath objects presented in a room evoke a construction site or an archaological dig. It’s her way of critiquing China’s development boom and mass production of objects and luxury items. The objects suggest industry and yet also have a very traditional feel to them as she uses the same wrapping technique from memories of helping her seamstress mother sew clothes for the family. The wrapping takes an infinite amount of perserverance, concentration and patience to do correctly so are a reflection of the past while evoking present concerns of modernity and industrialization. Similarly, in an installation Tianmiao did with her husband, footage of their traditional chinese home and garden is abruptly interrupted loud noises and jarring trains. Haunting costumes that evoke Alexander McQueen fashion also look like ancestral ghosts of the past.
On the second floor, a bed with hundreds of delicate rolled balls like the sewing balls her mother made are fanned to look like a wedding dress train are spiked with large masculine metal needles piercing the bed. Perhaps its a meditation on the changing role of women in society.
Rather than the harmony between opposites we’ve been exploring at the Rubin Museum, her work suggests a jarring tension between opposites that occurs when tradition meets modernity. The Asia Society states that Tianmiao’s work “has always been about a series of dual tensions. These are frequently played out in her works through contrasts between materials, but they are also evident in binary themes such as male versus female, function versus form, physical versus psychological experience.” Paradoxical at the Rubin Museum becomes binary in Tianmiao’s work.