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Buddha Blown Up. Again & Again & Again
by Allan Appel | Oct 16, 2013 12:06 pm
Posted to: Arts & Culture, Visual Arts
Talk about impermanence. This Buddha is here today and gone in about ... ten minutes.
That’s because Lewis deSoto‘s unique artistic tribute to his deceased father is an inflatable balloon of a Buddha 25 serene feet long with his head resting on a pillow that is also an electric fan.
Ten minutes to inflate and 30 to deflate. Call it birth and death and rebirth all over and over again.
This wonderful piece, by turns deeply moving and goofily childlike, is part of a show called All That Remains: Material Remembrances in Love and Loss.
It’s at the Institute for Sacred Music or ISM Gallery behind the Yale Divinity School off Prospect Street. It’s open Tuesday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. and weekends noon to 4 p.m. The show runs through Oct. 24.
I’d get there around 5:30 on a Wednesday. That’s when deSoto’s Buddha deflates. The loss of air causes wrinkles in the face first and then the hands, each time different, but each time reminiscent over a gripping ten-minute period, of a rapid aging and dying process.
“That’s when the artist says he takes his last breath. When he’s inflated, he’s reborn,” curator Anya Montiel said during a recent walk-through.
Click on the play arrow for a quick precis of deSoto’s installation provided by the curator, who is an American Studies graduate student at Yale. Before that she worked in curatorial departments at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. Thus her familiarity with the work of deSoto, who in addition to being a Buddhist is also a Native American.
Montiel, herself a Tohono O’odham [Desert People] Native American from Arizona, made a point of the artist’s multiple identities.
“I want to open peoples’ minds to Native American artists,” she said
She opined that people’s perceptions are stuck in the notion of beads and feathers, not Buddhists. As a Native American artist, you can be Buddhist or Catholic, or anything. She said she even knows Jewish people who are also Native American.
The third layer of this show has to do with the universal theme of how you memorialize, or make less than temporary, the presence of a departed loved.
So Montiel has packed a lot into a show with just three artists in one room.
Rick Bartow’s Traumbild (pictured) offers an image of how the real world and the dream world mix and jump the gap between humans and animals.
Bartow has another moving image in the show, also pastel and graphite on paper, that shows him embracing his wife who died of breast cancer. Her breast is a skull, his bespectacled face is at her shoulder in a last embrace. But his arm is eerily around her waist in an embrace that suggests something outlasting death.
Montiel said Bartow, a Vietnam War veteran, lives on the Oregon coast where he has been affected by the animals he encounters. They find their way into his work. “Even in the afterlife a couple is not separated,” she observed.
The third artist showing is Judith Lowry. Her tall acrylic on canvas painting And He Glittered When He Walked, (pictured to the left) memorializes Harry Fonseca, a Native American artist (his work Stone Poem is to the right) who before his sudden death was an important influence on younger generations of practitioners.
Whether he could really walk on water or not, his influence, in the ripples that flow from him, are undeniable, said Montiel as she interpreted the work.
Humility and impermanence might be core values of Buddhism, but this balloon Buddha is definitely the star of the show.
The project began for deSoto as a way to memorialize his dad with a digital photograph of a 12th century reclining stone Buddha in Sri Lanka. The artist got in touch with a company in Los Angeles that builds bounce houses and inflatable hot dogs and other sales items to string aloft to attract customers for car dealerships.
Montiel said that for the artist as well as the balloon company the project was a first, and an adventure. It involved specialized stitching and keeping some detail from the Sri Lankan statue, such as the curls to Buddha’s hair, but having to forgo other detail.
deSoto has two other versions, one blue that has been shown in Romania and a golden balloon Buddha shown in Tokyo. At those venues,attendees have been allowed to bring out their pillows and to meditate.
Montiel hopes to offer the same meditation opportunity on Prospect Street. She has reached out to the Buddhist groups both in town and at Yale.
No word on whether Montiel will allow the meditation during the inflation or deflation cycle of the balloon.
The artist specifies that the fan’s noise be permanently on/ “The white noise makes you conscious of your own breath,” Montiel said.
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