MomenTech, United States

Residency Period: 1 November 2013 - 30 April 2014


Bio

MomenTech is an experimental production studio based in New York City, founded in 2010 by Filipino-American conceptual artist Reynard Loki and Polish-American multimedia artist Maciej Toporowicz. American filmmaker Mika Johnson joined in 2013. Inspired by transnational progressivism, cosmology, post-humanism, ecology, neo-nomadism, futurism and more, MomenTech has created pop culture remixes, instructional works, site-specifc installations, public space interventions and user-generated content pieces, developing over 35 projects and participating in 18 group exhibitions in the United States, Canada, Germany, Italy, Greece, South Africa, China and the Philippines.

momentech.blogspot.com/


On-hiatus Proposal Summary

As of November 1, 2013, MomenTech is on hiatus from any and all creative production for a six-month period as they engage fully with our proposed on-hiatus activity: a daily meditation practice.

MomenTech's hiatus residency also includes meditation research, data collection and progress updates posted to the RFAOH website.

This investigation into meditation continues MomenTech's interest in the practice, which began in 2010 with Field Experiment, an interactive, site-specific audiovisual project that explores meditation, self-hypnosis, the media and our cosmic origins (via Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation, or CMBR) by asking participants to imagine a field after having stared into live television static for a period of 10 seconds. Field Experiment was selected by the Behring Institute of Medical Research to be a part of their first publication for "Placebos for Art," a long-term research project investigating the influence of "art-based placebos" on public health.

Meditation was also a theme in MomenTech's 2011 project Mandala-Tanque, in which pétanque competitors are invited to play a game on the surface of the pétanque court on which a Tibetan Buddhist sand mandala has been drawn. The project was selected for inclusion at the 2011 Dumbo Arts Festival.

MomenTech will resume its normal production schedule on May 1, 2014.

To contact MomenTech, please email: m01123581321345589144@gmail.com.


Final Report

Reynard Loki:

Being the primary writer in MomenTech, the task of composing the group's response to the exit questionnaire naturally fell on me. My suggestion to my fellow collaborators was that I would draft a response from the group as a whole and Mika and Maciej would add their own thoughts. But the more I thought about what we "should" express as a group, the more I realized that it was a bit of a fool's errand. It makes sense: Meditation—the daily practice of which was the main activity of MomenTech's residency—is ultimately an individual journey.

Of course, group meditation is a common practice; I have participated in several such gatherings at the Tibet House in New York during our residency as part of my own exploration into the various styles of meditation. But in the end, meditation is an intensely personal activity that can lead to intensely personal revelations, even as it may help to strip away what is to be one of humans' heaviest burdens: the ego.

The initial structure of our residency was straightforward: Each of MomenTech's three members would engage in an individual daily meditation practice for the residency's six-month period. But while the design of our residency may have been rather simple, its goals were anything but: to "develop mindfulness, concentration, insight, wisdom." That's pretty heavy-duty stuff.

Did we develop any of these aspects? I'd like to say yes, but who can really know? Meditation is not so much a "fix-it" therapy as it is a lifestyle, a way of being present in the world. Perhaps that movement towards "being present" and "being in the present" affected MomenTech's ability to plan for future events around the residency. For example, at the outset, we were all gung-ho about hosting weekly online open meditation sessions via Google Hangouts. That plan never materialized until the very end. (We hosted an open meditation on Google Hangout on the last day of our residency.)

One thing is for sure, MomenTech really did go on hiatus and for the first time in our four-year history, took a break from making art; or rather, taking a break from producing the things MomenTech produces (MomenTech, as a rule, avoids using the terms "art" and "artists.") But is that even possible? Art is often compared to life. And if art, like life, is a continual process, then can an artist truly avoid "making art"? Perhaps MomenTech did not think about, design and build a "product," per se, but the experiences we had, both individually and as a group, during our six month hiatus will forever be a part of all our future work in some fundamental way.

Our residency did "create" one kind of important thing: questions. And perhaps the best thing about our residency with RFAOH. Some of the best effects that meditation can call forth have to do with a growth in awareness. And part of becoming aware is to challenge one's status quo, to continually ask questions. What is art? What does it mean to create it? Can an artist take a break from making art? Is meditation an art form? Conversely, can making art be meditative?

I asked my fellow MomenTechnicians to email me a few lines of thoughts and observations a few days after the residency ended.

 

Maciej Toporowicz:

"Having a surgery and recovery during the residency taught me that meditation has its limits, at least for me," Maciej said. "I wasn't able to meditate, because the post-surgery stress was too much." He added that "having opportunity to meditate more often than usually moved me closer to solving my personal koan, the one I have been trying to solve since a while."

 

Mika Johnson:

"The main challenge the residency posed for me was in relation to self-discipline. On some days finding time to meditate was not an issue, whereas on other days it was almost interruptive, even frustrating. Undoubtedly, this was partly because the residency was not in a physical space, with a community of artists or meditation practitioners working toward a common goal. However, in the end, this absence of a physical space and community made my practice stronger, in the sense that I had to learn to integrate my meditation time with my normal routines and responsibilities, which is also a useful approach to art making as well.

"In the beginning, we had originally set out to answer short daily and weekly questionnaires. We took a lot of time formulating these questions, which were later abandoned. My guess is that the practice immediately became something very personal, which in many ways was difficult to comment on, at least by questionnaire. I responded similarly to the blog, in the sense that I found it challening to write about something that felt entirely personal. I simply didn’t feel I had much to contribute, as the content of that practice was my own subjectivity, not something that I could generalize about or even articulate. In retrospect, I do wish MomenTech had agreed to do one spontaneous drawing before and after each meditation session, as it would have physicalized that response, without rationalizing it. We did this on the last day and all found it surprisingly interesting and satisfying."

"Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through," wrote French author Anais Nin. "Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death."

 

Could taking a break from "creating art" help to avoid a kind of "artistic death"? Perhaps. One thing is for sure, for six months, a residency with RFAOH changed the normal "elected" state of MomenTech. The decision to meditate during our hiatus only heightened the experience.

Finally, on behalf of MomenTech, I would like to thank Matt and Shinobu, the founders of RFAOH, for making this all possible. We are fortunate to have been a part of this program. Through our residency, MomenTech sowed important seeds for the future.


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Connecting the Dots: Meditation, Pranayama, Yoga and Morality

It’s been a week since I started daily meditation for the RFAOH hiatus. I’ve meditated off and on for many years. Not every day, and certainly never taking notes or recording any thoughts or observations. So this experience—meditating every single day for six months, along with my two MomenTech collaborators as part of a “non-art” residency—is a very new one. As I am a less experienced meditator than my two colleagues—and have a deep curiosity about the practice (in particular, its effect on the brain), I am approaching it with the wide-eyed curiosity of a student. As a student, I will be experimenting with various types of meditation, exploring different techniques, researching the history and practice of meditation and also keying into recent and current scientific studies into the neuroscience behind this practice.

The mental benefits of meditation are well known: increased mental clarity, increased awareness, increased sense of calm. I am interested in seeing how a six-month daily meditation routine engenders such results and more specifically: Will my daily meditation practice have any practical (and measurable) physiological/neurological benefit? There is also another, more expansive, component to my study: I am very interested in investigating the connection between meditation and a “moral self.”

Morality has not played a planned role in my meditation practice, which, for over the past couple of years has centered primarily around the concept of “pranayama.” A portmanteau created from the two Sanskrit words “prana” (meaning “life force” and in particular, “breath”) and “ayama” (meaning “to extend or draw out”), pranayama means “extension of breath.” As a meditation technique, it involves focusing one’s total attention on controlled breathing, i.e., breathing in a set pattern, in order to achieve a meditative state. There are many patterns—some intended to achieve a specific effect, others that are geared for the specific physical conditions of the practitioner (i.e., one pattern may work well for someone, but not for another).

One type of pranayama, knows as Alternate Nostril Breathing (ANB), was shown to have a beneficial effect cardiopulmonary functions, according to a 2008 study conducted by the Department of Physiology at Nepal Medical College in Kathmandu  Specifically, the researchers found that healthy young adults who engaged in a 15-minute ANB exercise every morning for four weeks increased parasympathetic activity and lowered respiratory rate and systolic blood pressure.[1] Essentially, this simple practice helps make the human body more efficient and more relaxed, even after just a short time of practicing it.

Pranayama is an ancient practice, mentioned repeatedly in the Bhagavad Gita, a 700-verse scripture that is part of the Hindu epic Mahabharata. Written by the Sage Ved Vyasa (a revered figure in most Hindu traditions) sometime between the 5th to 2nd century BCE, the Gita features a conversation about a number of theological and philosophical issues between the Pandava prince Arjuna and his guide Lord Krishna. The battlefield setting of the Gita is generally viewed as an allegory for man’s ethical and moral struggles.

So does it follow then that, while pranayama has been shown to have a strong connection to the physical body, there is also a connection between breathing and morality? For that, one should look at pranayama as existing within a larger context. After all, it is only one aspect an expansive ancient practice that joins physical, mental and spiritual disciplines developed with one primary goal in mind: To attain a state of permanent peace. The practice? Yoga. The term is derived from one of either two roots: “yujir yoga” (to yoke, join or bind) or yuj samādhau (to concentrate). The term “yoga” (or simply, “yog”) is often interpreted as “union.” In the West, yoga has been considered to be generally a physical exercise, but its origins in ancient India describe a complete life philosophy.

So while my own meditation has been focused primarily on the practice of pranayama, I will be using my six-month hiatus not only to focus on meditation as a subject of academic and quasi-clinical study, including both research and daily practice, but also to use the concept of meditation as a leaping point to investigate the practice within the larger context of yoga. Consequently, my investigation will include a daily yoga practice and an attempt to connect the dots between physical, mental and spiritual realms; specifically understanding the connection between meditation and morality.

One of the thinkers I will be tapping into is Jack Kornfield, an American author and teacher in the Vipassana (i.e., “analytic meditation”) movement in American Theravada Buddhism. Trained as a Buddhist monk in Thailand, Burma and India—including as a student of the Thai monk Ajahn Chah—Kornfield has been teaching meditation since 1974 and is a co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. Having also served in the Peace Corps, working at the Public Health Service in northeast Thailand, Kornfield is keenly aware of the connection between meditation and morality.

“Morality as taught by way of rules is extremely powerful and valuable in the development of practice,” he said. “It must be remembered that it, like all the techniques in meditation, is merely a tool to enable one to eventually get to that place of unselfishness where morality and wisdom flow naturally.”

From pranayama to morality, neuroscience to spirituality, it’s clear that meditation is just a piece of a much bigger and quite complex puzzle. It’s a puzzle that I hope to assemble over the next six months.

 

 

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