By Courtney Taylor (Photos by Alice Wack)
Guest Curator Dr. Paula Arai had a vision for the Painting Enlightenment exhibition to be experienced as a contemplative journey. Museums almost always consider themselves reflective spaces, but less often create spaces that encourage active reflection. Our museum has an amazing interactive gallery targeted to kids, but throughout our galleries there are less opportunities for interactivity. Adults want to interact too!
With addition of a few simple activities to Painting Enlightenment, with low barriers to participation, we’re encouraging reflection and a shared experience among our visitors that fosters not only a more engaging experience, but also a sense of community and agency. We ask visitors to share a thought, tie a knot, and write with water. By participating, visitors generate bits of content that add to the experience of others, so some of the magic of the exhibit is in their hands.
Each of the activities is on point with fundamental core concepts of the exhibition. The activities demonstrate our shared experience, the fluctuating nature of all forms, and the impermanence of beauty:
With the addition of what we’ve affectionately termed the “knot wall” behind the scenes we’ve created a space evocative of the O-mikuji tradition, in which paper with fortunes are tied to Buddhist temples. The space essentially asks visitors develop positivity or dissolve negativity by writing a “mindful intention” and tying it to the wires. The actions of writing and tying will require one to stop and engage further in the reflection to complete the task—yet their thoughts remain private, tied into a knot. Leaving your thoughts among those of other visitors to stay permanently in the gallery creates a shared experience and allows visitors to contribute to the culture of the exhibition.
Our word cloud creates a more public experience in which visitors can see each other’s thoughts. Words can be input via text or in the gallery (text SCROLL to 37607). As the words input repeat, they grow larger allowing visitors to see how their thoughts align with others, creating yet another shared experience. Changing with each contribution, this interactive is also meant to demonstrate the constancy of flux. Again, each visitor impacts the experience of another by creating content.
Buddha Boards included in the gallery are plain fun. Buddha Boards create the same satisfaction of a Magna Doodle—a toy I still pick up as an adult when I happen upon one—but add a sense of delicacy. You write on the board with water and your marks immediately disappear. The barriers related to leaving a lasting mark to be seen by others disappear, encouraging experimentation and joy in making marks—beauty in impermanence.
The boards also allow visitors to try their hand at the calligraphic marks that form the basis of Iwasaki’s process since each of his images is created from the 256 characters of the Heart Sutra text.
The exhibition is designed to create a calming, meditative experience. Cool grays and inky blacks alongside our zen garden or the 17-foot view into the vastness of our universe are perfect spaces to grab of our pillows, have a seat, and enjoy breathing in and out.
Courtney Taylor is LSU MOA's curator.