For 40 days and 40 nights, artist Ansuman Biswas lives in the Manchester Museum‘s secluded Victorian tower, reflecting on issues of collecting, loss and extinction. Here’s a passage from his statement:
I feel a deep dismay at the ecological crisis facing humanity, which I experience as a loss of beauty. And I feel challenged to respond using the full weight of my training as a contemplative and an artist. But, along with this strong agenda, I am also interested in an art which is abstract or open-ended.
This tension between purpose and play is also an essential condition of the hermit, who is introverted but has a social role. I am interested in exploring precisely this ambiguity.
The hermit is conventionally a benign and pious figure, but I also want to invoke his destructive aspect. Artistic precedents for this approach are in the auto-destructive art of Gustav Metzger and John Latham. Eremetic forerunners include the great Hindu ascetic Shiva, who is celebrated as the destroyer of the world, and the Christian anchorite, Anthony the Great who burned away his wilfulness in order to surrender himself to the will of God. My own hermetic training is in the Theravada Buddhist technique of vipassana.
Vipassana is essentially an exhaustive cataloguing of every aspect of experience, up to and including the cessation of everything. The vipassana yogi, like the Victorian collector, is engaged in taxonomy – a taxonomy of things which are disappearing. Someone practicing vipassana trains his or her awareness on every minute detail of experience, and observes it while it burns away. At the completion of this enlightenment nothing is left. The literal meaning of the Sanskrit word nirvana is ‘extinguishing’, referring to the going out of a light.