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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ZEN when ill

Recently I became very sick and required hospitalization. After few days of tests doctors presented me with a daunting proposition. Open heart surgery with a mitral valve replacement ASAP. I went along. 

The new valve is made from animal tissue, most likely cow or pig. It means that I am not 100% human anymore. Human heart is considered since ancient times to   be a seat of emotions and cradle of soul. I share this sacred spot with animal. Hence dreams of grazing grass on endless green meadows. I am part herbivore.
It makes me spiritually closer to animal world.
Since then I am back home dealing with post operation trauma and pain. My heart was completely reconfigured. I don’t recognize this loud and violent beat. I have problems breathing and bouts of cough. Since, I am involved in residency for artist on hiatus with focus on meditation. I started to think, should I take a hiatus from meditation hiatus or try to meditate?
 
I searched internet and there is practically nothing on subject of meditating while ill. This made me feel, that I should try to meditate despite all physical odds and report it here.
 
It is very difficult to focus on my breath and clear mind. My breath is not even and there are bouts of cough. The most dominant element is the very loud and also uneven heartbeat. It seems to me, that my all frame shakes with every beat.
My sternum was cut all the way from top to the bottom. It is now tied with stainless steel wire, and I feel pain there each time I try to deeply inhale. 
 
I can’t sit upright because of leg swelling. I chose my Corbusier chaise as an alternative and it proved to be best option so far. Half sitting, half laying down with feet up.
The easiest part was to get into NOW mode. You shrink time into a short period that starts with breath in and ends up with breath out. Make it your whole perception of being within this period. Nothing else exist. No future no past. Imagine you are like turntable needle. You read only the very moment of groove.
 
The first time I tried to clear my mind and ventured beyond my thoughts it was a feeling of being a part of totally live system. It was pretty dark all right. I mean there was zero light. Being suspended and traveling in space, or rather being space itself. No body. No directions. Everywhere and nowhere. I tried to focus on volume, but I couldn’t clearly decide whether it was happening on cosmic or atomic level.
 
Next morning during meditation I  turned into a shaking jelly or a very sensitive seismograph. Every heartbeat would send waves of ground shakes penetrating far corners of my body. Not much of being human anymore, just a feeling of being some kind of speeding growth. 
This is pretty far away from typical descriptions of meditative state. It feels neither serene, nor peaceful. It takes me into much more rough mental landscape. I feel being connected to what surrounds me on organic level. Question remains, is this happening because I am overmedicated, or perhaps because my body temporary took over, and it dictates the rules of game. Brain definitely seems to be staying on sideline. 
As for the moment, I can tell, that persisting pain and breathing difficulties create serious obstacles for getting into peaceful meditative state. Many people associated with ZEN meditation maintain that it is necessary to recover before continuing practice. There is also a third way. When sick you meditate on question “who is it that is sick, who feels the illness”? 
Ramana Maharishi says it is a great way to awakening because it is so present and real.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Leave a Comment (4)

Karen wrote on Jan 3:

Thank you for sharing. I wish you a restful recovery.

Matt wrote on Jan 2:

Wow! What an amazing thing. So wishing you a speedy recovery. It makes sense that meditation would be effected, you are self regulating your heart rate in a way and surely as a muscle, its sensitive as it heals. Please take it as easy as you need to.

shinobu wrote on Jan 2:

We somewhat expected it but not this much -- RFAOH surely goes beyond our control and all I can say is really, nothing. Be well -- thanks for being at RFAOH

Milena wrote on Dec 28:

My god, what a residency. I think, it is better to do nothing until you will recover health.

 


Sumi-Rorschach Ink Blots


“Japanese ink painting, also known as suibokuga or sumi-e,” writes Mariusz Szmerdt, a master sumi-e ink painter and a member of the International Chinese Calligraphy & Ink Painting Art Society in Tokyo, “is a creation of pure energy of an artist submerged in a meditative state.” He notes that, “Initially, the art of ink painting was tightly related to the Zen philosophy of minimalism.”[1]

Szmerdt compares the act of sumi-e is “like climbing up the mountain. When still at the base of the mountain, we fail to appreciate its monumental size. However, once we begin our climb, through studies and careful assessment of self, we start to see things from a different perspective.”

I have incorporated a sumi-e ritual as part of my overall meditative practice, but not in the traditional way. Instead of using conventional brush strokes, I create ink blots that resemble the images of the Rorschach test, the famous psychological test named after its creator, Swiss psychologist Hermann Rorschach, in which subjects’ perceptions of inkblots are recorded and then analyzed. The general goal of the Rorschach test is to “collect data about cognition and personality variables such as motivations, response tendencies, cognitive operations, affectivity, and personal/interpersonal perceptions.”[2] Though the Rorschach test has been widely used by psychologists and psychiatrists, it has also been criticized as pseudoscience.

One of the striking elements of a Rorschach inkblot is its symmetry. Rorschach explained this decision:

“Asymmetric figures are rejected by many subjects; symmetry supplied part of the necessary artistic composition. It has a disadvantage in that it tends to make answers somewhat stereotyped. On the other hand, symmetry makes conditions the same for right and left handed subjects; furthermore, it facilitates interpretation for certain blocked subjects. Finally, symmetry makes possible the interpretation of whole scenes.”[3]

And here is a valuable connection. Symmetry is an important aspect of Buddhism. For example, Tibetan mandalas are notable for their strict radial symmetry, a form drawn from nature itself—from galaxies and solar systems to flowers and snowflakes.

“The mandala form is a visual expression of this universal ordering principle of nature, one of the ways in which humanity has sought to relate to and sum up the awesome universe of which we are a part,” writes mandala artist  Shashi Prem. “Mandalas—sometimes literally—cosmic diagrams, attempts to represent the essential elements of the macrocosm in an ordered, coherent manner.”[4]

But there are also conflicting Buddhist ideas regarding this type of natural symmetry. In her 1965 book The Japanese Tea Ceremony, Julia V. Nakamura writes:

“The thatched roof [of a Japanese tea house] suggests perishability; the slender pillars the fragility of life; the bamboo supports suggest lightness; the use of ordinary materials testifies to non-attachment. “Abode of the A-Symmetrical” is also basically Zen, which is the philosophy of Becoming—a dynamic, endless process. Symmetry suggests completeness and the ‘aping of an abstract and artificial perfection.’ In the tea room (sukiya) or in the Japanese house, the decorations are always off-center, the balance occult; sets come in threes and fives; one never finds the artistic representation of a man on display.”[5]

Taking a tradition meditative art form like sumi-e and transforming it through the modern Rorschach technique allows a reflection on dualities—symmetry and asymmetry, external nature and internal psychology. But really, making them is just very relaxing. And, in addition to providing an expression of a meditative mind state—which is not made to exist as “art ” per se—these sumi visual meditations can also be used as tools for practicing bahiranga trataka, a fixed-gaze meditation technique that is part of the Hatha Yoga tradition.

NOTES

[1] Art Gallery of Mariusz Szmerdt. http://sumi-e.pl/
[2] Rorschach test. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rorschach_test
[3] Hermann Rorschach. Psychodiagnostics; a diagnostic test based on perception : including Rorschach’s paper, The application of the form interpretation test (published posthumously by Dr. Emil Oberholzer). Grune & Stratton inc, New York (1942). p15.
[4] Shashi Prem. About Mandalas. http://www.mandalascapes.com/aboutmandalas.html 
[5] Julia V. Nakamura. The Japanese Tea Ceremony. Mount Vernon, New York: The Peter Pauper Press, 1965. pp 29-30.

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East and West

In the first of ‘Miscellaneous Koans’ (Yamada, 1988, pp. 1–7), the practitioner is directed to ‘Stop the sound of the distant temple bell’. This koan would seem to place the practitioner in a space marked by the radical differentiation of dualism. But against the dualism that radicalises and absolutises the evident fact of duality, the koan draws the meditator into an awareness of the bond that exists between perceiver and perceived. It achieves this purpose when the one who hears and listens to the sound of the distant temple bell becomes so attentive to that sound that all sense of a separate self is lost…

 
Compare what Wittgenstein says about logical investigation that does not aim ‘to hunt out new facts’. The whole point here, for Wittgenstein, is that ‘we do not seek to learn anything new by it’. As he says: ‘We want to understand something that is already in plain view’. And he distinguishes what takes place here from the way questions are pursued in the natural sciences. He adds: ‘Something that we know when no one asks us, but no longer know when we are supposed to give an account of it, is something that we need to remind ourselves of ’.
 
Carl Hooper
Asian Philosophy Vol. 17, No. 3, November 2007, pp. 283–292
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Moment that exist right now.

As long as we have some definite idea about or some hope in the future, we cannot really be serious with the moment that exists right now. You may say, “I can do it tomorrow, or next year,” believing that something that exists today will exist tomorrow. Even though you are not trying so hard, you expect that some promising thing will come, as long as you follow a certain way. But there is no certain way that  exists permanently. There is no way set up for us. Moment after moment we have to find our own way. Some idea of perfection, or some perfect way which is set up by someone else, is not the true way for us.

Shunryu Suzuki, “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”

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