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  • Stephanie Kohler

Pagoda


Welcome to a new feature of Aquarius, which examines the aesthetics, insights, and greater context of art. We humans awaken not just through what we read, but what we see and explore beyond words.

The commentary is specifically drawn from the artist, as a way to show the process and background to the work. There is no “correct” way to do this. You can read first; you can look first. You can do one or the other, though certainly we recommend both. This month’s art is Pagoda, by Keith Prossick.

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The breaking of the mandala was the beginning of a new artistic journey. Just as Ganesh broke his own tusk, I broke the symmetry of my art—symmetry which had become restrictive.

Whether waking or dreaming, I wandered. Seeking sanctuary, finding it in a dream. In the dream, I came to a crystal bridge. As I crossed, a golden pagoda, atop many steps, came into view. I climbed the steps, one by one. When I reached the top, the doors opened and I entered the pagoda.

Inside, I found an avatar (an earthly embodiment of a deity). He sat me down and told me to record what was in the dream realm.

Like Ganesh, who diligently transcribed the Mahabarata, I sought to record my observations. As I wrote, however, the letters grew feet and ran off the page. Everything I tried to capture went away. No matter how hard I tried, I could not make any words stay on the pages.

Then the avatar explained that the words were running away because I was writing in the abstract language of the awake world, in the language I know in this lifetime. But what I needed to learn, or rather re-learn, was the language of the dream world. The language of abstract letters and words would never stay, when used to describe that which I encountered in another realm.

I need to think in not abstract letters and words, but a language of pattern and image, for that is the language of the bardo (the Tibetan name of the transitional, liminal state between lives).

In this way, the avatar taught me how to read and write what was in the dream realm.

In the pagoda, with the avatar, I realized why we lose our memories when we pass through the bardo to the next life. We anchor memories in the language of the world in which we have lived. But, as we cycle through lives in different places, times, and cultures, we cannot retain all of each language.

The avatar explained that, for this reason, language in the bardo lacks substance. Thus, memories attached to language fade away. Memories need to attach to images and patterns, so that they are easy to recall. You can carry them with you, as your lives move through different places, times, and cultures, we cannot retain all of each language.

The painting shows the pagoda in the liminal dream space—the space which combines things we expect, such as trees, with images and patterns which we can carry through the bardo.

Pagoda revealed my attachment to the abstraction of the language I know in this lifetime. I also recognized that symmetry can be a prison—so I chose to paint the pagoda, a symmetrical building, from a perspective which depicts it asymmetrically. In this sanctuary, with the guidance of the avatar, I broke another mandala-like symmetry, and let the consciousness flow.

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