17 January 2013

AKSHA Fashion Shoot | Royal Resting Grounds

The Luminous Collection is available as rewards for backing AKSHA on Kickstarter. 
thru January 31, 9pm PST (USA)

Wat Ratchabophit is one of my favorite spots in Bangkok. This serene, elegant resting place for the royalty is one prime place to see how Victorian and Thai architecture and ornamentation can create a really beautiful blend. (It is also, blissfully, off most tourist roadmaps.) 
In keeping with the theme of AKSHA's first line of jewelry-- duality and non-duality, life and death, dark and light--I decided to experiment with shooting some photos on the temple grounds. (Giving full reverence and respect to the noble ones entombed, of course.)

Designer-photographer-models Oak Supawanphanich, Graham Meyer, and Pim Vorasopan join me to add some color to AKSHA's current portfolio. 

The Luminous Collection is available as rewards for backing AKSHA on Kickstarter. 
thru January 31, 9 PST (USA)

11 January 2013

Quantum Physics, Meditation, Art

Wonderful talk at Chulalongkorn University by Arthur Zajonc, renowned physicist, author, and the new Director of the Mind & Life Institute in Masachusetts, USA. It was a book launch for Thai translation of "The Transformation of Science & the Emergence of the New Paradigm", which unfortunately isn't widely available in English here.

He touched on many wonderful themes in his talk, ranging from the relationship between the "objectivity" driven sciences and internally-based inquiry of meditative traditions, primarily speaking of Tibetan but nodding to all Buddhist traditions.

He says that one of the pivotal questions of our time is about the gap in our method of interrogation and inquiry about who we are as human beings. Something has been powerfully right and powerfully wrong about recent scientific inquiry, which has resulted in many beneficial breakthroughs but also in the devastation of our environment and the gradual erosion in our quality of life. Science has to focus on a more wholistic approach to understanding our condition, to finding the roots of our problems and the solutions to eradicating them.

He talked about quantum mechanics and relativity theory, the Human Genome Project, and the Large Hadron Collider as being fundamentally engaged in a mechanistic understanding of the universe. But then asks, "Is that adequate?"

What is the mind?
What is reality?
Is the mind really just the brain? What is it that is left out?

It is here that Dr. Zejonc brings up a work of art. Specifically a marble sculpture, "Eros Visiting Psyche," by Antonio Canova, that depicts the rapture of the Greek god of love as he embraces his lover, Psyche. Art, compassion, love points to something beyond the grasp of science as we know it.

But why has science shied away from spirituality for so long? Here he brings up Alan Wallace's
"Taboo of subjectivity." He describes science as having a 3rd Person approach to knowledge, in an attempt to represent objectivity, while spirituality represents a 1st Person approach to reaching understanding. By explaining quantum physics and Einstein's Law of Relativity, he shows that the 3rd person approach is ultimately fallible. The only way to gauge truth in observation is by counting the perspective of the observer in the equation.

Goal: a holistic science that accommodates accomplishments of conventional science and includes experiential life-world of the individual.

Listening to his talk, I was enthralled. But as an artist, I had to ask myself, "So where does art fit into this inquiry about the mind? What is art's relationship to science and spiritual practice?"

In my humble opinion, art enables us to express the inexpressible. It gives us a means to point to that vast realm of experience that defies linear language, logic and science. It is a bridge that enables communication between mechanistic science and subjective contemplation --that is multidimensional. Because art is a language that enables and embraces multiple perspectives at once. It can be both precise and interpretable. It requires discipline, rigor and technical proficiency (an understanding of scientific principles, especially in the fields like sculpture), while also demanding a level of creative liberation.

Technique gives a piece of art it's wings, and spirit is what sends it into flight.

02 January 2013

Wat Suthat & the Cosmology of Square-headed People

This afternoon, Ajahn Pei asked Ajahn Duang to accompany us to Wat Suthat. It is technically just a few blocks from Pohchang, but because its hot we took a tuktuk.

The first thing Ajahn Pei does is ask me what style these statues are made in. As I've been working in the Sukhothai style, which is known for its minimal ornamentation, I say Sukhothai (13-15th CE). He says, "We look some more." I obviously failed the test.

Later, he explains that the statues are in fact in the Ayutthaya style. Although well-known for crowning buddha statues with jewel-encrusted ornaments and garb, Ayutthaya also has an a tradition of un-ornamented statues such as these. What differentiates them from Sukhothai style is their ornate platform, the small size of hair ringlets, and their feet, which are more flat.

They are more square than Sukhothai buddhas, which are worked over until every surface is as evenly rounded as possible.

 The emperor who build Wat Suthat was very fond of Chinese art and architecture, so there are Chinese statues and pagodas sprinkled throughout the temple complex.

 Wat Suthat is a major reference for Thai mural paintings of the mythical forest called "Himaphan". Here many fantastic hybrid animal forms can be seen--women with bird lower bodies and wings "Kinnaree", elephant-headed lion "Rachasee" (Chang is elephant, Rachasee is mythical lion) it is the leader of the four-legged animals. Kochasee is a Rachasee with an elephant head. "Kunchonwaree", is an elephant-headed fish.

Naga, giant water serpent, is the leader of the water animals. Hong, a bird with a very long mouth is the leader of flying animals. "Hayra" is a mix between a naga and a dragon.

According to Ajahn Duang, the incredible forms serve to inspire the imagination. They shake us out of our everyday concepts of reality.

This is the same for the cosmology of people who live in different worlds. In each world, people have different shaped heads--square, round, long, and half-spherical.

Perhaps it's not unlike the purpose served by the visualizations of other lineages of Buddhism like the Mahayana, where deities take on fabulous proportions and postures to blow our mind out of its dull complacent state.

Form From Light

I literally never know what to expect when I go to Pohchang. Everyday is an adventure.

Today is the first day of school in the year 2013. I arrive at 9am and join a group of Ajahns for breakfast in the canteen. The pretty young lady who sells drinks asks me where I "kaw dow". I know basic Thai, but I had no idea what she meant. So I ask Ajahn Fai to come and translate. "Kaw daw" is Thai for "count down". She was asking where I went for New Years Eve!

That was the first funny Thai lesson of the year. The second came during lunch. Kekuay means chrysanthemum, which is made into a popular drink. A. Pei, Fai and Duang were perplexed by the Greek word--so I looked it up and explained that "chrys" was gold and "anthemum" was flower in Greek. They roared in laughter, and told me that golden flower is a euphemism in Thai for a slut. In their attempt to explain why, A. Pei draws a salamander with spots, representing venereal disease. I love language.

After lunch, we all (except for A. Pei) went to get haircuts. Conventionally, Thais believe Wednesday is a bad luck day to cut hair. But since I explained that in the Tibetan calendar it's a day supposed to generate wealth, we all decided to go.

Here's A. Pei's lesson for the day:

Go beyond existing concepts.
"Think curve then smooth out parts--forms are not realistic." I need to forget that I'm making an "arm" or a "head". Remove concepts of body from your mind when sculpting Buddhas (in Sukhothai style).

Sculpt from light.
"Create form from light and shadow", in other words, determine the shape according to the proper proportions and then refine it according to how highlights of light and shadow fall on the statue itself.

Ajahn Pei instructed me to turn off the ceiling lights and use a candle to check my work. Light should be directed from 90 and 45 degree angles to the side of the piece.

This ancient practice is fascinating to me, because it also pertains to the architecture of ancient temples.
While in Sri Lanka, touring the ruins in ancient city of Polonaruwa, a monk told me that the temples were designed so that light rays from the sun or moon would be directed by shafts unto large gems that would them light the statues within.

Get a different perspective on your work often.
Step away every few minutes. Look often from at least 1 meter away (depending on the size of the statue). This serves to reduce strain on your eyes, body, and mind as well.

Check proportions, then after structure is finished, remove references.
This surprised me. The whole process so far has involved copying multiple references. Checking for precise replication. But after a certain point the piece is allowed to have a life of its own.

Perhaps not unlike art students.