TOPOGRAPHIES OF SILENCE is a durational work, which started ex-tempore in January 2020 with no rules and no preconceived outcome. By falling into stillness and silence – which are not necessarily the opposites of movement and sound/voice -, another space opens up; highlighting other voices and other movements. Beyond the personal perceptive and self-reflective framework, the process has raised larger discourses around our relation to power, to free-will, to production, and to the unknown. The visitors, inevitably lending their bodies to the landscape, are welcome to witness and /or experiment the potential of ‘nothingness’ and essential movement.
On August 12th 2020 artists Ingrid André and Gabriele Goria will perform at RAW – Relational Art Week, between 17:00 and 19:30, at Myymälä2 Gallery (Uudenmaankatu 23, Helsinki). RAW is an event produced and curated by Myymälä2 since 2019, and this year dwells on the challenge of sparing energy in an urban context. The full program is visible on myymala2.com, as well as on RAW’s FB page. Warmly welcome!
Ingrid André’s artistic practice is informed by a professional background in dance which carved a resilience to being shaped and reformatted continuously. This malleability, juxtaposed with an interest in the potentialities of ‘presence as a catalyst’, has fueled a yearning for transfiguration and transgression of accumulated relational patterns. Through exposing herself to less familiar media – painting, installation, video – while following a self-reflective approach, she explores the vulnerability of moving beyond certainty and preconception. Besides her own practice following her art studies at Art school MAA in Helsinki, Ingrid continues to work as a freelance dancer, choreographer, and movement facilitator. Ingrid is a member of Pixelache collective since 2019.
Gabriele Goria’s artistic practice intertwines various forms of expression, ranging from physical theatre to martial arts, meditation, drawing, and music improvisation. Actor, theatre pedagogue, and martial artist, Gabriele teaches tai chi, meditation, and shaolin kung fu at different departments of the Theatre Academy of Helsinki. As a doctoral candidate at the Performing Arts Research Centre (Tutke), he is currently developing an artistic research on meditative silence. Anchored in the dialogue between art and spirituality, his work brings him to lead workshops and seminars in various institutes of adult education and interfaith studies in Finland and Italy.
As a child, I loved to stop by my favourite shop window, and stare at the mechanic clocks displayed behind the glass. I got enchanted by the intricate choreography of dancing gears, each of them waving to a different rhythm, their pace varying according to the diameter and the function of their wheels.
This spectacle acquainted me with the sense of time. The perfect synergy of the clock mechanisms gave me the same thrill I had while listening to the performance of a skilled percussionist. Such a dynamic symphony produced the illusion of a control over the force of time. Time was not untameable: to some extent, it was possible to play with it.
Together with the fun, concerns and existential questions emerged. I wondered if my whole existence was a simple ‘passing by’. As the clocks were clicking their own way through the river of time, my thoughts and actions too, as well as my breath and heartbeat, were enchased in this same flow. Was it so, that my days on earth did come from some ethereal future, were lived in an elusive present, and instantly cast into the past?
In my teenage years, I began to look at the problem from a different angle. I imagined a state of consciousness beyond individual awareness, where each and every moment of past, present and future – including the alternative streams of possibilities – would be accessible at once. In such a place, the flow of time would be stretched into an infinite and multi-layered film, where every single bit of existence would perpetually exist and be meaningful. I named this state of consciousness ‘eternity’.
Recently, I have found myself dwelling on similar conjectures. It is not unusual that, during an intense session of meditation or tai chi, vivid memories of events of my far past emerge spontaneously from some hidden storage of my mind. When these memories reach my awareness, I do nothing. I let them be. And yet I feel lighter, as if old burdens had just been processed in a new and fresh way.
At times, intuitions bring glimpses of future to my awareness. Accurate guesses about coming events might arise. One hour of silence can also be herald of sharp ideas and projects to be realized later.
However, the core of a meditative experience is not defined by these occasional ‘side effects’. At the base of any meditative practice lies the art of being present. In my experience and understanding, when the state of ‘nowness’ is no longer just a series of single and separate dots on a timeline, but develops into a longer and continuous trait, eternity occurs.
Eternity manifests in me when a feeling of timelessness overlaps the awareness of now. Time becomes a flexible mental construct. The fear of letting go melts into a peaceful state of lightness and fulfilment. Love becomes natural and spontaneous; love and eternity belong together. The ego-led interpretations of my personal history shatter in front of an ocean of compassion. There is no need to believe that everything happens for a reason, nor to deny the meaningfulness of things. Life is purpose in itself.
I do not consider myself a great meditator. Sparks of light visit me quite rarely, and when they do, they remind me of how attached I am to my small world. This makes me humble. Yet, such fleeting intuitions encourage me to live my life a little bit more bravely.
If something very disturbing and painful occurs, I know in my heart that everything finds its place in the perspective of eternity. And when something remarkably beautiful comes to an end, I whisper to myself: “Don’t worry, let go now. Nothing lasts forever. Nothing is lost.”
Nothing is lost. Everything is written on the pages of eternity. Is this the comforting illusion – or the hope – of a romantic dreamer? If I were to meet myself as a child in front of the window of that clock-shop, would I honestly share this intuition as an ultimate answer?
Most likely, I would rather keep listening. The experience is tangible. Every single breath of life is ephemeral and eternal. Yes, I would share my silence. Time needs time for unfolding its lessons.
A friend recently asked me to elaborate a reflection on God as a Creator. Especially in front of the compelling arguments by Richard Dawkins on ‘God’s delusion’, I feel cautious at falling into this kind of debate. However, my friend’s request allows me to look closer at my current worldview.
I share this writing as a poetic window onto my quest for a meaning, and surely not as a lecture. Like a curious child, I want to explore what I see, to create connections and to play with them, asking myself once again: what does God mean to me?
God is love. Love is an experience. God is an experience. Experience is real to the extent it transforms. God is the peace which reconciles paradox and contradiction.
God, the Father: the cosmic Consciousness beyond creation. Transcendent. The Tao. The infinite. The experience of Nirvana, or Moksha. But also the Nothing from which everything originates. The number zero.
God, the Son: the all pervading consciousness within creation, from subatomic particles to human consciousness. Immanent. The God who sleeps in the stones, dreams in the flowers, wakes up in the animals, in the humans is aware of being awake, and in the saints finds Himself again. The consciousness which realizes its full expression in a Christ, or a Buddha, bridging immanence and transcendence. The Dharma: the order of creation, or law of nature. The Tai Chi: the archetypical Supreme Polarity, guarding the seed of duality within its oneness. The number one. But also the Wu Chi, the non-Polarity. The non-one.
God, the Holy Spirit: the Amen, the Word, that is: the conscious Sound/Vibration manifesting the Creation; the energy behind the matter. The intelligent love interconnecting the whole; the spring and the engine of creation and life. The laws of physics; the Karma: the law of cause and effect which rules the Samsara, from a cosmic scale to a human scale, to the wave-like dance of particles and anti-particles. Yin and Yang in action. The number two.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: the number three. The “three which generates the ten-thousands beings” (Tao Te Ching 42).
Creation is related to God as the body is related to the soul. The soul is both individual (atman) – to the extent a footprint, or a memory of individuality persists – and absence of an ‘I’ (anatman) – when interdependence and impermanence are found in the middle path between independence and dependence, and the soul is nothing but a pouring, a flow of consciousness constantly changing, interrelated with everything. In the same way, God is both personal – the God within me, to whom I turn and whom I listen, not in order to obtain favours, but to transform myself – and impersonal – the Being, where there is nothing to attain, where the path is the goal, where life validates itself as the sole purpose.
God happens. God is the voice whispering: why does God allow all of this? Why does God not intervene? God is me. God is the Sun reflected in thousands mirrors. Each mirror is an illusion of separation, an ‘I’ defining itself as an independent individual. God is Father, Mother, Daughter, Son, Friend, Lover. Each expression of love is a reflection of the one Love.
“The Tao which can be described by means of words is not the eternal Tao” (Tao Te Ching 1). The God you can speak about is not the true God. Words are symbols referring to an ungraspable ‘beyond’, even when they are created to indicate a very concrete object, or an experience.
But there are also performative words; expressions which form and transform. Like the sentence “I love you”, which is not a mere report, but reaches out for a connection and creates worlds of possibilities. Therefore, if “in the beginning was the Word, ad the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1,1), this Word was not a word-symbol, or a ‘finger pointing at the Moon’.
In the beginning, was the Word. I like to think that this original and almighty Word – the Amen of Christians, the Amin of Muslims, the Hum of Tibetan Buddhists, the Aum of Vedas – cannot be but one. The whisper, beyond time and space: “I love you”. And there was light.
The artistic work of Giorgio Morandi – the renowned Italian painter and printmaker specialized in still life – is a manifest example of the artistic fertility of silence. This seminar opens a discussion on the poetics of simplicity, where the process of artistic creation is intertwined with the experience of silence and emptiness. The creative dimension of emptiness shows a path for ‘touching the essence of things’.
This seminar is open to all interested people, and will be facilitated by Rev. Henri Järvinen and Gabriele Goria. The event will take place on 2nd November 2018 at 14:00 in the Auditorio 2 of the Theatre Academy of Helsinki (Haapaniemenkatu 6).
Paolo Scquizzato is a secular Catholic priest, theologian, and teacher of meditation in the tradition of the Benedictine monk John Main. His research on meditation brought him to explore other traditions, in particular Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism.
Aware that our cultural age makes the encounter with scriptures and meditative practices of other religions essential, Scquizzato claims that it is no more a matter of engaging in a peaceful ‘dialogue’ with various traditions. Rather, it is fundamental to let us ‘be fecundated’ by the truths coming from elsewhere. Paolo Scquizzato is author of several books and publications on the topics of meditation and spiritual life.
Urban Fairytale is a short art film written and directed by the dancer and choreographer Laura ‘Swan’ Pentzin. The work explores the themes of connection, breaking free and finding your own way.
Once again, Laura ‘Swan’ Pentzin performs with the actor and martial artist Gabriele Goria. Contemporary dance improvisation, and the traditional Shaolin double-sword form Meihua Shuang Chien come together to build a symbolic tale around the topics of rebirth, dialogue, liberation, and self-realisation.
The choreography develops on the soundtrack ‘Higher State’, by DJ Orkidea, and the graphics are created by the motion graphic artist Hugo Kiekeben. Urban Fairytale is featured at Art Society Soho Helsinki digital exhibition: Augmenting Reality. You are warmly welcome to visit the exhibition at Culture Factory Korjaamo (Töölönkatu 51) from 18.10. to 17.11.2018.
Director/performer/costume designer: Laura ‘Swan’ Pentzin
Welcome to ‘Sharing silence’. This public meditation retreat is the first artistic production of my doctoral research at the Performing Arts Research Centre.
My interest is to explore formal sitting meditation as an artistic practice in its own right, as well as to understand how a public meditation retreat can contribute to this investigation. ‘Sharing silence’ rises questions about the artistic and social impact of opening a meditation retreat to a public space.
From 22nd to 31st October 2018, the stage of the entrance hall (Tori) of the Theatre Academy will host a ten-day silent retreat. The address is Haapaniemenkatu 6, Helsinki. The meditation space is for all interested people. You are welcome to join the meditation at any time of the day. Feel free to practice your meditation technique, to witness or rest. You can stay for as long as you want.
According to your needs, you can try different postures and places. If you feel like it, pay attention to your spatial relationship within the stage, with its objects and the other meditators. Before leaving, you can contribute to this artistic research by documenting your observations and feelings through writing and drawing in the ‘guest-book’.
If you wish to have a chat with me there are two opportunities for verbal sharing on the same stage: one before, and one after the ten-day public meditation retreat.
21st October, at 12:00: introductory meeting.
1st November, at 12:00: conclusion.
Retreat schedule: 22.10-31.10.2018
Here you are welcome to share silence. You can join the retreat schedule at any time, and the meditation stage is open all day long: feel free to visit the space also in other moments! However, the retreat schedule starts before the opening hours of the school, therefore the visitors will be allowed to join the retreat only from 8 am on – and in the weekend from 10 am.
4:00 am Morning wake-up bell
4:30-6:30 am Meditation
6:30-8:00 am Breakfast break/rest
8:00-9:00 am Meditation
9:10-10:00 am Meditation
10:10-11:00 am Meditation
11:00-12:00 noon Lunch break
12noon-1:00 pm Rest/walk out of the building
1:00-2:20 pm Meditation
2:30-3:30 pm Meditation
3:40-5:00 pm Meditation
5:00-6:00 pm Tea break/walk out of the building
6:00-7:00 pm Meditation
7:00-8:00 pm Rest/walk out of the building
8:00-9:00 pm Meditation
9:00-9:30 pm Rest
9:30 pm Sleep
The school building is open at these hours:
Mon-Fri: 8am-10pm; & Sat-Sun: 10am-3pm
Stage design: Marianne Palojärvi
Light design: June Horton
Spiritual counselor: Henri Järvinen
On stage: Gabriele Goria
Retreat helpers: Maija Rissanen, Mirjami Heikkinen & Helena Romppanen
Sound: Kaj Wager
Camera: Jyrki Oksaharju
Photo: Evdokia Aseeva
Stage manager: Marja Zilcher
Producer: Aapo Juusti
Poster: Jaana Forsström
Special thanks: Julia Dahlberg, Outi Condit, Leena Rouhiainen, Kirsi Heimonen, Paula Kramer, Raffaele Goria, Konsta Pylkkö & Kalle Kaukonen
Polar Shadows is a live installation, where tai chi becomes the framework for an improvisation of contemporary dance. The dancer and chreographer Laura ‘Swan’ Pentzin has performed with Gabriele Goria – kung fu teacher and actor – in various productions since 2015. Their work is still in progress, aiming to go on stage in autumn/winter 2018.
Throughout the live installation, Gabriele Goria performs the 108 steps of the Yang-style tai chi, in the unique tradition of Master Chang Dsu Yao. Tai chi – the ‘Supreme Polarity’ – is the archetype of a fundamental law of nature: the dynamic principle of change. By means of slow and circular movements, tai chi incarnates this waving flow, where Yin and Yang take birth from each other.
How can contemporary dance respond to this ancient embodied philosophy? Laura Pentzin engages in a profound artistic exploration of tai chi, through her multi-layered expertise in various approaches to dance. By tuning with the flow, or deliberately contrasting it, Laura dances together with energy and space, at times spontaneously depicting the images emerging from the poetic Chinese names of the tai chi sequence.
A short video-demo of the work-in-progress is now accessible on YouTube:
Systematical studies on meditation and spiritual practices have increased exponentially since the early ‘70s. In academic research, meditative practices are often investigated as a preparatory training for making art. For example, the performance artist and theorist Phillip Zarrilli makes use of meditation techniques in actor training for accessing and transforming the creative process. A similar approach is carried on by Naomi Lefebvre Sell in the field of dance and somatics.
In other cases, artistic practice and meditation are combined together, generating hybrid methodologies of artistic inquiry. This line of research intertwines meditation with other artistic practices in order to entangle them into a meditative or spiritual framework. For instance, the visual artist Su-Lien Hsieh focuses on the interaction between her painting practice and several Buddhist meditative techniques, such as bowings, mandalas, and breath-awareness.
There is no shortage of examples where the artistic practice itself is interpreted as meditation. The vocal artist, performer and choreographer Meredith Monk – just to mention one – openly bridges her artistic practice to her spiritual practice, drawing parallels between the Buddhist notion of dharma and making art.
In September 2015 I have started an artistic research on meditative silence – the Sharing silence project – as a doctoral candidate at the Performing Arts Research Centre of the University of the Arts (Helsinki). The Sharing silence project provides an alternative track for developing artistic research with meditation.
In contrast with the fore mentioned examples, my work recognises formal sitting meditation as an artistic practice in its own right. My research suggests that approaching meditation as an artistic practice opens alternative and more poetic ways for investigating and communicating meditative experiences. I claim that understanding meditation as a form of art relieves its load of holiness and esoteric imagery on the one hand, and counterbalances its reduction into mechanistic neurophysiological explanations on the other.
My concern is not to expose meditation to the general audience as the object of an inquiry, but to share it as a partner of dialogue in the context of performing arts and artistic research. This work raises questions about the place and the function of meditation in performing arts, in artistic research, in academic institutions, as well as in our society.
The topic of this research derives from my lifelong practice of meditative and somatic techniques such as the Kriya Yoga of Paramahansa Yogananda – which was introduced to me by my parents in my early childhood –, Shaolin and Tai Chi – which I have practiced since 1994 at the school of Master Chang Dsu Yao –, and Vipassana meditation in the tradition of S. N. Goenka – which entered my life relatively late, but had a paramount impact on my development as a meditator. Since 2012, Vipassana has become my fundamental daily practice, and therefore will be the main tool in my investigation.
At the current stage of my research, I am working around two questions, or directions. On the one hand, I want to investigate how to unfold and enlighten the artistic potential of formal sitting meditation. On a broader scale, I am researching how participatory performances can contribute to the exploration and communication of the artistic features of meditation.
My earlier experiments consisted in developing artistic technologies for exploring and communicating meditative experiences. Drawing, movement explorations, and creative writing were the tools involved in the experiments. I developed a technique for interviewing meditators, which consisted in filming the movements of the hands of the interviewed persons, who were asked to answer through hand gestures. Even though I found the outcome of these experiments interesting from the perspective of artistic pedagogy and art-making, I wanted to focus more specifically on the practice of meditation.
Therefore, I began to elaborate participatory experiments for sharing meditative silence. These events/platforms were devised for facilitating mindful experiences and creative processes within and between the participants.
In March 2017 I started the practice of meditating one hour a day in different spaces of the Theatre Academy of Helsinki. Students and staff of the school were invited to join me in silence. This experience made me realize how the simple action of sitting in stillness triggered a complex negotiation between myself, the meditative practice, the space, and the presence – or the absence – of other people. I collected feedbacks from the visitors, by means of a guest book, where people were free to write and draw.
As my contribution to the CARPA 5 symposium at the Theatre Academy of Helsinki, I further developed this experiment by installing a meditation room in the conference building, and inviting participants to share silence. Throughout these events, I became interested in the silent dialogues generated by the spatial relationships between the meditators, the room, and the objects within the space. I documented this process by means of photos, journals, and interviews with the visitors.
Coming soon: the Sharing silence retreat
In October 2018, I will realize my artistic part, which is an essential step in my doctoral research. This production will consist of a ten-day meditation retreat, happening on the stage of the entrance hall of the Theatre Academy of Helsinki. Throughout the retreat, I will take the vow of silence, I will meditate about ten hours a day, and I will sleep in the school. People passing by will be invited to enter the space, to sit, rest, and join the meditation at any time of the day, for as long as they want. Before and after the ten-day retreat, I will organize two opportunities for verbal sharing with all interested people.
Part of my research-data will consist of my recollection of the experience. Furthermore, I will ask some questions to a small group of volunteers who will share my retreat more closely by visiting the space daily. They will write a journal. Another part of the data will come from the feedback of the visitors in the meditation retreat. I will collect their feedback by means of a free-form guest book. This live installation will illuminate the artistic and social inferences arising from displaying a meditation retreat in a public space.
The Sharing silence retreat will happen from 22nd to 31st October 2018, at the Theatre Academy of Helsinki (Haapaniemenkatu 6). All interested people are invited. If you want to chat with me, please come to the Theatre Academy on 21st October at 12:00 for the introductory meeting, and on 1st November at 12:00 for the conclusion!
The ritual of salutation is an integral part of Chinese Kung Fu practice. The codified gestures of salutation embody the practitioner’s genuine feeling of respect towards the masters and the fellow students.
The salutation is performed at the beginning and at the end of each training session, when the practitioner enters or leaves the training space, and when she/he begins or ends any exercise. This ceremony is not meant to be a superficial formality, and is not to be understood as an obsolete routine.
Ching Li (敬禮) is the Chinese term for ‘greeting’, and literally means respect and worship. According to Confucius, the virtue of Li (禮= respect for rituals) is one of the four pillars supporting the moral and spiritual growth of a person. One of the main concerns of the early Confucianism was to re-establish social order, by forming noble and complete human beings. Together with Jen (仁= human sensitivity), Hsiao (孝= respect for parents, and cult of the ancestors), and I (義= righteousness, or the moral disposition to do good), Confucius considered Li as a tool for channelling human emotions into a constructive and positive flow.
In the context of Kung Fu – which developed under the philosophical influence of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism –, the salutation represents the external expression of an inner attitude of gratitude, worship and respect. Furthermore, this ritual works as a frame to the practice of Kung Fu, facilitating concentration. Each gesture of the salutation is synchronised with an inhalation or with an exhalation, providing an opportunity for training awareness of breath and body.
Beyond the great variety of greeting rituals, in Kung Fu there are two main salutation forms: the standing greeting, and the formal salutation ceremony on the knees. The most renowned standing greeting is Pao Ch’üan Li (抱拳禮), which can be translated as ‘greeting by holding a fist’. As mentioned above, Li (禮) means respect for rituals. This term includes the meanings of courtesy, ceremony, etiquette, and worshiping. Pao (抱) means holding, or embracing. Ch’üan (拳) means fist.
Pao Ch’üan Li is performed in a standing posture. The typical ritual wants that one hand envelops the other, which is closed like a fist. This simple action provides many variations, according to the different Kung Fu schools and traditions. In some schools the right hand holds the left fist, and in other schools the left hand holds the right fist. There are historical and philosophical reasons behind each of these variations, but I have not found a thorough exposition on this topic yet.
Other differences concern the way the hand touches the fist. For example, the hand can be straight, slightly curved, or fully closed on the fist. Furthermore, the two hands can meet at various levels of the body, from the face level to the upper abdomen level. Minor diverging details can be found also in the posture of the feet and legs, as well as in the inclination of the torso.
Master Chang Dsu Yao (1918-1992) – in whose school I have practiced Kung Fu since 1994 – explained that the fist represents the Sun (the Yang polarity), while the other hand stands for the Moon (the Yin polarity). Therefore, Pao Ch’üan Li symbolises the union of Yin and Yang. In Chinese, the ideogram Ming (明= bright, or clear), is written by putting the Sun (日) and the Moon (月) close to each other. In my first years as a Kung Fu student, I liked to imagine that the brightness coming from the summed light of these two celestial bodies shined through the symbol of Pao Ch’üan Li.
Ming is also the name of the famous Chinese emperors’ dynasty under which the Shaolin Ch’üan – the most renowned style of traditional Kung Fu, born in the legendary Shaolin temple – reached its splendour. After the collapse of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), for a long period Shaolin monks and masters continued to side with the Ming against the Ch’ing dynasty (1644-1912), despite of the repeated destructions of the Shaolin temple. In these historical circumstances, Pao Ch’üan Li represented also a sign of identity between Ming supporters.
Another type of standing greeting is Ch’ü Kung Li (鞠躬禮), where the practitioner simply bows the upper body. Ch’ü (鞠) means to bow and Kung (躬) means body. This form of salutation is generally performed when the hands hold a weapon, and the practitioner has no possibility to put the hands together.
The formal greeting on the knees marks the beginning and the end of a training session. This salutation ritual is called Kuei Pai Li (跪拜禮), which means greeting-ceremony (禮= Li) on the knees (跪= Kuei) by bowing forward, or worshiping (拜= Pai). In the school of Master Chang Dsu Yao, this ceremony includes three bowings: one to the Heaven, one to the ancestors, and the third to the lineage of masters. The archetypical interrelation of Sky, Earth, and Human becomes manifest in these three bowings.
Once, I heard a story about Master Chang Dsu Yao, and the ritual of salutation. One day, in the period of the Chinese civil war (1927-1950), Chang was forced to fight against a warrior of the opposite faction. The two men had never met before, and stared at each other for a long time.
Then, the ceremony of salutation began. With surprise and reverence, the warriors realised they were performing exactly the same gestures. They were students of the same Grand Master!
Another interminable moment of silence followed. Finally, they performed the salutation once more, and left the field. No fight occurred.
This episode reminds me of a basic value in traditional Chinese martial arts: respect. In Kung Fu, a genuine pedagogy of respect starts with the salutation.