Writing yesterday about my visit to the Claremont Graduate School and my talk with art students there, I omitted mention of one notable exhibition in a neighboring gallery. Created by a visiting Chinese student, Li Wan, it should not be forgotten in this Buddhist blog, since it was profoundly Buddhist in imagery and intention.
An installation that occupied the entire space of the high-ceilinged gallery, it combined a variety of media to create an interior "Buddhist garden." Strewn everywhere on the gallery floor were dozens of artificial lily pads and pink lotus blossoms. The hump of a small, oriental bridge with neat white railings completed the illusion that the entire gallery floor had been transformed into a lake and that the viewer was, in some sense, "walking on water." Suspended from the ceiling, long, transparent plastic films, etched their full length with repeated images of the Buddha, created towering columns--one circular, one triangular in shape, and one forming a tall, narrow temple which invited the viewer's entry and passage through it. Mural-sized drawings of the Buddha, three or four times human scale and beautifully executed, dominated three of the four gallery walls, adding to the quiet, temple-like effect of the whole installation.
Walking in this bright, gallery-lit space, the viewer is startled when the all the lights suddenly snap off, according to some pre-timed program, leaving us in complete darkness but for the eerie, luminous glow of certain elements of the work--those Buddha images on the walls of film, the white of the bridge--that were treated, apparently, with some glow-in-the-dark material that lingers on after the lights shut off.
It's a magical effect, and one that fills us with a sense of delighted wonder as we stop in the darkness and peer around into the surrounding stillness. An island of serenity and an invitation into the silence of meditative contemplation, Li Wan's space is a remarkably ambitious achievement for a student show, and deserves to be offered to a wider audience. I hope that he will find other venues to install the same work in the future.