Q&A with Rubin Museum’s Shrine Room Projects Artist Charwei Tsai

Q&A with Rubin Museum's Shrine Room Projects Artist Charwei TsaiEach year, the Rubin Museum of Art features a variety of exhibits designed to stimulate learning, promote understanding, and inspire personal connections to the ideas, cultures, and arts of the Himalayas, India, and neighboring regions. One of the current exhibits, Shrine Room Projects: Wishes and Offerings (formerly known as Sacred Spaces), features contemporary works from artists Charwei Tsai and Tsherin Sherpa. Featuring pieces that reflect sacred sites, objects, and practices, the exhibit is designed to complement the Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room located at the center of the gallery.

Audio-Technica is proud to be a sponsor of the Shrine Room Projects exhibit at Rubin Museum, providing headphones for guests to become immersed in all aspects of the artwork on display. We recently had the chance to sit down with artist Charwei Tsai to discuss her featured work in Shrine Room Projects. Continue reading to learn about the message she wanted to convey with her work and the role that audio took in her “Incense Mantra” video.

How did you first learn about the Rubin Museum of Art’s planned exhibit, Shrine Room Projects: Wishes and Offerings, and what made you want your work displayed in it?

I lived in New York for many years and visited Rubin Museum regularly. I have always used its Shrine Room like a sanctuary and for prayers. Elena Pakhoutova from the museum came across my video work Incense Mantra and given that the subject is on offering, she thought it was a good fit to be placed next to the shrine room.

What message did you want to convey through your piece, in regard to Buddhism?

Q&A with Rubin Museum's Shrine Room Projects Artist Charwei Tsai

Image Credit: Charwei Tsai (b. 1980, Taipei, Taiwan) in collaboration with Tsering Tashi Gyalthang (b. 1980, Dharamsala, India); detail of Incense Mantra; 2013; HD black-and-white video with sound, 8 min.; courtesy of the artist

In this work, I inscribed the Heart Sutra in Chinese calligraphy on a piece of incense and placed it to burn on a mirror reflecting the cityscape of Hong Kong. Eventually, the incense and inscriptions disintegrated into ashes and smoke. This work is a contemplation on the first of the Four Seals in Buddhism: All compounded things are impermanent. The understanding or even mere appreciation of impermanence is the core of a Buddhist path.

Article for reference on this subject: https://www.lionsroar.com/buddhism-nutshell-four-seals-dharma/

How did you incorporate sound into your “Incense Mantra” video work?

I used the sound of people reciting the Heart Sutra recorded from temples in Hong Kong in this work. Appearances, sounds, and thoughts represent the ways in which we perceive the world through our body, speech, and mind. The repetition of Sutra recitation is a method to transform these words of wisdom, in this case, a text on impermanence, to become a part of our body memory. Sound through its vibrations is a powerful tool for spontaneous or experiential understanding of wisdom that is beyond the intellect.

What do you hope visitors to take away from their experience interacting with your work?

My intention is for the viewers to be reminded of impermanence and to let go of our habit of grasping. Our body and mind are no different from the incense, they are composites of many components that will eventually disintegrate. This may sound very grim, but the opposite is also true, for emptiness to be perceived as spaciousness. The space between forms that allows for change and growth.

To quote from the Heart Sutra: “Form is emptiness, Emptiness also is form. Form is not separate from Emptiness and Emptiness is not separate from form. In the same way, feeling, perception, formation, and consciousness are emptiness.”

For New York, NY locals, the Shrine Room Projects exhibit is available for in-person viewings from now until September 16, 2019.

What do you think about Charwei Tsai’s work? Let us know in the comments below!

Feature image courtesy of The Rubin Museum

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