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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recent comments

On Dec 12 2018, Carl commented on Meditation for Rural Railroad Crossings by MomenTech: Yes![...]

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Interview with Roshi O’Hara (Part 3 of 4)

In the third part of our chat, Zen master Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara talks about Zen art, walking meditation and her “Five Expressions of Zen.” To read Part 1, click here. To read Part 2, click here.

Your Five Expressions of Zen are meditation, study, communication, action and caring. How did you come to develop these expressions?

There is a rubric, in the Tibetan tradition in particular, of the Five Buddha Families, each of which represents one aspect of an enlightened mind. That’s what inspired me to develop the Five Expressions. They cover what we need to cover.

What makes Zen Buddhism unique in the Buddhist practice?

First we have to look at the cultural source. Zen Buddhism is profoundly influenced by Taoism. Tibetan Buddhism was profoundly influenced by the indigenous Bon religion of the Himalayas. That was a mystical tradition, so a certain mysticism flowed into the Buddhism that arrived in Tibet and Nepal. Likewise, the Buddhism that went to Southeast Asia incorporated cultural elements of those regions. In the early 19th century, Westerners did not know that those were all variants of Buddhism and thought they were different religions. They looked so different and they they began to realized that they were all talking about this person called Buddha. [laughs.] And Zen means “mind.” It’s Taoist, so it tends not to be deity-oriented, much more secular, much more grounded in the everyday. Zen “says” we don’t believe in writing and conversation. However, what’s a little embarrassing is that there’s more written in China and Japan than in the other traditions. Zen had an appeal to the intellectuals in China, and then Japan. But our form of practice is to continually critique the use of language as a way to understand the world.

Is that why there’s a lot of silence in Zen? 

Exactly. And there’s also a lot of [makes sudden loud yell] to break things up, which says you’re not going to capture it with words. Words are fine. But they are not the truth. So that’s fundamental to the Zen tradition. Whereas, say, in the Tibetan tradition, there’s much more attention to analytical thought, more scholarship, more debate. In the Southeast Asian tradition, there’s an incredible emphasis on the “Vinaya,” or rules that outline morals and ethics.

As part of my own meditative practice, and because I’m also a visual artist, I started doing sumi ink drawings. How can this type of activity help achieve mindfulness?

Because they really are the same thing. You have your brush ready, you have your ink and paper ready. And you take a moment, a breath, and then pick up the brush and start painting. That’s it. That’s what we’re doing on the cushion. These practices interact with one another quite beautifully.

Do you think that because of the heavy influence of the arts in the Zen Buddhist tradition, that artists and artistic type might gravitate more towards the Zen style of Buddhism as opposed to the more theory-heavy Tibetan Buddhism or the more yoga-centric Buddhism of India? 

That’s certainly true of this sangha. We have a lot of artists here. Most Zen communities I’ve experienced have a strong artistic element.

Can you recommend one Zen artist or poet as a good introduction to the artistic creativity of Zen philosophy?

Definitely check out the Edo-era poet Bashō. He was a great master of haiku. Also Ryokan, who was a late 18th- and early 19th-century Buddhist monk and hermit who revealed the essence of Zen life through poetry and calligraphy. And Hakuin Ekaku, a  painter and calligraphist from the late 17th- and early 18th century who helped revive the Rinzai school of Zen. I really suggest going to the Japanese wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

How is Zen meditation different from other meditation traditions?

The body, breath and mind are the foundation, the tripod, of Zen meditation. We do not do affirmations, mantras or Metta, a Theravada tradition that involves sending loving thoughts to others. We don’t imagine deities. We’re actually facing the wall. If someone says to me, “Oh, I’m starting to see something,” I’ll tell them, “Well maybe your posture isn’t right.”

It’s really more basic. More raw.

Absolutely. Ordinary. Plain water. No traces.

Some meditators recommend closed eyes so that you turn inward, some say half-closed so your mind doesn’t think it’s time to go to sleep. There’s also Hindu “fixed-gaze” technique of trataka in where the eyes are open and staring at a single point. Which technique do you teach?

We instruct eyes half-open, looking down. This prevents you from having hallucinations or sleepiness. In my experience, the wide-open technique tends to put too much strain on the eyes and they start to water. And you want your eyes relaxed.

Obviously a big part of meditation is about sitting. Can you explain walking meditation?

We do it all the time. We sit for half an hour and then the bell rings. We stand, and we do one of three different kinds of Zen walking meditation. There’s very slow walking, so you take a half-step with every full cycle of the breath. Talk about mindful. You have to be very aware, or you’ll start walking fast. It’s inhale, exhale, half a step, inhale, exhale, half a step. That was at the temple where I studied in Japan. And it was so fascinating; I’d see these guys across the hall and you never saw them move, but somehow, after five minutes, you’d look over and they were in a different location. It was so gradual, it was amazing.

It’s like butoh. 

Yes, very much so. It’s very Japanese. So we would do that for five minutes and then we’d hit the clappers a normal walking meditation. Now, when we go on retreat and we can go outside, sometimes we’ll lead the group out. But everybody follows one another in a line. And the third kind of walking meditation moves at a trot. We don’t do that very often. That’s a Rinzai style. But everyone does it at some point. If I feel things are getting really sleepy, I’ll say, “OK, let’s speed up now.”

I know several people who tried to incorporate meditation into their daily lives, but weren’t able to stick with it. What would you recommend to them?

In my experience, the only way to do it is to join a group. That is just it. And I’m not a “joiner” and I could never join groups, but it’s what I have learned through my own life experience and the people who have come. Maybe there are a few people who can sit on their own, but not very many. But when you come here, you agree to sit still for 30 minutes. You’re not going to get up and check you phone, because we won’t let you. We’ll say, “Sit down.” [laughs] What’s most important is to find a group, a place that where you like the people and the setting that will make you want to go and sit. That’s all it takes.

Stay tuned for the fourth and final installament of my chat with Roshi O’Hara, in which we talk about social justice, compassion and whether or not meditation can be used for evil ends. — 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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