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Lions Roar : September 2013
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2013 61 This is a departure from the gray scale that has long been Ando’s focus. She’s a descendant of the celebrated samurai- sword maker Ando Yoshiro Masakatsu, and following in his footsteps, her princi- pal material is steel. She has made whimsi- cal steel sculptures of traditional Japanese shoes, steel kimonos emblazoned with her Japanese family’s crest of wisteria, and even a steel skateboard. But over the years her chief passion has been creating two- dimensional steel panels. They are, effec- tively, steel canvases on which she “paints” by sanding, grinding, and applying heat and patinas. Look at these panels in one state of mind and they are abstract fields of nothingness. Look at them again and they are vast vistas and distant horizons. “I am putting forth imagery that is uni- versal,” explains Ando. “Anyone can look at a rectilinear form that is bisected and say horizon—land and sky, or sea and sky. That is a natural division of space to any human. It’s a universal language and, I hope, a comforting language.” Wanting her art to speak to everyone is important to Ando because her per- sonal experience straddles East and West. Her mother is Japanese and her father is a first-generation Jewish Russian American. Growing up, she split her time between her family’s temple in Japan and living off the grid on twenty-five acres of red- woods in California. “I very much feel American,” she says, “but I’m also greatly inspired by my Buddhist background and living in Japan.” The Buddhist concept Ando keeps coming back to in her work is imperma- nence. There’s sadness in it for her, but also beauty. Ephemerality is what con- nects everything and everyone, she says. Steel holds up bridges and buildings and conjures up a sense of permanence. Yet even steel, one of the strongest substances we have on Earth, will at some point dis- solve. This industrial metal reminds us of its vulnerability by reflecting the fleeting- ness of light and absorbing shifting color. Sparked by her grandfather’s robes, soothingly colored squares of steel canvas are now hanging on Ando’s studio walls, and near the door there’s a majestic steel kimono with shades of pink and red on the sleeves and skirt. She places in my hands a cube of solid aluminum, tinted lilac. “Monochrome color meditations” is how Ando describes her new steel panels in blue, gold, green, and purple, as well as the circular “mandalas” that she makes from a variety of metals. Not only do her color meditations invite the viewer to find stillness, the process by which Ando cre- ates them—applying one layer of pigment each day—is also meditative. She has always approached her stu- dio work as a contemplative practice. As soon as Ando enters her studio, she does sitting meditation. Then, following her family’s Nichiren tradition, she chants and prays. After that, mindful of her actions and her breath, she works on her art, fully absorbed in each task. She calls the way she works “walking meditation” but explains that it’s more meditation of movement that is based on traditional walking meditation. Ando doesn’t have a particular temple that she attends in the U.S. because, as she sees it, her family’s temple is something she carries within her. “I’m not a Buddhist who feels the need for a certain cushion or 100 percent silence,” she says. “In my upbringing, I learned that practice—being conscious, being mindful—is like brushing your teeth. It’s an everyday thing.” Sanford Biggers B-bodhisattva The disk of glass is seven feet wide and hand etched with an image of a lotus. Crisp, clean, and modern, it’s a calm- ing and pretty piece—until you get close enough to see the details. Each lotus petal is the cross section of a slave ship, based on actual eighteenth-century dia- grams depicting the most efficient means of storing human cargo. The people are packed shoulder to shoulder. The lotus is a Buddhist symbol of Top: Ando tidying the makeshift altar in her studio. The Buddha statue is made of iron so she won’t damage it with acid or fire while working. Above: Ando’s stainless steel Furisode Kimono, which she describes as a hybrid of armor and jewelry. Below: Mandala Vermillion, 2013. PHOTOSBYLIZAMATTHEWSPHOTOSCOURTESYOFTHEARTIST