The World Upside Down

October 14, 2016

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today's post.

“So come out of your cave walking on your hands/ And see the world hanging upside down/ You can understand dependence when you know the maker's land” - Mumford and Sons, “The Cave”
“Without pride or delusion,/ the fault of attachment overcome,/ intent on the self within,/ their desires extinguished,/ freed from dualities,/ from joy and suffering,/ undeluded men/ reach that realm beyond change.” (The Bhagavad Gita, Krishna's Fifteenth Teaching: "The True Spirit of Man")

The Bhagavad Gita is written as a dialogue between the great warrior, Arjuna, and his spiritual leader, Krishna. Yet, the Fifteenth Teaching: "The True Spirit of Man", involves no true dialogue. Instead, Krishna explains man's spirit to Arjuna. Krishna begins the chapter with:

“Roots in the air, branches below,/ the tree of life is unchanging,/ they say, its leaves are hymns,/ and he who knows it knows sacred lore.
“Its branches/ stretch below and above,/ nourished by nature's qualities,/ budding with sense objects;/ aerial roots/ tangled in actions/ reach downward/ into the world of men.
“Its form is unknown here in the world/ unknown are its end,/ its beginning, its extent;/ cut down this tree/ that has such deep roots/ with the sharp ax/ of detachment.”

This idea of branches above and below, as if nurturing two different aspects of the world, is vital to this view of detachment. I am drawn to images that reflect this inner/outer phenomenon and the relevance of detaching. There is a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End in which Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) realizes the literal difference between sunset and sundown. Once he realizes that sundown is a direction, then he gets the crew to flip the ship. The next image is a switch of ocean and sky. This creates a new world, or at least, a new perspective on the world. It also mimics the idea presented in Plato's "Allegory of a Cave". The Allegory is one of the most widely read and discussed pieces of philosophy. It has numerous elements of interest, but for today's purpose, I wonder about the idea of human nature as set in his initial premise. Is it possible for the chained being to realize that there is more than what he can physically see and/or experience? Could the chained man realize a simpler answer without the physical removal of the cave? Could he instead, rise out of himself without ever having left the cave? Plato notes that these men in the cave would see shadows only and not reality. He writes, “[W]ould they not suppose they were naming what was actually before them?” While it is certainly true that we only know of a thing by its dimensions and sensory details, or by our experience of them, it is also true that the importance of names is important to the self. Therefore, the self is intrinsically involved in the naming of a thing. In other words, would the man in the cave be able to find that inner self which enables him to create names?

Action is vital in The Bhagavad Gita, perhaps because it is written to a warrior who is saddened by the current battle. Action, however, does not reflect the self so much as Krishna himself who physically leads the body towards a true destiny. In the Thirteenth Teaching of The Bhagavad Gita: “Knowing the Field”, Krishna states, “He who really sees/ that all actions are performed/ by nature alone and that the self/ is not an actor./ When he perceives the unity/ existing in separate creatures/ and how they expand from unity,/ he attains the infinite spirit.” The field is our current circumstance, or current existence and environment, whatever that may be. Action may not necessarily be physical, but in thinking, we also prepare.

The image of an upside-down world is all about changing perspective. About looking into a new place for answers, in some cases, perhaps the simplest of places. I suggest the interior self as the simplest, but also, ironically, the most complex, place to reach. In the introductory quote (“You can understand dependence when you know the maker's land”), then, the “maker's land” is understood to be the self, not the landscape. In this sense, the landscape merely offers a reflection of ourselves. And it claims that we gain an understanding of dependence, which I assume means on our need to continually find and understand our interior being. What we become dependent upon might depend upon the person. In The Bhagavad Gita, one becomes dependent upon seeking Krishna, who also represents things like knowledge, spirit, self and unity.

Perhaps another way of looking at this is through the idea of a vessel. Plato writes, “And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels”. These vessels are only visual objects for the chained men. However, if they have noticed the jars at all, then they have a reason for identifying it as separate from other things. Either the vessel contains intrinsic meaning or the chained men have located a meaning within themselves. We perceive, separate, and seek to know our world as best we can. Plato's allegory is only one attempt at perception. Knowing that there are many others, I end with this quote from “The Anecdote of the Jar” by Wallace Stevens:

“The wilderness rose up to it,/ And sprawled around, no longer wild./ The jar was round upon the ground/ And tall and of a port in air.”


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Experiment in Art

October 23, 2015

A few weeks ago, Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, interviewed New Mexican artist Lea Anderson. Today's post stems from that interview. This lengthy blog post is an experiment. We would love your feedback regarding the results. Thanks to Alissa Simon and Lea Anderson for today's post!

In my interview with Lea, we discussed the the power of beauty as given by an artist and as received by the viewer. From this short discussion, Lea and I decided that it might be fun to create an artist/viewer experiment. Therefore, I recently went to see one of Lea's pieces at the Albuquerque Museum, where she is the current Artist-in-Residence. Prior to learning anything about this new piece, MERIDIAE, I wrote a visceral, personal response, which I have placed, mostly un-edited, below. Lea's exegesis regarding the work follows mine. We thought it might be curious to see what similarities, if any, exist. Let us know what you think of our experiment either below or at

Image: MERIDIAE by Lea Anderson, Albuquerque Museum. Photo credit: Lea Anderson

Image: MERIDIAE by Lea Anderson, Albuquerque Museum. Photo credit: Lea Anderson


Alissa Simon's response to MERIDIAE:

Circle over sky. Designed like cells of blood on an entire building wall of windows. Sectioned by windows, segmented into slices like oranges. A geometry of cross-sections. The horizon disorients, superimposed by building which obstructs both cloud and sky. Designed like ink on skin, tattooed windows with light. Mostly circles and swirls. Mostly color and light. Mostly me reflected back to me, circles now mirrors. Mostly biology, not geometry, cells functioning as galaxy. One Milky-Way cross-section. Colors carry the light, like hands, as if handing them directly, silently, internally to me.

What happens at night? Imagine the color with starlight and perhaps a crescent moon. Phosphorescent orb of jellyfish without the trail of tentacles. Spiral. Amazing how many shapes appear to make one solid shape. Unity like a family or nation. Size does not seem to matter, but just the explosion of shapes, fireworks on glass.

Of course, it isn't a circle, isn't any design or shape. Unnumbered, not infinite, but unmatched is the best that I can do to define the swirl of colors. Unmatched, a visual example of emotion at work on the imagination. And I am the reason (through imagination?) that imposes shape, color, design and metaphor. Self-imposed limits. Again, self-reflection is at play.

Is there an inherent reasonable quality in the junction of image and emotion? I am only trying to understand these MERIDIAE as if connections. As if pieces of you that fit to similar pieces in me. All connected by the tenderest string – not in the sense of puppets – rather the sense of compassion and empathy. The absolute charity of the work astounds. I see a solid human presence as sunlight filters, flits, a cloud passes and the piece visibly beats, not unlike a heart. MERIDIAE shivers and an internally composed essence leaps from shape to shape. I can touch it and the phantom is nearly tangible. Of course, now your design is also mine and we, I suppose, have formed some sort of silent unity.

Image: detail from  MERIDIAE  by Lea Anderson. Photo credit: Alissa Simon.

Image: detail from MERIDIAE by Lea Anderson. Photo credit: Alissa Simon.

I should comment on color. I feel an overwhelming sense of blue, all the blues in the ocean, which, I assume, is how I arrived at phosphorescence and jellyfish. It is both warm and deep, profound perhaps, and ringed with light. I mean, there are reds, yellows, greens and more, all mixed together in the way an ocean moves and waves reflect. If I step back they all blend. If I step forward, colors separate. The window doesn't move, but seems to. Sort of an inverse of standing on a solid earth which is always moving, but doesn't seem to. All bodies in motion. I feel that the color makes movement, excites something identical within myself, a likeness which moves me more towards an understanding of the window, light and color. Without my presence, the window remains solid. Without the window, my excitement diminishes. Some combination of the two creates an unmatched, unquantifiable unity.

For some reason, Adrienne Rich circles in my brain, much like one of the shapes from the window. I think of her descent down the boat's ladder and into the wreck, of her body stirred by water. I remember her body's movement through something other than her own presence. She writes:

First the air is blue and then/ it is bluer and then/ green and then black I am blacking out and yet/ my mask is powerful/ it pumps my blood with power/ the sea is another story/ the sea is not a question of power/ I have to learn alone/ to turn my body without force/ in the deep element.

These are all bodies, turning without force. The missing element, of course, is what is found within myself, the next viewer, the emotions that excite and inspire.

Lea Anderson's Exegeis:  MERIDIAE (Muh-rih-dee-yay) Created in July, 2015

Digital prints on transparent acetate, 20’ x 20'

MERIDIAE is a symbolic highway of connection, a portal making visible the infinite ideas streaming from all over the world into the museum and into your mind at this very moment. Your mind is now connected to the minds of creative individuals that have lived throughout human history as well as to major cultures, to distinct ideologies and even to things being made this very moment. Simultaneously, new ideas are being sent back out into the world in your mind as you leave this place changed and full of new experiences. MERIDIAE represents the super-stream of connected minds, worlds and ideas, re-combining and evolving through their direct impact upon you on a macro scale… yet also through subtle, infinitesimal processes, like the vitality mingling in a micro-droplet of pond water under a scientist’s microscope.

When viewed from a distance, MERIDIAE appears as 100 colorful biomorphic discs of various sizes and patterns clustering within one large circular form. Each disc is made up of even smaller and varied shapes (approx. 10,000 total). MERIDIAE relates to fractal design because the image of the entire piece is repeated in each and every smaller individual shape. Yet unlike a fractal, which is made of exact copies of itself at a smaller scale, MERIDIAE is instead made entirely of versions of itself that are unique relatives. A basic image of the overall large piece has been repeatedly digitally altered to vary the size, color, and pattern of the original, producing thousands of new versions. Every newly changed form is then arranged precisely so that seen together, they function as pixel-like parts of the whole. Upon closer inspection, one will notice that each shape has recognizably repeating characteristics.

Image: detail from  MERIDIAE  by Lea Anderson. Photo credit: Lea Anderson.

Image: detail from MERIDIAE by Lea Anderson. Photo credit: Lea Anderson.

Stained glass windows have been treasured as symbols of spiritual connection between heaven and earth originating in Gothic architecture (such as the Rose Windows in France’s Chartres Cathedral). The colorfully transparent material used to build MERIDIAE mimics the historical impact of stained glass but also includes a contemporary, hybrid chemistry of other artistic techniques such as painting, mosaic, collage, printmaking, sculpture, and digital art.

The architectural elements of the Atrium window echo the divisions of a globe, indicating an “equator” (horizontal I-beam) and “latitude/longitude” (grid of rectangular windows). On a standard globe of Earth, a “meridian” defines longitudinal “slices” of the Earth. MERIDIAE multiplies exponentially to reveal infinite slices of infinite worlds, as well as our infinite connections to one another through time and space.

To see more of Lea Anderson's art, visit her website:

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