by Xiaolu Wang / Artist-In-Residence 2022
If you look deeply into this flower, you see a cloud, because you know that if there is no cloud there will be no rain, and this flower cannot manifest itself. So looking in the flower you see an element you don’t call flower. But if you remove the cloud from the flower, the flower cannot be there. And if you look deeply you see the sunshine. Without the sunshine, nothing can grow. I can touch the sunshine by touching the petal of the flower. If you remove the sunshine, the flower will disappear.
— Thich Nhat Hanh
Note: a reference is made in this reflection to witnessing a courtroom case on sexual assault.
Two days before handing in my work-in-process, I sat in a courtroom for four hours, witnessing a case on sexual assult that happened four years ago. Feeling oppressed in a courtroom by the cold temperature suited for the judges’ robes and the lawyers’ suits, by the inflexible rules, by being ordered by the judge to sit like “Mount Rushmore statues,” by linear time, by the official posturing of the officials … I realized that this is a certain intellectual space with a certain flavor of persuasive storytelling. Rationality rules every detail here. And my body doesn’t lie about its discomfort and an amount of great doubt in the system. What is the “sound of the one hand” in a place like the court? If the law could borrow from poetics, I have the potential to become an excellent lawyer. If sexual assult cases and the abortion ban are handled by Zen teachings, lived experiences, treasured paradoxes, and the capacity to hold contradictions, consent and choice could be called by other names. Relational ways of living would be valued as priorities. Isolation and shame probably would not fester into so much fear … but maybe this is my rational reasoning talking again. The world could just explode from a utopian harmony.
Carl Jung wrote that “koans aim for the complete destruction of the rational intellect.” That’s why I named my piece “no rational intellect found.” A koan, to me, is a playful riddle that doesn’t seek a straightforward answer; it suspends the habit of logical reasoning. Carl Jung wrote that “koans aim for the complete destruction of the rational intellect.” That’s why I named my piece “no rational intellect found.”
I resonated with two koans for this residency, and an excerpt of Thich Nhat Hanh’s writing on nondiscrimination and nonself. My process included astrology readings, taking walks, making video sketches, going through my own video archives, attending conferences, having lots of phone conversations, writing, procrastinating, shaving my hair off, going to the lakes, cleaning out the wardrobe, biking, hustling multiple gigs to make ends meet, exhaustion from applying for grants, cat sitting, fly fishing for the first time, feeling blocked, listening to poetry, and spending lots of emotional labor on personal relationships. These are just a fraction of what I can acknowledge that happened in the course of the residency, without even getting into the larger context of shootings, lockdowns in China, Russia’s invasion, inflation, gas prices, and the release of “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
My lived experiences during the residency challenged my understanding of a nondiscriminating mind. Every moment is an opportunity to return to the breath, to drink more water, to rest, and to accept that there is nothing to belong to and there is no identity to “have.” My work-in-process is a poetic meditation on cultivating a nondiscriminating mind. I used footage of shadows, wind, trees, clouds, flickering light, my room in the morning, plants, water, rainbow, shadow puppetry of a fake flower, and snow to illustrate the idea of “inter-being.” Ambient sound accompanied the footage and the texts of koans and Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings. By asking speculative questions, an alternative answer emerges, away from the trap questions.
Kah is natural at expressing where they are at, and sent me timely affirmations such as “my art resides in the depth of my living,” which held me together as I exported my work at 3am. Thank you Giizhi for teaching me the word for “canoe” in Ojibwe as “kiss the water.” I will always remember the poetics of the word that illustrates the relations within. I remember Madeleine’s spider webs, ways of paying attention, and how you locate yourself and speak to a specific sensibility directly in the vital work of surviving the catastrophes on our planet. Thank you Melody for grounding us with Toni Morrison’s “The Site of Memory” in your presentation with Giizhi — that quote about flooding and remembering and that “all water has perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was,” makes me feel less alone, like a lingering scent in the storm. Thank you Pádraig for an unforgettable workshop on close reading and listening to each other’s art, and how I can begin my work differently depending on the community of artists I am a part of. Thank you Krista for honoring the affect and limit of language, and sharing the transformation in you that is always present in the work of On Being. I have no doubt that Jhaleh is the most meticulous note-taker in a room, always bringing back a moment that resonated with you, which is a thick record of how “you loved.” I remember talking with Eddie on the phone in a noise-filled subway station about name changes when my signal was interrupted. I didn’t want to end the call, but Eddie heard the desire in a different way. The desire is intact, and it won’t fade after this moment. So we ended only one of many conversations yet to be continued. It takes a deep listener to name the situation one couldn’t name while being in it, and that is what Eddie does. Thank you Lil or DJ Lil Chaos, for always greeting me with personal check-ins when life breathes down my neck, and how you make yourself available to offer assurance, conversations, and care-filled packages to melt away anxiety. I love that you embrace chaos as a part of you! Thank you to The On Being Project for inviting me to be a part of this residency in these complicated, chaotic, and alive times!
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