Meditation as artistic practice
Both the process of making and the physical output as an art object are potentially meditative. This ‘meditative’ quality can be achieved through the repetition of form or action. The principle of repetition is used sometimes to convey religious or spiritual meaning. As in the case of the Hindu or Buddhist Mandalas. There are many types of Mandala patterns in both the Hindu and Buddhist tradition, but even though they can’t differ visually according to tradition, there is one idea that fascinates me, and that is the idea of multiplicity or multiple emanation. Multiple emanation refers to the idea that one entity can be multiplied or manifested many times in different forms and different contexts. In Buddhism, there is a concept that there can be many forms of human emanation of the bodhisattvas at the same time. There are the emanations of the mind, speech, body, qualities and activities of the bodhisattvas. This idea is symbolically represented in the mandala. The mandala is a symbolic representation of the cosmos or the universe and the principle of emanation contained in it points outwards to the idea that the universe, which is multiple, is generated from the One, which is unitary. Each ceramic work that I make is made through the process of repeatedly casting one or two forms until a certain quantity is reached, so that they can all be arranged into one configuration or pattern according to a symmetrical order. Some of the works are based on the mandala concept, a pattern that radiates and replicates from the center in radial symmetry.
Repetition is often found in ornaments such as the pattern-making in decorative arts where symmetry is commonly used as the principle of visual organization. I see repetition as one of the essential characteristics present in ceramic-making, especially in slip casting – a method of production that provides ceramicists a way to multiply one single form into an almost indefinite quantity with great facsimile to the original form using plaster moulds. Through its plasticity, clay can be used to replicate almost any shapes available with different levels of complexity depending on the details of the form. Because of its ability to reproduce an object in a timely manner and with a high level of efficiency, slip casting is often used in a much larger scale by factory to fabricate table wares, crockery and other domestic objects. That is why it is mostly associated with the monotonous process of mass fabrication rather than the creative process of creating a customized, limited, and one-of-a-kind ceramic art object. The discussion about authenticity and originality is present in the work of many ceramic artists. It is a common belief that ceramic objects produced through slip-casting technique are somehow lacking any of these values. On the other hand, hand-built ceramics may be seen as more authentic because they record the traces of the process and directly involve the hands, hence expressing the unique characteristics of the artist.
Like in any other medium-specific art practice, ceramic-making carries with it some tangible and tactile qualities perceptible to touch. That is why I personally agree with the view that hand-built ceramics may be able to record traces of their making process more accurately and thereby reflect the expression of the artist as a source of authenticity and aesthetic value. However, my work questions the idea that objects produced outside of the strictly hand-built processes are secondary or have less authentic value. I believe that tactile value is still present in these semi-manually produced, slip-cast ceramics. In my work, the objects that are used to form one specific pattern may look similar and identical to one another. However, on closer inspection, some slight variations and differences can be seen in each one as a result of cleaning and carving each of the individual objects by hand after casting. The value of a ceramic work cannot only be based on a hierarchical notion of certain technical properties and the aesthetic values they may produce. Ceramics are cultural objects, as a medium ceramic can be used to convey interesting ideas especially if viewed in a wider cultural context.
I have always been fascinated by the idea of repeating certain actions over and over and over again until eventually it transcends the meaning of that action itself. I see repetition not as something that is necessarily monotonous and invariable. In a set of repeated actions, each of the actions is in itself unique in that very present moment that action is being done. Repetition changes nothing in the object repeated, but it does change something in the mind which contemplates it. In this way, the repeated objects or actions may appear to be all the same and nothing is changing, but each time the object is repeated in a series of repetitions, it is as new and unique as its very first. Repetition allows me to become immersed in what I would call an ‘art labour’, to dedicate myself in a series of repeated actions and in this case the act of making the object in an extended period of time. The significance of a medium-based art practice such as ceramic art is that it provides the artist a mode to be in the world by engaging with the medium in the process of art-making. So, as a result of this extensive and intensive engagement with the process, the objects it produces can also record not only traces of the physical involvement of the body but also the state of mind of the maker.
Clay has been used many times by artists to talk about the experience of the corporeal body or the tangible body. But it is also used sometimes as a metaphor of ideas related to human spirituality. One other thing that caught my interest in the first place in working with clay/ceramics besides its own capacity to be shaped into almost anything was that it also involves a process in which the material is transformed into a different physical state. Through the firing process, clay is transformed into ceramics, and ceramics as a material, even though it still retains some of the mineral initially contained in clay, after the firing it is already a different form of material with different physical properties - It loses its plasticity, it becomes strong but also fragile so that it could easily break if it strikes another hard object. After firing, clay loses its temporariness and becomes something that is more permanent, especially if it is fired at a really high temperature such as for example porcelain (1300° C). All these practical and technical explanations have provided me with a way to think about clay as a metaphor of the transitory nature of our physical existence. I have tried to articulate this idea in several ways in the past, such as a durational performance involving the act of breaking a set of terracotta bells and dissolving a series of unfired clay forms with water, both performances involved video as a way to document the process.
The perception of order and beauty when looking at something symmetrical reflects back on our own physical existence, in which symmetrical order is inherently present in our body. Humans have bilateral body symmetry. In visual structure, symmetry can be perceived as somewhat sterile and rigid while asymmetrical structure on the contrary, is associated with something more dynamic and less predictable. However, I believe there is something more to symmetrical structure than just rigidity and sterility. In decorative arts, symmetry and repetition are facilitated through sequences of objects and images, which can bring about a meditative quality and religious association which transcends the association of visual rigidity.