Monday, March 7, 2011
Mending and Renunciation
Reading around about Qing-era silk goods, I came upon this remarkable Buddhist ceremonial garment. It is identified as a mantle for a Buddhist monk, designed to look like it is made of patches. In a beautiful academic essay (in the catalog for an Art Institute of Chicago show featuring the garment) John E.Vollmer explains how the object's patchwork design is meant to evoke the Buddhist tradition of monks clothing themselves in rags.
This stylistic tradition echoes a moment after the Buddha awoke enlightened. As he set out, he clothed himself anew, with a shroud. This shroud was left on the path for him, and when he picked it up, he recognized it as the garment of the first Buddhas. As his followers became adepts they too took up this asceticism, wearing pamsukula ('ragheap') robes. Soon after, Buddha prescribed that each monk's garments would be formed by stitching together torn cloth. From 'rags'.
I couldn't resist learning this story, thinking it alongside the work of Jude Hill and the Contemporary Woven Boro community around her. Thinking, too, about this story alongside the problems of over consumption and mass production that have become distractions to real human creativity in so much of the world. I couldn't resist the idea that working with old cloth disciplines the imagination, doesn't limit it. And, I couldn't resist the sense of renunciation- for me, it is happily giving up the idea that old cloth isn't sufficient.
Maybe all rags need to mean more. Maybe all cloth needs to mean more.