Human 4-Leaf Clover of Positive Energy, meditation event in Perform Chinatown 2014: Chaos Reigns
Photo: Renee Fox
Notarized document describing the Human 4-Leaf Clover of Positive Energy meditation event and including all participants.
CONSIDERING POSITIVE ENERGY
AS AN ART MEDIUM
March 1, 2016
by China Adams
In recent years, I have worked with the idea of cultivating positive energy as an art medium. I have meditated alone and have organized group meditation events, both with the purpose of cultivating positive energy and moving further away from a reliance on physical materials to create art. Continuing in the tradition of Conceptual Art, cultivating positive energy as an art medium is a logical progression in non-object based art making.
I remember being introduced to Conceptual art as a student. I was awed by the possibility that ideas could stand alone as artworks. That seemed to me the ultimate form of creative freedom, and, built into this supremely economical form of artistic expression was the potential for sublime elegance. Stripped of excess, Conceptual art works could act as markers, points of departure, inviting viewers to join in thought and collective experience. For me, as a young artist, it was exciting to read about the Conceptualists' different ways of understanding materiality, experience, and relationships.
I remember discovering Lawrence Weiner and reading about a 1968 piece for an outdoor exhibition at Windham College in Putney, Vermont. After encountering some difficulties with his plans to define a space within a space (a rectangular area on a field defined by string), he abandoned the string altogether and provided a verbal explanation of his work, encapsulated in his 1969 Statement of Intent: “(1) The artist may construct the piece. (2) The piece may be fabricated. (3) The piece may not be built. [Each being equal and consistent with the intent of the artist, the decision as to condition rests with the receiver upon the occasion of receivership.]” In a few lines, Weiner posed profound questions about the relationship of the artist and the viewer and about what warrants the process of materializing a concept in form.
While I don’t imagine Weiner’s implied question regarding the need to realize art objects had much to do with a concern for resources, it is interesting to note that now, 45 years later and in an age preoccupied with our scarcity of natural resources and the increasing degradation of our biosphere, many artists are again asking themselves the same question: does it actually need to be made? In lieu of making, artists are increasingly exploring new ways to create art that is not manifest in a physical product.
I became interested in this question in 1995 when I found myself disturbed by all of the possessions I had acquired. The fact that, as an artist, I was constantly making new work that often needed to be stored magnified this problem and heightened my sense of being oppressed by my own things. It also made me question my creative process, in which I was constantly manufacturing new objects.
To help alleviate my discomfort, I devised and completed a large sculptural installation called The Official Stitch and Hide Procedure (1995). It involved creating an inventory of my possessions and identifying those that had become burdensome. By my estimation, it turned out that more than 70% of my possessions fell into the category titled burdensome. So, I wrapped them in sheaths, sewed them closed, and presented them as sculpture. It was the first time I addressed my discomfort with material excess and my discomfort with my product based art making.
Then, in 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck and we were inundated with images of people’s decimated possessions in huge, ruinous stacks. It was a turning point for me. The images made it impossible to ignore the dysfunctional relationship we’ve created with our possessions. Seeing so much destroyed stuff made it undeniably clear that our excessive consumption is a frail attempt to bind us to life. In clinging to our things and investing them with inflated value, we participate in a sleight of hand played out against ourselves. It’s as if we are trying to convince ourselves that there is permanence, that our things can keep us anchored to the earth and our experiences here.
After Katrina (and the multitude of other natural disasters that followed, rendering similar images of destruction and waste almost commonplace), I found myself more disheartened about making things. As one who thrives on the process of making, this was an awkward place to be; I figured that the obvious solution would be to apply constraints. I limited myself to certain materials, mostly things that had been used before, so that I could avoid buying new materials. This allowed me to make art while avoiding a constant cycle of acquisition, though restraints, particularly with respect to art making, can quickly feel ridiculous. While creative constraints are important to create focus, when applied aggressively (as I had applied them), they begin to undermine the entire art making process. If, requiring a certain material, I was denying myself the material simply to adhere to my rule of no new material purchases, then I was no longer acting as an artist but one consumed with solving material riddles/puzzles. I felt torn between my desire to create and my desire to be liberated from my reliance on materials.
I was envious of dancers, musicians, chefs, writers, any artist whose work left behind little or no detritus. I wished for that kind of liberation from materiality. It was in this vein that I began considering the idea of positive energy as an art medium.
But I need to back up. In 2004, a doctor recommended that I try yoga. Until then, I had rejected the idea of doing yoga. I was a swimmer and, in contrast to swimming, I perceived yoga as slow moving, sluggish, and burdened by a lot of quasi-spiritual rhetoric, both of which turned me off. Plus, the aesthetics of yoga did not sit well with me; they felt too decorative and mystical. I scoffed, who wants to “exercise” surrounded by weird, surreal-esque murals. The truth is, I knew nothing about yoga.
As has often been the case when I start with a harsh judgment, I ended up captivated by the very thing I’d judged. In this case, it was not long before I was practicing yoga regularly. I was initially excited by the challenge of learning new poses, but, as time went by, what excited me most was the total transformation that I experienced during the class. Yoga seemed to magically alleviate stress and create energy. I would arrive tired with tight, shallow breath and leave energized and breathing deeply.Over time, my interest in fast-moving yoga that aligned with my notions of “exercise” lessened and I found myself more and more focused on slow movement, breath, and meditation. I began meditating outside of my yoga practice and I began learning about meditation from people who were seasoned in the practice.
There are many studies that show that group meditation not only benefits the direct participants but also reduces crime, suicide rates, and traffic accidents in nearby areas. Group meditation among the ill has been shown to dramatically increase recovery rates. One of the most convincing studies, the Maharishi Effect, published in 1976, found that when only 1% of a population practiced regular, transcendental meditation, crime was reduced in the area by 16% overall. This got me thinking, imagine the impact on a household of four, if only one member became a regular meditator……
Then, by coincidence, I had the terrific luck of finding myself at a lecture given by Amit Goswami, a quantum physicist who had done studies with meditation to prove the existence of God, not a paternal, personified God, but a universal consciousness that he referred to as “God.” The upshot of his study was this: two meditators concealed in isolated chambers could transfer brain signals from one another without verbal communication. In essence, brains could be correlated and he could show quantifiable evi-dence.
“One subject is shown a series of light flashes producing in his or her brain an electrical activity that is recorded in the EEG machine from which an “evoked potential” is extracted with the help of a computer upon subtracting the brain noise. The evoked potential is somehow found to be transferred to the other subject’s brain onto his or her EEG that gives (upon subtraction of noise) a trans ferred potential (similar to the evoked potential in phase and strength).” — Amit Goswami, “Can Science and Religion be Integrated?” 2008
The implications of Goswami’s study were mind blowing! It was Magical Realism in action. He had provided clear evidence that people could communicate (at some level) without speaking. This, in conjunction with the findings of the Maharishi Effect, suggested an amazing capacity for a collective pooling of positive energy.
From my perspective, the potential to harvest positive energy through group meditation has terrific, creative implications. To begin with, a fantastic redefinition of collaboration would be required. Collaboration would have no limits; participants could be separated by miles and still participate together. The art event or group meditation would yield a new creative medium: positive energy. In essence, the “art” action would have tangible, real world results disrupting the old, tired cliché that “art imitates life.” In this case, art would alter life.
Skeptics might argue that there is no way to accurately measure the results, that there is no definable byproduct to confirm the action or the energy produced as art. However, here I return to the Conceptualist who showed us how powerfully art could bloom when released from material and quantifiable constraints.
The idea of harvesting positive energy is experimental, an investigation in process. Success relies heavily on an ever-increasing number of collaborators and the final outcome is unknown. Participation requires a leap of faith. One must believe that there is enough existing evidence to warrant collaboration. And, ideally, one must be forward-thinking and hopeful enough to imagine the possibility that group, art-meditation events could yield positive outcomes that are, for now, far beyond our comprehension.
In 2012, at Boxo Projects in Joshua Tree, I had the opportunity to work with a large group of people. We explored filling a space with positive energy generated through collective meditation. Then again, in 2014, I participated in Perform Chinatown: Chaos Reigns. The event provided an opportunity to continue the energy work. Our group, which had participants cycling in and out, meditated with the purpose of creating positive energy to fill the space during a period of five hours, from 5 pm until 10 pm.
My interest in cultivating positive energy as an art medium is driven by two aims. I believe that positive energy can be generated, ideally through group meditation with the goal of enhanced quality of life, both in the immediate and in the long-term and on an individual and global scale. I also strive to minimize the physical matter created in my art making process.
My hope is that the vernacular around group meditation can shift from small niche, spiritual communities to larger collaborative events that include people from all walks of life coming together to harvest goodwill, hope, and a sense that we have the power to create profound change. In my mind, this is the ultimate expression of creativity.
China Adams’s art has been featured in exhibitions around the world, including several solo shows at Ace Gallery and Steve Turner Contemporary, both in Los Angeles. Her work is included in collections at the Berkeley Art Museum and the Carnegie Art Museum. Adams makes conceptual art works in a range of media. Much of her current work addresses issues of reusability, consumerism, and our impulse to acquire possessions. In addition to her own art making, Adams also curates. Her exhibitions, in galleries around Los Angles, have garnered local and national press. Adams is a Lecturer at the USC Roski School of Art & Design.