Reached Utopia

The story about European and Tibetian art encounter

Interdisciplinary project Reached Utopia is in its initial idea imagined as a dedication to life and work of Austrian alpinist Heinrich Harrer. His abode in Tibet in the period from 1944 till 1951 should have been reviewed as the crucial point in which the European culture meets its own projection of utopian, ideal society (Harerr 1997). In today’s time, Tibetan community in Dharamshala is for many European theoreticians the last dreamt model of ideal state in which the political leader is, at the same time, a philosopher. Dalai Lama did not return to Tibet, but according to his teachings, the world has become netted with Tibetan spirituality. The very return to Tibet has thus become unnecessary and useless. In its various forms, Tibetan Buddhism has spread to the West, leaving a mark on what we call the aesthetics of new age. As a physical, real place, Tibet has become utopia in the mist of past, in the dimension called space of time. Due to those reasons, the visit to real Tibet, and especially to the capital of Lhasa, leaves most Tibetan culture worshipers indifferent. The last idealised mystery of the world vanishes in front of their bare eyes in the soap of illusion just like Paris in front of the groups of American tourists. In June 2011, together with co-author of the project, Luise Kloos, I visited a small Tibetan centre in Corinthian town Huttenberg, where Herrer’s museum is located. There we met with the doctor from the Institute for Tibetan medicine Men Tsee Khang and we tried to arrange future cooperation. Our idea was to go for the study research trip to Dharamshala at the end of November, together with the composer Gerhard Nierhaus and multimedia artists Martina Mezak from Zagreb. There we should get acquainted with Tibetan culture, and if it is convenient, create artefacts. We separated the project into three different parts, each reaching one part of Tibetan heritage, spirituality and culture. We came to Dharamshala on November 25th, 2011. First few days we have been visiting the temples in McLeod Ganj, holy places on the slopes of Himalayas and we also went to Norburlingka Institute that is dealing with preserving Tibetan culture. Doing all that, we tried to maintain the spirit of a research, honouring at the same time the manners of the culture we have entered to, mainly because of the image Tibetans have about the Western people who are trying to become part of them, whether over religion, practices, or mere adventurism. Maybe the best example of that is the scene I experienced visiting Dolma Kyap, ex-general manager of Norburlingka Institue, who together with his wife runs a small French cafe near the main square in McLeod Ganj. While me and Dolma Kyap were talking about the everyday routine of preparation for death, the guests were served by a Buddhist monk woman of apparently British origin. In one moment, more guests entered the cafe and my host told the monk to go serve the guests. She obeyed, went to the terrace and took the order. But then, instead going to the kitchen to get the drinks, she simply went outside politly telling goodbye. Respecting the rule of compassion, he kindly replied goodbye and then served the guests himself. When he returned to my table, he rather cynically answered to my question whether the monks work – he told they are not allowed to do anything, but the western monks are behaving differently. the whole theatre play around Tibetans refugees who found a sanctuary in India, formed a state within a state, and gained the popularity of Hollywood stars, has become sickening to Dolma Kyap in such extent that for the first time in 17 years he fled from Tibet, he has decided to climb the peak of Himalaya just to really look how it looks like on the other side., For most Dalai Lama followers that side symbolised an embodiment of totalitarism and breaking the human rights. There, under the Himalayan top, we met, as the golden twilight descended. The first part of our project dealt with the heritage of Tibetan painting school. We visited the master of Himalayan Buddhist painting, Master Locho from Thangka painting Thangde Gatsal school, where we had a workshop held for us. His wife Sarika Singh held a lecture about emergence, development and meaning of Thangka painting. Through the practical work we tended to unite two completely ambivalent aesthetics, the one emerged from the Christian centre and the one emerged from lamaistic Buddhism. It is those two aesthetics that got united through a possible symbolical myth about painting. The paradigm of a painting as the medium that neither originated nor can vanish, because that medium itself is equal to art, was the basic of our work with the heritage of Himalayan painting tradition. According to the relationship between the one creating the artefact and the artefact itself, that tradition is equal to tradition of icon in Byzantine and orthodox heritage. That heritage denies the creation of the icon as an original art work. What it means is that all icons are created according to the older template, referring to the legend of the first and only portrait of Christ-Mandylion. According to the legend, that portrait resided in the city of Urf, that was also known as Edessa. The story says that Abgar-the mythical king of Edessa-had heard of Christ and invited him to live in his city and cure his illness. Christ replied that he has not yet finished his mission and that he would send one of his pupils that will cure him. That pupil was Tadheius and he came to Edessa and cured Abgar. It is told that the man who carried the letter to Christ was also a court painter and he made a portrait of Christ. The portrait, Mandylion, was one of the holiest items in early Christianity. According to some pseudo-historical theories, after the downfall of kingdom of Urf, the portrait made way to Constantinople, where from he was confiscated by crusaders along with the other holy objects. Nevertheless, the king of Urf ordered the portrait’s copies to be made. According the theory of Adrian G. Gilbert knight Balduin-the future king of Jerusalem who conquered Urf – took the portrait. According to the legend of the Holy Grail, the keeper of the Grail is the old man who is called the King of Fishermen. Adrian G. Gilbert found a pretty cheap analogy with the city of Urf because there were lot of fish ponds, so it would be natural that the king of Urf is at the same time King of Fishermen. Of those who fish from the ponds. Accordingly, Holy Grail is not a cup which Jesus drank at the last supper from, but it is a miraculous first portrait of his face. When the army of crusaders conquered Urf, Mandylion reached Jerusalem with Balduin and became the object of worshiping in Templar’ rituals (Gilbert 2004). In famous Pope’s accusation of the Templar, it is told that they were worshiping some head. Furtherly following this construction, we reach the possible assumption that it might be the Christ’s portrait in question. In the accusations is of course stated that it is the head of Bafomet or Baal, one of the deities of Babylon’s demonic hierarchy. The theories of Christ’s portrait, Templar, Bafomet and Holy Grail represent one of the fundamental cranks of schizophrenic theories of conspiracy (Tuckett 2005). If we reject all those constructions, it is the myth of the first portrait of Christ that can be only imitated by the other icons, that has completely determinated one part of the world’s art. It is that very physical matrix the artist searches for the spiritual ideal in, invoking the ancient shape, archetype, that the Kazimir Maljevič’s opus was created, and presents Christ’s face with the shape of a white square on the white surface. Christ’s portrait does not exist in the formative sense, for it is a pure pointlessness (Maljevič 1981). The son of God who has no shape. In that way Maljevič’s manifest is the manifest of iconoclasts. It is them that win at the end, for where there is no shape, the emptiness begins, where emptiness is everything there is light, of the word which creates the world and awareness. The fact of imitating the older and given examples was the first link between Christian and Buddhist art for us, and we were to have research about it. In her lecture, Sarika Singh demonstrated the canons of the measure of Buddha’s head and body which are the base of sketches for Thangka. Every detail of Buddha’s face and body is in scripted in Golden section, the one deriving from Pitagora’s tradition. That knowledge reached India at the time of Alexander the Great, and from there moved to Tibet together with Buddhism. Golden section can numerically be given as a constant whose size is 1.6180339. Its most important meaning is in the proportion it defines. Ratio is the relation of two measurements, sizes, extents or two capacities and it is given in formula a:b. Rate or proportion means equality between two relations, when one element to the other is the same as the third to the fourth, and it is given in formula a:b=c:d. Greeks called it analogy, while Pitagora’s school differed two types of analogy. The first one is defined with above-mentioned formula and is consisted of four different elements. It is called a discontinuous type of proportion. If we limit ourselves to only three elements of proportion, we will get significantly more exact relation which can be given in formula a:b=b:c. It is called a continuous type of proportion. Two ratios are linked with one mutual element. However, those three elements of proportion can be reduced to only two. The only natural arithmetic proportion we can get using only two elements which is given with the formula a:b=b:(a+b), where the smaller size is to the bigger one as the sum of both sizes. This ratio is called Golden ratio or section. Numerical value of number  is (5+1)/2 or 1.6180339. The house of cephalopod from the line of Nautilus is growing in the shape of spiral which in every circle enlarges in proportion to number . According to Egyptian, Greek and Japanese canons, umbilicus divides human body in Golden ratio, while all the other parts of body are also in ratio one to another. From Athenian Acropolis past renaissance buildings to Rothko’s squares of meta colour, all the Western art was based exactly on these relations. The Golden section represents not only the measure of all things in nature but also the secret formula on which everything grows. For the masons, masters of gothic cathedrals, it was the secret equal to Grail. Cup of Grail at the last supper has determined the blood of new and eternal alliance. Its migration in Himalayan painting school and the matrix according to which it becomes the secret principle of all those who create Thangka is the second position of our research. For the autumn of 2012, we have foreseen the continuation of work within the painting school of Thangde Gatsal, as well in theoretical as in practical matters. The artistic creation derived from the European heritage and the one derived from Tibetan are two completely separate worlds. Within postmodernism, its interlacing and exchange of information has finally become possible. We wil tend to investigate, both theoretically and practically, these two spiritual matrices in which the relation to what we call art arises. Every day during our stay we will create one drawing in the technique of black ink on paper. The drawing will be a diary that we use to describe the journey, the landscape, people we meet, but also a knowledge about Thangka painting which we will gain at the workshop. The idea of diary drawings is in recording the everyday life in documentaristic way, like graveurs from the period of great discoveries, but also to clearly show the development and the influence of Buddhist studies on Western drawing facture. The attendants of Thangda Gatsal’s painting school will also create their diary drawings every day, as a detachment from strict Thangka postulates. In their work, the circle of influences should close in a opposite direction. In a formative sense, using the narrative facture, the drawings will figuratively process three halls through which pupil moves on his way to the worlds of eternal sleep, described in the book The Voice of the Silence (Blavatsky 2004. These are the hall of ignorance, teaching and knowledge. Each of the halls will be processed with three drawings which will be created within three real days. When the cycle of nine days ends, at the tenth day of the workshop three mutual drawings will be created. The Master Locho will also participate in their creation. The drawings will symbolize the procedure of overstepping, condition without dreams at the exit from the third hall. The works created in Dharamshala will be built up with works created at the workshops in Zagreb and in the village Serdehelj in Hungary. At these workshops, the creation was also based on the principle of halls of ignorance, teaching and knowledge. The second part of our project reflected on the idea of land, which in banishment for Dalai Lama and Tibetans becomes a part of reached utopia. The real land of Tibet stayed in the Himalaya, but the idea about it has radically changed after the banishment. Tibet itself is no longer a romantic place as in paintings of Nicholas Roerich or as in mythical researches (Gurdjijeff 1994). The missioners of Tibetian practice have become all those eager for new findings within the world of biopolitical power. Unlike fordistic world where the worker on the line looked bent and worn out like the characters from Fritz Lang’s movie Metropolis, and there was nothing left for him to do but some new Christian rebellion from the halls of catacombs, the worker in the industry of cyber space or the services in the section of biopolitics, fills his free time with team building in beautiful nature or with meditative practice (Lang 1927). To paraphrase Slavoj Žižek, we will say that the Buddhism is an ideal religion of the exploiters and the exploited under the doctrine of compassion. Of the difference between the principle of Buddhist compassion and Christian love, Slavoj Žižek says: “The compassion should be put against Christian intolerant, violent Love. At the end, Buddhist attitude is the one of Indifference, indulging all the desires that tend to place differences, while Christian love is a violent desire for introducing the Difference, gap in the order of being: to be fond of or lift some object no matter of the others” (2008:79). Both of them could apparently be placed in other roles. The exploiters of philanthropy, civil societies and human rights organizations really do make the world of the exploited more human. Exploited by going to shopping, by hitch-hiking and meditation are adjourning that they are satisfied and harmonious in their inner world and that the other one, no matter how big, cannot influence them. The rebellion like the evolution has in such way become the state of past. Crazy men and the last idealists are dealing with it, and they can always be labelled as the conspiracy theories’ followers. In the European heritage of utopian ideas the analogy of Jerusalem as the place where the memory abides is really strong (Connerton 2004). Very reconstruction of the holy places of Jerusalem are, as we know, more than questionable due the fact that it has been completely destroyed by the Romans after the last mutiny in Judea. The myth has enlived through the mystic visions of the Byzantine queen and through the legend of the master builder of the Jerusalem temple who was killed by his three jealous assistants because of hiding the secret word which represent the craft. Although originally connected to the symbolism of questionable free masonry, this legend has spread through all European hermetic schools. From the utopian premise of Heaven Jerusalem, through the blood conquered Kingdom of Jerusalem, Europe has reached Jerusalem as a place of pilgrimage, where you are liberated, consecrated and revived. Years ago in the same way Hindus pilgrim to Varanasi and years after Muslims began to pilgrim to Mecca. Our utopian memory tells us about the illusion of time. Jean Baudrillad tells in the Perfect Crime: “The illusion of time is of the same order. It is the objective truth of you never being completely present in one moment and the whole presence is always only virtual” (1998:64). In this part of the project we were interested by the level of pilgrimage and the myth of a secret word. As in European tradition it is present all the way from the alchemy, through the magic to free masonry, secret services and tending military service, in Tibetan culture the myth of a secret word is the myth about chanting you use to reach certain mind conditions with. Mostly it is wishful emptiness or unity of subject with the object, temporarily until you reach the stage of bodhisattva. The beginning of religion for every Tibetan is at the same time pilgrimage towards yourself. For the Europeans, such form of symbolical return to yourself or-as it is called-return home, is the same to indifference of biopolitical condition. For that reason, during my stay in McLeod Ganj in November 2011, I placed a site specific installation in the park beneath Dalai Lama’s temple. Around the temple the pilgrimers make kora, put flags, spin praying wheels, leave stones with mantras written on, they pray and burn sacrifice in stūpa. On the most stones left, mantra in scripted is Oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ, which, as most Tibetan holy sentences, has various symbolic meanings. Pilgrim road under the hill of the temple was interesting to me because I noticed that men, their women and small children from Rajasthan work as slaves in their own homeland on the reconstruction of the Dalai Lama’s temple. The hunted in that way became the hunters, and one secretive, isolated religion spread all across the world, from the streets of New York till Andrijevski uzviz. At the place of leaving the pligrimers’ mantras I have placed an empty stone of the same shape and colour as the rest of the stones. Next to it I placed a stone painted red colour on which I wrote the words of the famous philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein: “As the things are, there is God, God is as the things are.” This sentence describes European spiritual postulates after the period of atheism, inauguration of science as a new religion, agnosticism and new age as well as denominating the virtual worlds. This relativistic and revitalizing sentence best describes the state both in thought and in culture of what we refer to as The West. Wittgenstein himself, his ancestry and philosophy was best described by the old Austrian cynic Thomas Benrhard. Writer described the character of philosopher’s less known but no less eccentric nephew (Benrhard 2003). Therefore the red colour on the stone is based on water. When the first monsoons begin in June, the writing on the stone will be washed away. Wittgenstein’s mantra which is not the act of the religion and pilgrimage but aesthetical act will vanish in the fog of time, the same as we only have canon left from the Greek sculpture, the model according to which we still temporary are. Luise Kloos connected her artwork to aprons Tibetan married women are wearing and to praying flags. The flags represent one of the forms of pilgrimage and they are let to be carried by the wind in the direction of the holy mount Kailas. Luise Kloos ordered her flags at the Tibetan tailors. Size of her flags equals the size of Thangka. The flags represent the act of inner experience of the author herself but also her statement within the gallery space she completely sacralises by that. Luise Kloos used the technique of watercolour to variate the patterns on the aprons of the married women. It was that very technique in history of arts that was connected to the romantic entering the artists in the nature, and it was not chosen by accident. Germanic and Anglo-Saxon heritage of romanticism was of outmost importance for us in creating the project Reached Utopia. In continuation of the workshop in autumn of 2012 we plan to create more site-specific interventions and ambient within the pilgrimers’ koras. The artworks will be created with the materials found at the very spot; stone, wood and different plants. The idea of kora is identical to the idea of labyrinth as a place of initiation in the search for oneself. The labyrinth as the real object does not exist anywhere anymore, there are only legends, writings, gardens or fruitful decorations which simulate it. The idea of search for oneself which abides in the base of the process of kora and the process of labyrinth will be the crucial point of this part of the project. The third part of our project deals with Tibetan medicine, astrology and philosophy teachings in general. For classical European discourse, Tibetan religion was always connected to esoterically and pseudo esoterically schools. For dualistic way of thinking in which both the spirit and the matter are two different states of reality, Tibetan religious thought is pretty non-understandable, unless if it is not cleared by pure gnosis or its dogmas are accepted instead of the Western ones. During our stay in Dharamshala we visited Men Tsee Khang, Tibetan Medicine Institute where we met several Tibetan doctors and astrologers. We visited the museum and the library which function within the Institute, and we grasped the basics of Tibetan medicine. Our intent was not to investigate fields and methodology of Institute’s work, because we felt all the system of Tibetan heritage as complete parallel reality. What really interested us was the way remedies were prepared, the plants which were used and the process of its picking. Documentation on that as well as the original perpetrates are held in the Museum of the Institute. Men Tsee Khang Institute also develops publishing services and therefore he had published a number of books about healing plants which are used in medical preparations. We were given the basic information on that matter by the workers at the Institute and they invited us to join them in picking the plants in the Kangra area in autumn. The plants are picked on different locations from Himalayan Mountains to Indian valleys. Also, going through the lists of their therapeutic plants we have seen that big number of those is also recognized in Mediterranean and Middle-European tradition. Together with those plants, for preparing medications some endemic plants not known in our areas are used. As part of this part of the project in the month of September 2012, we plan to organize lectures, workshops and open discussions with people that use Tibetan medicine therapies, both among Tibetans themselves as among Westernese that abide in the area of Dharamshala. Such way of working is supplemented in the media of photography, video or a method theoreticians call social art practice and presents a hybrid between sociological research and conceptual art. It is important to mention that such media are not meant for their own cause but we can creatively process not only bond between Tibetan and Western culture but also our own cognition within the aesthetics and forms of such media. We are aware that by our first going to India we have touched one small part of Tibetan heritage and culture. Nevertheless we were given enough information to install the basis of a project in which, maybe for the first time, Eastern and Western art will meet in absolute equality and imagined brotherhood. The mission of a project Reached Utopia will be the interpolation of parts of traditional culture and heritage of Tibet in modern art practice through various ways of artistic actions of Tibetan and Western artists. The way in which that culture exists is unique. Tibetan heritage does not need progress nor evolution towards Western type of art, because such evolution would be complete negation and denial of their heritage. As real Thangka painting cannot be bought in a store, because it is being ritually consecrated to certain person, in such way is impossible to talk about the ideas of artistic freedoms within Himalayan painting. When we asked Master Locho, from Thangde Gatsal School where Thangka painter has his real freedom, he told us that he is little bit more free in a landscape but he is the most free in the sky and clouds. It is that very sky light that defines the differences in perception of light in Mediterranean painting and the one created in North. If we observe the light of impressionists and Pre-Raphaelites we will see that it is, as Northern sunlight and cloudy weather, vibrative, floating and ever so changeable. Chirico’s light of sharp and clear shadows is as the sun of warm South. Himalayan sun light is completely metaphysical. Red sunset appears two times, the real one and its reflection before the very arrival of the night. The colour reflects on itself, the mountains emanate light onto the falling sun. In Giotto’s compositions there is no physical light or any source of light, the saints and gods emanate it with their personification. As I was going down the Himalayan steep peaks towards the borderline of land of snow, my thoughts were in Assisi. The borders of time we will step over with our breath.


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