Meditation as artistic practice – updated research plan: 13.11.2017

Introduction

The current landscape of research on meditation presents a variety of different methodologies. In the field of artistic research, meditative practices are often investigated as a preparatory training for starting the creative process. In other cases, meditation is intertwined with other artistic practices in order to entangle them into some kind of meditative framework. There is no shortage of examples where the artistic practice itself is understood, to diverse extents, as a form of meditation.

By contrast, my approach recognises formal sitting meditation as an artistic practice in its own. Without rejecting its spiritual aim, 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.

This research suggests that approaching meditation as an artistic practice opens alternative and more poetic ways for investigating and communicating meditative experiences. Furthermore, my 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.

Research question

How can participatory performances contribute to the exploration and communication of meditative experiences?

Supervisors 

Kirsi Heimonen & Paula Kramer

Methodology

Two lines of inquiry characterize this research. One line elaborates participatory experiments for sharing meditative silence. These platforms are devised for facilitating mindfulness experiences, as well as for bringing awareness on the aesthetic and choreographic features of meditative group-sittings.

The other line consists in developing artistic technologies for exploring and articulating meditative experiences. Here the main target is to unfold the meditative process, and to enlighten the personal significance of the inner journey.

Several projects are in progress:

Meditative hands. This experiment investigates the way meditators experience and understand their meditative practice. Non-verbal interviews are the main tool in this work. I am currently filming the answers of Vipassanā meditators in the tradition of Goenka, who are asked to describe their meditative practice by means of hand gestures. The next step will consist in analysing the possible emerging patterns, and in creating a video installation.

Meditation on stage. In August 2017 I had the premiere of my performance La galleria dei sogni lenti – Hitaiden unien käytävä, produced by Theatre Quo Vadis. The focus of the event was the inner journey of meditation, shared via different tools of artistic expression, such as music, poems, songs, dance and painting. Further elaborations of this production are ongoing.

Retreat with online performance. This is a format of meditation retreat/performance which allows the performer to share her/his experience without the physical presence of an audience. In July 2017 I held my first experiment, by having a meditation retreat in Noormarkku (Pori). The retreat provided four hours of meditation a day, taking photos, and writing. The main performative task consisted in publishing daily reports on my blog. This choice opened my experience to a virtual audience, who was allowed to interact with me by means of written comments.

Sharing silence. 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. As my contribution to the CARPA 5 colloquium (Teak, August 2017), I further developed this experiment by installing a free meditation room in an auditorium of the Theatre Academy. The main instruction given to the participants was to pay attention to the spatial relationships between the meditators, the room, and the objects within the space. I am documenting this process by means of photos, journals, and interviews to the visitors.

These various experiments are the ground for my first artistic part, which will combine them into a unique participatory event. The second artistic production will further develop this event, and will move its setup into the nature.

Theoretical background

This artistic inquiry is related to the work of many artists and researchers. For example, the Chinese painter Su-Lien Hsieh titled her PhD thesis: Buddhist Meditation as Art Practice: Art Practice as Buddhist Meditation. Her focus was the interaction and the melting of her painting practice with the practice of several Buddhist meditative techniques, such as bowings, mandalas, and breath-awareness. The Brazilian performer-researcher Mariana Terra makes use of meditative practices in her performances. Self-knowledge paths and Relational Aesthetics are present in her works. The vocal artist, performer and choreographer Meredith Monk openly bridges her artistic practice to her spiritual practice. She draws parallels between the Buddhist notion of dharma and making art.

The work of the renowned performance artist Marina Abramović explores the limits of the body and the possibilities of the mind. In her performance The artist is present (March-May 2010, MoMa), the visitors sat in front of the artist in silence, keeping eye contact. Inspired by this idea, and relating this technique to similar practices deriving from Yogic and Tantric tradition, I proposed the exercise of looking into each other’s eyes in various experiments. This practice proved to facilitate nonverbal communication and contemplative experiences.

I chose nature as the platform for my second artistic part, after reading the writings of the mystic, monk, and theologian Anthony Elenjimittam. Elenjimittam points at ‘Mother Nature’ as the source of the main contemplative traditions in the world.

Lately, I found appeal in a parallel discourse about nature through the Attention Restoration Theory, first developed by the professors in environmental psychology Rachel and Stephen Kaplan. According to this theory, nature is the environment best facilitating the restoration of direct attention, which supports the skill in concentration. Furthermore, the Italian biologist specialized in ecological mindfulness Giuseppe Barbiero argues that the fascination exerted by nature works as a bridge leading from concentration to open awareness. In my experience, concentration and open awareness are fundamental skills both in meditative and in artistic practices.

Systematical studies on meditation and spiritual practices increased exponentially since the early ‘70s, and nowadays it is possible to observe new contaminations of meditation in performing arts from the perspective of artistic research. A noticeable mark of the institutionalization of such a phenomenon is the birth of scholar publications on the topic, such as the Dance, Movement & Spiritualities journal, founded by Amanda Williamson in 2014, or the volume: Dance, Somatics and Spiritualities – Contemporary Sacred Narratives (Batson, Weber, Whatley & Williamson 2014). More examples of artistic inquiry related to the present topic exist and will be explored over the course of my research in order to situate my own work.

Study plan

Year Autumn term Spring term
2015/2016 – done Doctoral studies; starting the Sitting –project: leading 5 meditation sessions of one hour each for the students of Teak; realizing the Silent Christmas -project: a self-retreat of ten days, providing 100 hours of meditation Doctoral studies; organizer of Tutke Spring Days; concluding the Sitting –project: 15 meditation sessions; organizer of the event Silence-Meditation-Practice: arranging two lectures, with the Tibetan Buddhist nun Ani Sherab (February 20th) and the Catholic exorcist Father Gianni Sgreva (April 30th)
2016/2017 – done Studies; realizing the Unfolding silence –project: combining meditation with writing and other artistic practices (22 solitary sessions of one hour + 7 sessions with another meditator of 2 hour each); organizer of Tutke Pikku Joulu; realizing the Silent Christmas 02 -project Studies; further developing Unfolding silence: interviewing meditators, who will answer through their hands; realizing the Sharing silence –project: 19 sessions of one hour each; rehearsals of La galleria dei sogni lenti –project: a performance based on songs I wrote out of my meditations and dreams
2017/2018 – ongoing Studies; Online retreat in Noormarku (July 31st – August 6th); La galleria dei sogni lenti –performance (Lapinlahden Lähde, August 23rd and 24th); Sharing silence at CARPA 5 symposium Studies; first artistic part: a Vipassanā retreat in a public space, where I will combine some of the ideas developed through these four projects.
2018/2019 Second artistic part – planning Second artistic part, analysis of the collected data, presenting my work at the Mind and Life Summer Research Institute (New York, June 2019?)
2019/2020 Analysis of the collected data, thesis Thesis

 

Sources

Barbiero, Giuseppe. Benessia, Alice. Bianco, Elsa. Camino, Elena. Ferrando, Maria. Freire, Dinajara Doju & Vittori, Rita. 2012/2007. Di Silenzio in Silenzio, Rimini: Anima Mundi Editrice.

Batson, Glenna. Weber, Rebecca. Whatley, Sarah & Williamson, Amanda, eds. 2014. Dance, Somatics and Spiritualities: Contemporary Sacred Narratives. Chicago: Intellect.

Cardeña, Etzel. & Winkelman, Michael. 2011. Altering Consciousness: A Multidisciplinary Perspective. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, LLC

Elenjimittam, Anthony. 1995/1990. Meditazione per la Realizzazione del Sé. Milano: Mursia.

Fabbro, Franco, ed. 2014. Neuroscienze e Spiritualità. Mente e Coscienza nelle Tradizioni Religiose. Roma: Casa Editrice Astrolabio.

Goleman, Daniel & Davidson, Richard. 2017. Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes your Mind, Brain, and Body. New York: Penguin Random House.

Kaplan, Stephen. 1995. “The Restorative Benefits of Nature: Toward an Integrative Framework.” In: Journal of Environmental Psychology, vol.15. Cambridge: Academic Press.

Monk, Meredith. 2010. “The Art of Being Present.” In Lion’s Roar. Online journal. Accessed 19 October 2017. http://www.lionsroar.com/the-art-of-being-present/

Schmidt, Stephan & Walach, Harald. 2014. Meditation – Neuroscientific Approaches and Philosophical Implications. Cham: Springer.

Spatz, Ben. 2015. What a Body can do: Technique as Knowledge, Practice as Research. New York: Routledge.

Thompson, Evan. 2007. Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Science of Mind. London: Belknap Harvard.

Varela, Francisco Javier. Thompson, Evan & Rosch, Eleanor. 2016/1991. The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience. London: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Wallace, Bruce Alan. 2007. Contemplative Science: Where Buddhism and Neuroscience Converge. New York: Columbia University Press.

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