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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Interview with Roshi O’Hara (Part 1 of 4)

I met Roshi Enkyo Pat O’Hara one recent chilly evening when she was leading a group meditation at Tibet House in Manhattan. A former professor of interactive media at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts who holds a doctorate in media ecology, Roshi is the Abbott of the Village Zendo, a Zen sangha (i.e., community) in the heart of New York’s bustling SoHo neighborhood. A few weeks later, I had a chance to meet with her at Village Zendo over green tea. In the first part of our chat, Roshi explains what first attracted her to Zen Buddhism, her Zen training in two separate Zen traditions and the famous koan about washing one’s bowls.

How did you come to Zen Buddhism?

I was very drawn to the arts. And that’s what brought me to Zen. I think a lot of us are that way. It was the poetry, the brush paintings, the whole aesthetic, which is uncluttered and raw in a beautiful way. I wanted to know, “What kind of mind makes this kind of art?” So that was my introduction. And then I began to study the teachings as they were translated. I thought at the time—and this was around 30 years ago—”This just makes complete sense to me.” So it was like a philosophy for me initially. I found a Zen center and began to study and I saw a practice that could change my life and allow me to do more things. And I just took to it fabulously.

Was there a moment that you remember that it clicked?

No, for me it was gradual. I’ve had quite a few intense experiences, but I try to minimize those because they just last a minute. And I’ve seen so many people who have had those experiences and who have gone on to have disastrous situations. Those experiences do happen. You’re walking along and you notice your boot crunching into the snow and you realize you’re a part of everything and it’s all wonderful. But it doesn’t mean that you don’t do something really unskillful a few hours later.

Part of the Zen outlook is letting go of those moments and being in the current moment.

Yes, absolutely. Letting go. There is this great koan, or Buddhist teaching riddle, about washing your bowls. The student said to the teacher Joshu, “I’ve just entered the monastery. Please teach me.” Joshu asked, “Have you eaten your breakfast?” The student replied, “Yes.” Then Joshu said, “Then you better wash your bowl.” And that’s sort of the instruction on how to practice Zen: Wash your bowls. Just continually get rid of it and be present in this moment as opposed to grasping for some experience that you had or some idealism that you have about some future experience that you might have. Just be present.

But Zen has such a rich history too and many Zen practitioners love that history, especially with Zen arts and poetry. So there is a connection to tradition and the past—but not necessarily when you’re living your own personal life.

Absolutely, that’s a good way to put it. It’s certainly in us, and if I read Zen poetry as something that I enjoy doing and give classes in teachings and so forth, then that’s going to part of me. That’s part of my mental and emotional composition. So I’m naturally going to respond in that way. But Zen tries to help us not get stuck in any of that, to help us be open and free-flowing and moving and to appreciate that it can be—for example, I’ve always been involved in new technologies. There are people who think you can’t do things electronically and so forth who are very fixed in sense of ritual and that you can’t do koan study on Skype or something like that but they’re not able to move and be free-floating in the world.

If you get stuck in tradition, it can be a weight.

Exactly. 

Your own experience with Zen has actually been rather untraditional. You received priest ordination from Maezumi Taizan Roshi, whose teaching was uncommon in that it joined Soto priest training with the study of the Rinzai koan system. Can you describe these two systems and why it is unique to learn them together?

It’s always difficult to talk about this because the minute you talk about “difference,” people think there’s a big difference, and in a way, they’re not so different…but there are two main schools in Japan and also the other Asian countries: Soto and Rinzai. Soto is the Zen of the farmers. It’s a “people Zen.” Although they have a lot of ritual, it’s very open for anyone to come and practice. The main practice of Soto is to just sit. 

So zazen is important? 

Yes, zazen is very important in Soto teaching. On the other hand, in the Rinzai tradition, there’s more activity, a lot of shouting in the zendo to wake people up. Rinzai was the religion of the nobility and the samurais. The practice we do there is koan study, centered around a question, like, “What is your original face before your father and mother were born? Don’t tell me, show me.” It’s aggressive from the teaching standpoint. We do koan study because Maezumi Roshi studied it. It is said that there’s no difference between someone who has that clarity through the lightning strike of Rinzai or someone who walks through the dew all night long. He gets just as wet as the person who is in a thunderstorm.

That’s a great way of putting it. Maezumi Roshi taught both lines of thought? 

His parents were Soto. His father was a judge in the Soto hierarchy. And he had six brothers, all of whom were Soto monks. So he grew up in the Soto tradition. Then when he went to college, he lived with a Rinzai master and studied that system. He came to the United States as a young man and he was so taken by the energy and curiosity of Americans that he decided to stay. He ended up founding the Zen Center of Los Angeles. He taught both Rinzai and Soto. So we dressed like Soto and have the rituals of Soto, but we also do koan study. That’s what makes it unique. We’re not the only group. There’s also another lineage known as Sanbo Kyodan, which is derived from both the Rinzai and Soto traditions. Aitken Roshi was a leading American practitioner of this form.

How did you start working with Maezumi Roshi?

I started studying in upstate New York, and after a few years of study, Maezumi Roshi came to town and I had one of those experiences where I just really connected. Where I had been studying was quite hierarchical; it was something like what I imagine the Marines must be like. I thought I could overlook that part. But when I met Maezumi Roshi, there was a softness yet a real power. He died before I finished studying with him, so that’s why I finished my studies with his first Dharma heir, Tetsugen Bernie Glassman, who has been very involved in social justice. And that was a perfect connection, because I’ve always been into that, long before I got into Zen.

You received “Dharma transmission” and “inka” from Bernie. Can you explain that?

When you receive Dharma transmission, you can be called a teacher. You’re a sensei. Your teacher basically says, “I believe in you and you can teach the Dharma.” And “inka” is the final seal of approval. I have five Dharma successors, five people I’ve made senseis since I became a sensei in 1995: two college professors, two therapists and a potter.

Five transmissions in 18 years isn’t a lot. It must be rigorous training.

Yes, it is. And then there are people who are equally gifted and equally give their time, but they are just not teachers. They are painters. They are poets. Being a teacher is a unique mindset.

 

Stay tuned for the second part of my chat with Roshi O’Hara, in which she explains the concept of mindfulness and her own introduction to meditation. – Reynard Loki

ABOUT ROSHI PAT ENKYO O’HARA

Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara serves as Abbot of the Village Zendo. She received priest ordination from Maezumi Roshi and Dharma Transmission and Inka from Bernie Tetsugen Glassman. Roshi Enkyo’s lineage comes through Maezumi Roshi whose teaching was uncommon, bringing together Soto priest training and study of the Rinzai koan system. Moreover, Roshi Glassman’s focus on social engagement and peacemaking underlies much of her vision of Zen practice. Roshi is a Founding Teacher of the Zen Peacemaker Family, a spiritual and social action association. Roshi’s focus is on the expression of Zen through caring, service, and creative response. Her Five Expressions of Zen form the matrix of study at the Village Zendo: Meditation, Study, Communication, Action, and Caring.

ABOUT VILLAGE ZENDO

The Village Zendo is a community of people who come together to practice in the Soto Zen tradition. The Village Zendo offers zazen (sitting meditation), one-on-one instruction with a teacher, dharma talks, chanting services, retreats, workshops and study groups. Co-founded in 1986 by Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara and Sensei Barbara Joshin O’Hara, the Village Zendo is committed to authentically continuing the Zen tradition while keeping it contemporary and relevant to today’s world. The Village Zendo is located in lower Manhattan, offering a place of healing and sanctuary in the midst of one of the world’s busiest and most vital cities.

http://villagezendo.org/

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