10 November 2010

[art] There's Tibetan Monks In The Library, Making A Mandala

I have had a passing interest in temporary art, sand paintings and the like, so when The Wife™ scryed that Tibetan monks were going to be creating a sand mandala on the 3rd Floor lobby of the Multnomah County Library's Central Branch, in downtown Portland, we just had to go see this.

Construction of the art began somwhere around 5 or 6:30 PM, and we ran a little behind. Whatever benediction was performed was over before we got there, but we didn't miss too awful much.

As things wore on, I realized that I was watching something I enjoy watching ... artists at work. Oddly, I didn't realize that before. Strange for me.

The opening moves for the mandala is to construct the layout skeleton on which the design will be "hung", and the first thing to do here is to make the construction lines. This is accomplished - on a square table - by something so mundane as snapping chalk lines. A great many of them, as it turned out. By the time they were moving on to laying in the design itself, the table was an absolute hash of fine chalk lines creating a most astoundingly-detailed grid.

On a table to one side sat the colors and their application tools:

... patiently awaiting their employ. The colored sands, we found, were pigmented with opaque watercolors, presumably non-toxic.

The layout tools, some of which lay next to the sand funnels:

... consisted of tools hardly any more complicated than what the average elementary schooler would use in geometry class. Rulers. Compasses. And that's about it. The white pencils will be used to lay in the actual design's lines; they look, for all the world, to be nothing more than white china markers.

A great number of patrons milled about the work at first. A photograph of the Dalai Lama occupied what looked to be an altar used for the opening blessing, in front of which were lined brass bowls filled with rice, incense sticks, and water with saffron strands in. Off in a corner, as with every travelling act, a table for vending merch.

But the center was occupied by the table upon which the design was being constructed, complete with four Buddhist monks, garbed in red robes with blue piping along the arm-holes. They allowed us to get unexpectedly close. Though they seemed to be aware of us, our presences - and our wordless insistances to get close enough to get good flash photography, from which nobody discouraged any of us - deterred them not at all.

This I understand. When I drew all the time, much more than now (and as much as I ought to be doing) I occasionally drew in public for people who were watching, and once in the zone, I didn't care who was watching. Me, the pencil, and that paper were the only things that mattered in the universe.

Drawing has always been a kind of meditative activity. And why not?

As the construction lines became numerous enough, the china pencils, rulers, and smaller compasses were pressed into service.

At the time I was curious as to how the design was going to be completed if they rubbed the chalk markings away; at the time, I didn't realize that the chalk marks were meant to support the white wax markings. The table did seem to hang on to the chalk though, and the lady who was the monk's "tour manager" (this being a fundraiser for their monastery, which is located in southern India) told us that the table's surface, essentially, had the "tooth" required, just like with paper, to hold the marks for as long as needed.

The table was square, but there was nothing ritualistic about its dimensions. Regular squares and circles make practical sense, and while the design can scale up and down a little, the size is just right to do the work.

It was at this point that I really began to understand what was going on with the chalk and pencil markings. The intricate construction grid is staring to be brushed away, but if one can look close enough in the web-resolution picture above, the details of the final design are beginning to emerge as curves are now laid in.

A bit of a better angle with still more curves laid in. The familiar mandala design is beginning to emerge. One more thing before we all had to leave the library, and that was the snapping of more chalk lines, and the laying out of big circles that will enclose the interior design.

With this, the mandala's design is starting to really come out from the chalk lines.

Four Tibetan monks, one to a quarter, working in concert, talking little, but in tune with each other, taking cues from one another, laying the foundation for an artwork that is the definition of ephemeral.

They'll be working on it for a few more days, however.

We will be trying to get by there by Thursday to see the progress. Stay tuned.

MultCoLib info, including the sponsoring organizations links, can be had here: http://www.multcolib.org/events/collins/mandala.html

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Alan Cordle said...

Quite cool photos and description. I want to go today, but I suspect the lib's closed.

Samuel John Klein said...

Not according to The Oregonian, nor to the Library's holiday closure list at http://www.multcolib.org/hours/mcl-holiday.html.

From what I'm reading, it should be open today.