The Shape Of Consciousness is an idea that came to mind in the early stages of contemplating the potential direction of my artistic contribution to the PH1 collaboration with The New School House Gallery, and resident artist John Newling. Newling’s tree sculptures, the public-facing catalytic relics for his 21st Century Eden art project, inspired the idea of an Upside-Down Tree meeting a right-side-up tree, forming the overall shape of a diamond.
Progression: a study for the Upside-Down Tree, Indian ink on Himalayan hand-made paper from Lokta bark, created in situ at The New School House Gallery July 2014
The Shape of Consciousness: the Upside-Down Tree or Banyan Tree
The Shape of Consciousness July 2015 | Indian ink on Nepalese hand-made paper | dimensions: 40.5 x 29 cm (16 x 11.5″)
Working with the image of the Upside-Down Tree unexpectedly triggered various texts to arrive in my field of recognition, regarding its ancient symbolism, such as Wendy Doniger’s preface in the Songs Of Kabir…
“A tree with its branches in the earth,
Its roots in the sky;
A tree with flowering roots.”
“This image is taken straight from the Katha Upanishad: “Its roots above, its branches below, this is the eternal banyan tree.” And it is quoted in the Bhagavad Gita: “They say the banyan tree is imperishable, its roots above, its branches below.” The banyan in reality is an upside-down tree, which grows branches that return down to the earth again and again and become the roots and trunks of new trees with new branches so that eventually you have a forest of a banyan tree, and you no longer know which was the original trunk. The Upanishad uses the image of the banyan to represent the divine substance (brahman) from which all living creatures take root.”
Songs Of Kabir, Wendy Doniger & Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, 2011
Resident artist Newling asks us “What do we really want?“. This is possibly one of the hardest questions to contemplate. I consider this question in light of the Gita’s Banyan tree: a tree representing entanglement in the material world, its mirror image being that of spirit or higher consciousness, and therefore the “real” tree. The aim, according to the Bhagavad Gita, is to extricate oneself from the material tree (the reflected illusion), to achieve liberation from an entangled state of desire, and therefore attain true freedom. So consider for a moment the response of a Zen master or the Yogi, how would they reply to the question “What do you really want?” The answer can only ever be “Yes!”, because any other response would reveal the desire that binds to the material Banyan tree.
Find out more about the PH1 artist residencies at PH1artists.com, and PH1 satellite artists