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Lions Roar : September 2013
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2013 62 transformation. For artist Sanford Big- gers, making a lotus out of slave ships was a way of transcending a painful history. Biggers does not consider himself a Buddhist but he is strongly influenced by Buddhism. Buddhist teachings on the Mid- dle Way were what first captured his atten- tion because, as he sees it, they relate to growing up black in America and learning to cope with both subtle and overt racism. For Biggers, living the Middle Way means not letting things that are good or bad take him too far away from being centered. In Biggers’ haunting installation Blos- som, he explores the experience of African Americans. This large-scale piece can be viewed as a tree growing out of a piano or a piano hanging out of a tree. The instrument is playing Biggers’ version of “Strange Fruit,” a song made famous by Billie Holiday. It is about lynching. “The tree sees the good and the bad,” Biggers says. “The tree sees everything.” Trees have indeed been used for lynch- ing, but it was also under a tree that Sid- dhartha obtained enlightenment. The tree transcends dualities. In 2004, Biggers spent four months in Japan doing an artist residency and prac- ticing meditation at a Soto Zen temple. To prepare for the residency, he went to vari- ous shops in his Harlem neighborhood and bought hip-hop jewelry. Then, once in Tokyo, he had the collection melted down and shaped into singing bowls, which were polished and engraved with the words Hip Hop Ni Sasagu, meaning “Farewell to Hip-hop.” “Hip-hop had gone from a rebel type of music that often had political and poi- gnant messages to something that’s all about bling and money,” says Biggers. “In that respect, I thought the spirit of hip- hop had died.” As a memorial, Biggers performed a bell ceremony at the Zen temple. He was joined by the head monk and fifteen other participants, none of whom were profes- sional musicians. Each participant was invited to strike their assigned singing bowl whenever they felt it was appropri- ate. By improvising in this way, different aesthetics came into play and all partici- pants were able to take part without hav- ing to train or read notation. Returning to the United States, Big- gers—a former b-boy—began creating dance floors that he calls his B-bodhisattva series. They were made from surplus rub- ber tiles that he got from an old factory in Chicago—the kind of tiles that used to be on high school floors in the sixties and sev- enties. They had a particular color satura- tion that reminded him of Buddhist man- dalas, so he hand cut the tiles and arranged them into mandalas of his own design. Biggers then took the mandalas/dance floors to breakdancing competitions, where he’d put a video camera above the floor and record dancers as the circles of their movements echoed the circular gestures of the floor itself. He would later show these videos and the floors—with all their scuff marks—at museums. He’d invite b-boys to the openings, and for a few hours each week the floors would usually be available for the public to dance on. The idea, he says, was that a floor would “collect more and more scuff marks as people danced on it. It would be like a patchwork quilt made by many dif- ferent people—a dance floor made by dif- ferent dancers.” “Art exists, but it doesn’t really com- plete itself until the viewer has some interaction with it,” Biggers says. “This is the same exchange as playing in a band. As an artist, all I do is propose something visually. The viewer has to do a bit of work to make the piece complete.” Chrysanne Stathacos Impermanence of the Beautiful Chrysanne Stathacos looked over the fence and saw a man in yellow and maroon robes jumping up and down in her friend’s yard. It was the spring of 1975 in Vancouver, and this was the first Tibetan lama she had ever seen. Later that day, the lama was going to give a public teaching, and Stathacos piled into the car with her friend, the lama, and PHOTOSCOURTESYOFTHEARTIST