{Zen Installation} Peace Is Every Step

Peaceful New Year! Below is my Zen Installation for Convergent Media university coursework back in March 2012.

I want to create a Zen installation using what I have learned from reading about Zen Buddhism – mainly books by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen Master living in France. Thich Nhat Hanh turns thousand year Zen Buddhism wisdoms into modern everyday life lessons with simple and clear English writing; with real stories and examples of those who have found Zen Buddhism helpful in life, in their relationships with others.

One of the fundamental ideas of Zen is to simplify to the minimal. There are minimalism architectures and sculptures in the 1960s with simple blocks (Tony Smith). In ‘Zen For Film’ by Nam June Paik (1962-1964) there are eight minutes of white film.

What are the degrees of being minimal? How much minimalism is too much? Is being minimal equal to being simple? If a project is too simple, can it convey any meaning?

I tried to think of the most simple and ‘minimal’ installation possible to convey Thich Nhat Hanh’s wisdom: having one of his books on the floor in the middle of a white empty room – nothing else on the floor or on the walls or in the room. The book I first intended to use in the installation is ‘Anger’ – a size A5 paper cover book of more than two hundred pages with eleven parts.

Would people pick up the book to read? They probably would because there is nothing else in the room or on the walls. How much would they read? How much would they get from what they read? Does the empty quiet room help people to concentrate on reading the book? Or after how long they would find it boring and leave?

In this digital era people including myself have been reading less from books but surfing for information more from the internet. There is more quantity than quality reading from an unedited internet source compared to a book written and edited carefully from a known author. However I am not fond of using technology to convey Zen ideas. It’s not ‘simple’ or ‘raw’ enough to be ‘zen’ enough.

To get people’s attention using sounds, we make it loud i.e. ambulance or fire alarm. To get people’s attention using texts, we can make it larger than usual. With that thought, I tried enlarging the pages from the book. After trying with different sizes, I find size A3 is big enough but not too big. A3 is four times bigger than the original size of the book. Bigger than that, the distance between words and the words themselves are a bit too big and would make the texts too much longer and make the readers, one of whom is myself, find it long and tiring to read.

While enlarging pages from ‘Anger’ I picked up another book by Thich Nhat Hanh ‘Peace is every step’. ‘Peace is every step’ contains more than one hundred practical and small Zen Buddhism lessons in daily life. Each lesson is written in one, two or a few pages. I want to hang the enlarged papers over a wire across an empty white room. Longer texts from ‘Anger’ might make it hard for people to follow and there is not enough space for the whole book. Because of that, I decided to use small lessons from ‘Peace is every step’ instead. I picked out the pages I find more relevant than others to mostly western audiences who would be in the room: Non-Surgery, Pillow-Pounding, Parents, What’s Not Wrong?, Blaming Never Helps, Real Love, Hugging Meditation, Investing in Friends, The Art of Mindful Living, Love in Action etc.

I first thought of putting the enlarged pages on the walls as posters running from one to another in the flow of texts in the order of pages . Pages, in that way, would be glued on the walls and stay fixed there. By hanging the papers over the wire, the papers would be more free in space and people can also pick the bottoms of the papers up a bit to read if they want. That way the papers as well as the audiences have more freedom – a more ‘zen’ factor to this Zen installation rather than papers being fixed on the walls.

I often turn on instrumental music when studying – this is using one ‘distraction’ to distract oneself from other distractions. I searched on the internet for Zen and meditating music and was satisfied with mediation music from Tony Scott for this Zen Installation.

Having asked for an empty white room, I got room PDR for my installation. The room is spacious enough however there were many tables, chairs and wine bottles from a party before and I was not allowed to move anything outside of the room. I tried to re-arrange and clean the room to the best I can – pushing all tables neatly one next to another against the walls, chairs under the tables, hiding the bottles away.

My idea was to have the wire hanging on eye level across and in the middle of the room. Trying to adjust to what the room had to offer, I finally had the wire hanging in a diagonal line across the room. I hang the pages starting from the left side of the room, as that is how we read, and the pages go the same order as how they are in the book. I hang them on both sides over the wire. Mediation music by Tony Scott was played using a borrowed iPod attached with a small speaker hidden behind the projection screen in the room.

During the viewing, some people pulled the chairs out from under the table to sit – this is why it would be better if it could be an empty room with no clutter in it so people would concentrate more on going around reading than sitting down. However since I was not allowed to move anything outside, leaning the tables and chairs neatly to the very end sides of all the walls in the room was the best I could do. Despite what some people say it is better having the wire in a diagonal across the room, I actually still think that having it hanging in the middle of the room would give the whole installation an equal space between both sides and therefore would give more and equal space to readers/ audiences from any side of the wire.

Despite how beneficial I think Thich Nhat Hanh’s books and Zen wisdoms are to people, if looking at one normal size book, people might just find it boring and walk away. The moment I opened the room for people to walk in, people start walking around looking at the pages and stopped at the pages to read what is on there – everyone was quiet in the room filled with meditation music. On purpose, I ducked down and walked to the other side of the room divided by the wire and later on people were filling the room reading the pages on both sides of the room divided by the wire. Almost everyone was immersed into reading the pages. The quietness lasted for about half an hour until Raine (my tutor) asked someone to speak up for the critic part.

References:

  1. ‘Anger’, ‘The Art of Power’, ‘Peace in every step’ – Books by Thich Nhat Hanh.
  2. Meditation Music by Tony Scott
  3. Minimalism Installation – Tony Smith
  4. ‘Zen For Film’ – Short film by Nam June Paik (1962-1964)
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