Pop Culture Buddha Sculptures by Gonkar Gyatso
If you can make purses out of candy wrappers, why not make religious relics out of the refuse, too? (Let’s let that remain rhetorical.) When I first stumbled upon this pop culture Buddha, I wondered if it was disrespectful. But I sat for a while (cross-legged of course) pondering the piece, and it grew on me.
UK-based artist, Gonkar Gyatso, was born in 1961 in Lhasa, Tibet. As a young man, he lived in Dharamsala, a Tibetan exile community, and this experience informed Gyatso’s views of humanity, politics and art production. He went on to study traditional Chinese ink-and-brush painting in Beijing and later expanded his art education in London.
Gyatso’s work juxtaposes traditional Tibetan iconography and Buddhist motifs with pop culture logos and contemporary typography. His art presents playful paradoxes: serenity interrupted. Zen branding. Corporate calm. Capitalist enlightenment. Orderly cacophony.
A gentle Googling on Buddhism taught me:
Paradox is a part of Zen and the teaching of Zen. A paradox nudges your mind into a direction other than the routine. It helps you disengage the rational mind and free up the intuition. It also points to a truth that cannot be rationally derived through the use of logic.
So, if you accept that one of the tenets of Zen means “being free of the distractions and illusory conflicts of the material world,” and yet you make/collect materialistic art objects, you have arrived at a paradox–which is fine because paradoxes are a part of Zen!
This gets to something I’ve been increasingly thinking about: I know and meet a lot of collectors. A lot. And to my knowledge, I’ve yet to meet a Buddhist collector. Collectors are by nature materialistic, and we LOVE to throw ourselves into those “illusory conflicts of the material world.” Furthermore, collectors are in a constant cycle of wanting. We are not at peace, and if we were, it probably wouldn’t end up being with an abstract entity. Acquisition provides comfort and fleeting joy. To break from that cycle is to go against nature. But is it possible?
Gyatso has said: “Just as the identity of my homeland cannot be separated from religion and politics, so my own sensibility has been shaped by the undeniable bond between the two.” Gyatso comes close to achieving that elusive “collector Zen.” His pop culture Buddhas call into question what we place on pedestals, pray to and put our beliefs in. And when the sculptures are placed in traditional Buddhist settings, from a distance, they fit right in.
images © Rainer Hosch ↬ Designboom
Very interesting and very playful! From my limited knowledge of Buddhism I believe that it is about letting go of attachments, and seeing everything that happens as part of the turn of the wheel. You can be a collector if you do it mindfully (thoughts for who made this, and what effect it has on the global consciousness and life as a whole). You can collect but are not attached to the collection. Once you see the collecting game for what it is, you can break free of it. If you can control your desires by considering more than just the initial and instant ‘want’, you can hone your collection to only the best of the best, or maybe even just one or two pieces that perfectly capture the collector inside you. It is about considering how much the piece will mean to you after the initial desire, versus how much you will look at the piece and see the £€$ signs and think how much this is worth and how much you can sell it for. The obsession with and attachment to money leads a lot of people to consider how much they can sell something for when purchasing it. Keeping something in ‘mint’ condition while owning it is partially a symptom of desire to sell it and a symptom of not really truly wanting the piece in the first place.
Apple are masters at grasping onto this desire period. They announce something new, let it bubble and froth for a day or two on tech sites, news outlets and twitter, then they drop the product. I imagine a lot of people purchase the new product without thinking too much about it because they are still caught in the hype and want to be seen to be relevant and cool. If Apple released product info and pricing a few months in advance, the initial sales figures would be less due to the hype dying down a bit. KidRobot do it for each new Dunny series too – they drop an image every day to build you up to the release, then stage launch parties to push you over the edge into buying a case!
I read this in a book the other week: “Hungry Ghosts – desperate spirits with huge empty bellies and mouths too small for food, floating around in the atmospheres, tormented by desires they’re never able to fulfil.”
I think it perfectly describes the collecting persona we apply to ourselves. It is almost entirely a desires game! If you really like 3A for example and can’t afford every single release, find your very favourite! I feel that completism is a total ego trip and a lack of strong will power to just be satisfied with one of something!
I find that if I am caught by that instant desire, I will add it to my rotocasted ‘want’ list, and leave it. If I am still thinking about it after a week or so then I will leave it on there. If, when I visit roto again a few days later I see it again, more often than not I will not desire it any longer, and remove it from my wish list. I find that patience and thinking leads to a lot fewer desires. You consider; ‘Where would I put this object? Will it bring me happiness every time I look at it? Do I have the money to spare? Will it just create another attachment, and am I okay with that? And, this is a new, and instantly telling one – would I save it if I was at home when the building caught on fire?’
I am in the slow process of cutting my collection down, selling pieces that I would not consider saving in a fire, and releasing attachments and worries. The more things you have, the more worries you have. So have less things and worry less! Even if you don’t worry in your conscious mind, there is always going to be a part of you that thinks ‘oh what about my stuff? Is it safe?’
It is interesting to note that most, if not all of the money I make selling my less desired toys goes into the monthly cycle of buying food and paying the rent. It is not set aside as ‘other’ or ‘special’, ‘for treats’. And so the wheel turns..
I suppose that if you felt that you could ‘not live’ without a collection of sorts, why not collect pebbles from the beach or park. If your building burns down, you can replace them with a moments notice. They are natural and therefore do not harm the environment or impact anybody else. If you were robbed, they are unlikely to be taken or even touched.
One step further is to consider all material goods as fleeting in the overall lifespan of the soul. If this lifetime is a mere blink of eye in the overall lifespan, then why worry about possessions that you will own for a few years? I suppose you could pose the question: ‘Well, I’m just going to die, so why place the worry of what to do with these to my relatives?’
As a side note, I just read that The Dalai Lama collects watches:
I have been waking up from sleep whilst writing this, so it may seem slightly disjointed and not quite make all the points that I wanted it to, but I am not going to apologise because it doesn’t matter! Ah, so!
Love, light and peace.
I realised that it sounds like I’m distancing myself from collecting and seemingly putting myself above and beyond it, but I still have mountains of shaped, colourful plastic and an unclear mind. I don’t mean to offend anyone, if offence is caused.