Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Phoenix Paradigm.

The phoenix is a classic representation of life, death, and rebirth in a number of mythologies spanning the globe. This mystical bird, that rises from the ashes of it’s previously burnt form, speaks to more than just primitive fantasy. I believe many of these kinds of symbolic stories hold within them the truth of the many dimensions of the the human experience, being more allegorical than literal. 

To me, the phoenix tells the the story of transformation. In order for the new to be born, first room must be made, and all the experiences leading up to that dissolution feeds the process of renewal. For example, the children we were must be left behind to become the adults we are meant to be. The innocence of childhood is traded for the freedom and responsibility of adulthood. It’s not that one is better than the other, it’s simply the natural progression of form. With the phoenix, there is no fear of that transition, because the surety of renewal is written within the very flames of transformation. This piece was designed to express this system of transformation but in the context of how this applies to the discovery of one’s true self. 

Upon first view, fire encompasses this entire necklace. The focal is flames wrapped around a charred chunk of wood. The wood, although gnarled in texture, has the look of a once carefully carved and refined form. I think we often perfect our personalities in the same way. There’s this wild, unruly, instinct within us, that we smooth, and carve away at it to create our social personality. This construct is often mistaken for being our true self. I don’t believe our true nature is either simply an animal instinct or this refined personality, but in order to discover our true nature, we must offer up the illusion that we are these things to the fire of clear consciousness

The clarity of consciousness is not a complicated thing. It is a natural form, it is simply the act of observation. In the same way that fire consumes, so does this clarity. For example, when we feel angry, we say “I am angry.” If you are able to step back and simply observe this feeling, you begin to realize that this fury, can be boiled down to physiological changes. Perhaps your heart races, your breathing become more shallow, you feel a surge of energy as your endorphins are released. You can begin to see that you are not this feeling, you are just experiencing this feeling, you are feeling angry. So if this is how you are feeling, who is it that is observing this? Who is it that is “feeling”? Where is this “who” located? Where does this observer begin or end?
This process is the beginning sparks of the fire of consciousness. It’s not a process that happens just once, and is finished. It is a process that we renew each and everyday, in each and every moment. As we burn away the false forms that we identify as our “self” that clarity arises. The Phoenix is that clarity, it is just awareness passing through one form to another form, arising and falling, without fear, without judgment. Even as it takes it’s first breath and emerges from the ashes, it begins it’s journey once again toward the fire. In embracing this paradigm I believe we begin to discover what lies beyond language, beyond thought, beyond emotion. We begin to discover that wellspring of simply “being.” This simply “being” is represented by the natural form of the fire agate cabochon. 

Once again I wanted a setting that would allow the stone to be removed, because this simply “being” goes beyond this paradigm of existence. It is the fluent energy that animates our experiences, the space in between each and every atom that fills the entire universe. It can be described but never defined, it is beyond all allegories, beyond the constraints of language, whether symbolic, written, or spoken. It simply is.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

"Chos Kyi'khor Lo" The Wheel of Transformation: From Inspiration to Expression

The process of inspiration to expression is a wonderful, frustrating, and beautiful struggle. A little microcosm of living life, so much a part of us, but from some place beyond us. Here's a brief history of how this particular piece came to be. It began with the oddly shaped stone. It's a faceted yellow opal bullet cabochon from Thailand I found on Ebay. At the time I was cruising for a cab to fit a totally different project. It was unusual enough, I ordered it, and when I got it in the mail, I was surprised at how big the stone actually was. I loved it, but it sat on my bench neglected for a few months. One day, while working on another piece, I looked up, saw the stone and thought "hmmm.... that kind of looks like a lotus bud..." followed by "huh... it's faceted into 8 segments... hmm... Buddhist's 8 fold path," which reminded me of the Wheel of Dharma...
"Chos Kyi'kor Lo" means Wheel of Transformation in Tibetan. In buddhism it's a symbol expressing the path of practice one takes to rediscovering no-self through the 8 fold path. I also remember a friend once explaining to me that  the wheel, in a Native American tradition (can't remember which one,) is a metaphor for all the world's religions and spiritual traditions. Each one is a spoke that leads to the same place- God, enlightenment, truth, or what I like to think of as the source from which inspiration springs. As this imagery brewed in my mind, the Ouroboros began weaving itself between the spokes. The Ouroboros (meaning "he who eats the tail" in Greek) represents the self nurturing, self devouring, cycle of life and more subtly the often contradictory process of the human experience.  For me, the two images became inseparable. It's through seeing this contrary human mind that we can find that path to what's beyond mind. Put simply the process begins with the transformation of "want what I can't have, don't want what I have" into "wait, what is it I'm actually looking for? and who is it that is looking anyways?" 
Many years ago, I think it was my teacher Tulku Tubten Rinpoche, explained that our troublesome minds weren't something to deny but something to present as an offering. To move into that state of suffering, experience it, understand it, know it is a shared human experience, then offer it  at of the alter of transformation as if it were a beautiful bouquet of flowers. The burning of incense very much represents that process, it's through that fire of consciousness that what appears very real and solid, like our tumultuous minds, reveals itself as a vaporous illusion. Hmmm... actually, that sounds like something Mr. Spock would say!
Construction: The petal and wheel design were hand drafted then transferred onto steel backed photopolymer plates. I made 10 different sizes of petals, using seven of those sizes. I started with the pendant first, building the two rings of petals. I then formed the wheel design into silver clay and pierced around the entire design so that the relief would be more dramatic. I opted to solder the bezel wire onto the pendant after firing the base to allow the clay to shrink to it's optimal density and prevent any distortion from occurring. Perhaps I'm overly paranoid about distortion from working with base metal clays! I knew the bail needed to be low profile, so I decided on a hinge and the slotted shelf system. After firing I applied oil paste to the bail, followed by Art Clay Gold Paste, kiln fired and pulled it out of the kiln while still at the fusing temp hoping to encourage crackling and excintuate the subtle inclusions in the stone.  For the Ouroboros on the wheel I allowed the accent gold to cool to room temp in the kiln, as crackling would have distorted the image. I then attached the bail, soldered the bezel to the base, set the stone, and pushed the petals a little inward to curl around the stone.

The base of the vessel is built in Fastfire BRONZclay, and the pieces are all fitted to prevent slippage. The disc in the bottom of the vessel  has a hole for small sticks of incense, or a cone, acts as a catch for ash and is easily removable. Getting it all to fit together did require a little bit of hammering and sanding, but nothing too extreme. I did have to repair some cracks in the main base, repairing and re-firing three times total. All in all I was happy with my first major construction experience with Fastfire BRONZclay. Compared to some previous experimental projects, three re-firings seemed pretty manageable....
The lotus was something of an exercise in patience, which I thought was a rather appropriate theme. I started with the inner ring working my way out, stabilizing each ring  and increasing the petal sizes as I progressed. The curled outer petals were formed by draping each one on a knitting needle until it just began to hold it's shape, then pinched the base of the petal  a little so it would match the shape of the ring of petals it was to be connected to. I reinforced all the connections with syringe paste, sanded, re-sanded, and then sanded it all again with 600 grit wet/dry. For as much as I fussed with it, I'm shocked I didn't drop it or break one of the petals while still in it's greenware state! In the end that it all even fit together was a bit of a miracle,  but any act of creation, artistic or otherwise, is a bit of miracle isn't it?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Anam Cara: The journey inward as told through image and function

Generally I believe everybody is at least three people, the person the world sees, the person our loved ones see, and our true self. Sometimes  I think we tend to close ourselves off from the outside world, work very hard to decorate our outer selves, and hope that that's all people will see us for and yet hate it when they do. To me it's the deepest conflict of self, this desire to have the world embrace who we truly are, yet afraid of the vulnerabilty this position puts us in. The thistles, griffons, hounds, and interlace knots are worked on the outside of the vessel. Griffons and hounds are mythologically tied to protection and gaurdianship, thistles are thorny hardiness surrounding a beautiful bloom. All of this is meant to communicate the complexity of the armour we build around our true self. On the top of the vessel is my "Luck and Love" knot, that's been pierced to allow light to shine through because often it seems it is only with a little luck that we allow that light of love to be cast through our defenses..
.The doors open and we can begin to see the beauty of the stone that lies within. We make ourselves a little more vulnerable to the world, but still remain relatively comfortable within our protective shell. You can see the "Luck and Love" knot casting itself upon the stone, I like to think this is akin to the idea that the love we feel from the outside is actually just a reflection of the love that resides within us, merely a shadow dance pointing to the true source. 
The pendant itself is us when we love one another. We always keep a little hidden, but for the most part leave ourselves exposed. The clasp on the stone's cradle is worked with my "Two Hearts Joined" knot, when we surrender oursleves completely to another, the line between "I" and the other blurs, I believe this is the door to the soul, what can be called our Buddha nature, or that space before a thought arrises.
The full beauty of the stone is only revealed when all of the exterior housing is abandoned. Although man has shaped it, it existed before our conception of it... natural, raw, and filled with the light that sparks every atom in the universe, beyond our comprehension but imbued in every aspect of us. Anam Cara means spiritual friend. A true spiritual friend will guide us past all the beauty and distraction of our many layers to the truth that resides within.