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.
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.
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.
"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."
"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.
“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” — Albert Einstein
In his classic 15th-century Sanskrit manual on hatha yoga, Haá¹ha Yoga Pradipika, the yogic sage Svami Svatmarama wrote, “Looking intently with an unwavering gaze at a small point until tears are shed, is known as trataka by the acharyas.”
One form of trataka is called bahiranga trataka, a fixed-gaze meditation method that involves concentrating your vision on some external object or point. This practice seeks to achieve a “blanking out” of visual perception as a pathway to a meditative state.
For my session today, I stared deeply into an image of a Mandelbrot set, an elegant demonstration of the intimate connection between the mathematical and the mystical:
If c = 1, then you get the sequence 0, 1, 2, 5, 26,…, which tends to infinity. Put another way, all possibilities are implicit (i.e., exist in potential form) in the One.
The Mandelbrot set has been called “the thumbprint of God.” It also has a distinct resemblance to classical depictions of Gautama Buddha seated in a Lotus position.
“Just let dharma be the same as food, and let food be the same as dharma. Dharma is itself food, food is itself dharma. This dharma is what is received and used by all buddhas in the past and future. This food is the fulfillment that is the joy of dharma and the delight of meditation.”
Eihei Shingi, Zen master Dogen (1200-1253)
Dogen makes it clear near the beginning of the essay that there is no separation between food and spiritual teaching. “Dharma” in the following passage implies all of the meanings of the original Sanskrit word: primarily the teaching of reality, but also the truth of reality itself, the elements of that realm of reality, and this teaching as means or path to align with that reality.
November 9 has been a quite stressful and often chaotic date since the late Middle Ages. In 1456, Ulrich II of Celje, the last prince of Celje principality, was assassinated in Belgrade. In 1494, the Medici Family was expelled from Florence. In 1520, more than 50 people were sentenced and executed in the Stockholm Bloodbath. In 1720, the synagogue of Yehudah he-Hasid in Jerusalem was burned down by Arabs, leading to the expulsion of the Ashkenazim from the city. Fifty years later, during the Battle of Fishdam Ford in the American Revolutionary War, a force of British and Loyalist troops failed in a surprise attack against the South Carolina Patriot militia. In 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte led the coup d’état of 18 Brumaire ending the Directory government.
November 9 during the 19th century was relatively calm, but then in 1872, the Great Boston Fire engulfed the city in one of the costliest fire-related property losses in American history. Eight years later, a large earthquake hit Zagreb, killing many and destroying the Zagreb Cathedral. Today in 1888 in London, the city residents were gripped with fear as Mary Jane Kelly became the fifth (and possibly final) victim of the notorious unidentified serial killer Jack the Ripper.
During the 20th century, November 9 was a fairly chaotic date, seeing the Great Lakes Storm of 1913, the most destructive natural disaster ever to hit the lakes (destroying 19 ships and killing more than 250 people) and the sinking of the SMS Emden by the HMAS Sydney in the Battle of Cocos the following year. In 1923, in Munich, police and government troops crushed the chaotic Nazi-led Beer Hall Putsch in Bavaria.
Forty years later, in 1963, an explosion at a coal mine in Miike, Japan, killed 458 people, and put 839 more in the hospital with carbon monoxide poisoning. Two years after that, several American states and parts of Canada were hit by a series of blackouts lasting up to 13 hours. Chaos loomed in the United States in 1979, when a nuclear alarm was sounded as NORAD computers and the Alternate National Military Command Center in Fort Ritchie, Maryland, detected a massive Soviet nuclear strike. Thankfully, after reviewing the raw data from satellites and checking the early warning radars, the alert was cancelled and chaos was averted. In 1993, Stari most, the “old bridge” in Bosnian Mostar built in 1566, collapsed after several days of bombing during the Bosnian War. In 2005, suicide bombers caused chaos across Amman, Jordan, when they attacked several hotels, killing at least 60 people.
These are just a few of the many chaotic events that have marked November 9 throughout history. So perhaps it’s no surprise that today is also recognized as “Chaos Never Dies Day.”
“Chaos Never Dies Day recognizes the turmoil in modern, everyday life. Are things a little crazy at home? Is school a little on the wild side? Is your work place hectic and disorderly? We thought so. Just when things seem to calm down at work and home, along comes something to disrupt your life. Yes, disorder is everywhere. Hectic schedules, changes to plans, unexpected tasks and chores, the list goes on and on and on. Today is designed for you. It’s a day to recognize the chaos in your life. You can best celebrate this day, by recognizing that chaos never dies. Rather, its a way of life. You can partake in this special day, by putting just a little order back into your life. You can start, by picking one thing that is really disrupting your life, and change it…for the good.”
Perhaps instead of picking one “disruptor” in your life, you could do something that may tamp down on all disruptors: meditation.
And while November 9 may be the one day a year to recognize the inherent chaos of life, it’s also notable to know that the date is also the birth, in 1522, of German theologian Martin Chemnitz. Considered by many to be the greatest theologian on the 16th century, Chemnitz is second only to Martin Luther in the historical ranks of the Lutheran church, which was undergoing an extremely chaotic period in the late 1500s.
“It was the latter part of the sixteenth century that proved to be one of the greatest battlegrounds for orthodox Lutheranism, which found itself facing many opponents and varied controversies,” writes Lutheran minister Joshua Zarling. “The Catholic Church, newly revitalized from the council of Trent (1545-1563), was now ready to take a decisive stand against the Protestants. John Calvin had come onto the scene…It was in the doctrines of the Lord’s Supper and the Person of Christ that Calvinism posed its greatest threat to Lutheranism…Under the unsteady hand of Melancthon, Wittenberg itself became a hotbed for Crypto-Calvinists…[a]dd to this the Osiandrian controversy, the Synergists and the Anabaptists…it was…turbulent times.”
Chemnitz, who was one of the most important formulators of the Formula of Concord, the authoritative Lutheran statement of faith, knew very well the value of meditation. He said that “tremendously important matters…can be understood better by pious meditation than explained by human language.”
Will a little meditation help one to accept, process and/or co-exist with the chaos of life? Most signs point to a resounding yes. As the Mayo Clinic notes, “Spending even a few minutes in meditation can restore your calm and inner peace.”
But meditation does require a good amount of concentration, persistence and—at least where chaos is concerned—a certain level of acceptance. As the Buddha once said, “Chaos is inherent in all compounded things. Strive on with diligence.”
“To cook, or to fix some food, is not preparation, according to Dogen: it is practice. You should allow yourself plenty of time; you should work on it with nothing in your mind, and without expecting anything. You should just cook!”