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Sacred Sojourn
by Taipei Fine Arts Museum
Location: Taipei Fine Arts Museum
Artist(s): Jawshing Arthur LIOU
Date: 31 May - 20 Jul 2014

As one settles into the delirium of Sacred Sojourn, one would slowly come to the realization that to walk the path of a pilgrim is to accept that there is an unknown — perhaps unknowable — reality, which every human being would eventually cross. There is the conscious realization that all things arise and fall within a primordial emptiness: the Heart of the Universe, as spoken of by Tibetan Buddhists. This is as close as any artwork can get us to experience the sacred.
- Annie Ivanova

Sacred Sojourn features three large-scale video works by Jawshing Arthur Liou: Kora, Saga Dawa and Zumulanma. He was born in Taiwan in 1968 and is currently a Professor of Digital Art at the Indiana University. To mourn for his daughter’s passing, he embarked on a 2300-kilometer filming expedition that started from Lhasa, traveled through the Tibetan Plateau, and ultimately made sojourns to Mount Everest and Mount Kailash. The trip included a four-day kora—a walking circumambulation around Mount Kailash at an elevation between five and six thousand meters. Liou presents ultra high-resolution video and time-lapse photography in an installation format, employing 13 projectors and 3 custom built spaces in this exhibition. The work traces the steps of pilgrims while presenting unique mountain landscapes, reverence for nature, and a space of spiritual sanctuary.

Kora is both a type of pilgrimage and a type of meditation in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Kora is performed by making a walking circumambulation around a temple, stupa, or other sacred site. Kora many be performed while spinning prayer wheels, chanting mantra, counting mala, or repeatedly prostrating oneself. Many consider Mount Kailash the most sacred mountain in Asia. For thousands of years Hindu pilgrims and Tibetans have revered the Himalayas as an embodiment of the divine; the presence of the lone towering Kailash peak is the ultimate seal of this sanctity. Pilgrims believe that by circling Mount Kailash by way of an arduous 34 mile-long path, one can cleanse the sins of a lifetime.

Saga Dawa — meaning ‘fourth month’(on the Tibetan calendar) — is the most important Tibetan Buddhist festival. It is the time of the year when believers celebrate both Buddha’s birth and the day he died and attained Nirvana. Presenting it across 4 screens, Arthur Liou takes us into the mise-en-scene of the festivities, following pilgrims and tourists as they flock towards an incense-burning stupa. The footage is slowed down and defused by a soft focus and incense smoke. Colourful prayer-papers offset the sepia images. Every now and then direct sunlight catches the lens making the revolving scene even more hypnotic. Uniform police is everywhere, and solders stomping around the stupa get caught in the view-frame. It is a reminder that in the political environment of the region such festivities are sensitive days. The gathering of groups—small or large—is treated as a potential of political rebellion by the authorities.

Zumulanma is a time-lapse sequence of vivid images of deep blue sky and distant snow-caps around of Mount Everest. Tibetans worship the mountain as Holy Mother (Chomolungma): mother of the world. Penetrating into the stratosphere its peak—the highest summit on Earth—is an inhospitable place. The oxygen here is only one third of that at sea level, which would force an unaided body to use up its own reserve faster than breathing can replenish it, resulting in hallucinations and eventually death. The weather is merciless and it can change suddenly and drastically: temperatures drop below –70°C and the jet stream can move with a wind speed of 320 km/ph. The top of the world is the rein of the primordial elements of the universe: a realm predating the existence of language, religion and culture.

*image (left)
Jawshing Arthur Liou
Saga Dawa, Still image, 2011-12
1080p video, four-channel installation, stereo sound, 55 min. loop
courtesy of the artist 

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