Inaugural Exhibit: A Dialogue Between Traditional and Contemporary

'Transforming Minds' contributors share Buddhist principles behind their art

Watch the complete program (53 min., 28 sec.)

HONG KONG, February 10, 2012 — In the final inaugural forum of Asia Society Hong Kong's opening festivities, the artists behind Transforming Minds: Buddhism in Art sat in the Jockey Club Former Explosives Magazine with Asia Society's Vice President for Global Art Programs and Museum Director Melissa Chiu, Lead Curator of the exhibition, to discuss their work and their reactions to the show.

Prior to the panel, Asia Society President Vishakha Desai spoke about the risks inherent in an exhibition like Transforming Minds, which juxtaposes traditional and contemporary art. "But the same risks," she said, "can become inspiration when there are intelligent choices made, and the right objects are placed side by side to create conversation. I think my colleagues have done a remarkable job of creating that conversation through which we actually break through to a new level of understanding." The process is smoothed, she added, by the inclusion of "modern stellar creative geniuses" like those onstage.

Chiu introduced these three "creative geniuses": Moriko Mori, from Japan; Zhang Huan, from China; and Michael Joo, a Korean-American. All three, she added, have exhibited with the Asia Society in New York and have been a part of the Asia Society family. "And now, all three have contributed to our understanding of Buddhist principles."

Chiu asked the artists to discuss the inspiration behind their works in Transforming Minds. Mori began with a reminiscence of her earliest awareness of the connection between art and religion. “In kindergarten, you make a wish and put it in the bamboo trees. Our teachers asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. At the time, I wanted to be a god. I thought that I would be the most powerful and creative being. I guess I decided being an artist was the closest to being a god."

Now Mori incorporates much religious symbolism into her art. About her Transforming Minds piece Kamano, she said that the idea was to transcend time and space, to travel through present to past and future. "I wanted to give the idea that deeper consciousness remains," she mused. "In order to talk about time, video was the perfect media."

Speaking about his piece Bodhi Obfuscatus, Joo said, "I was first approached by Melissa in 2005. The form of the work, in the end, was mostly inspired by the encounter with the work itself. It took me into another time, perhaps with another anonymous artist. I was invited to look through the Rockefeller Collection, and to see if I was inspired by anything. So I pored over the catalogues, and I was drawn more and more to some of the figures in the collection. Primarily because of their deep empathy." He added, "I wanted to create a piece through which we get so close to that image, so intimate with it, that we'd eventually merge with it."

Finally, Zhang Huan contemplated the use of ash in his work. "When I was little, I was tied to many Chinese temples. Actually the incense of the temples has always been part of my life, but I never paid it much attention," he said. "In New York, I also visited many temples and saw incense burning. Still, it had not struck me. Eight years later I was in a temple in Shanghai and I suddenly felt touched: What is this magic that attracts so many people to find their lives and future inside the temple? I realized the ash is not just ash. It represents the souls of the Chinese people. It represents the force that brought everyone together to form a nation and a country."

He added with a mischievous smile, "And not one follower will go to a Chinese temple to curse a person. Only for good blessings."

Reported by Maddie Gressel