Originating in China, Zen Buddhism took hold in Japan in the late 12th century.
Unlike more traditional factions of Buddhism, Zen fosters the belief that enlightenment can be gained through meditation and intuition instead of blind devotion and dogma. It advocates achieving a balance between appreciating the beauty of our natural, physical world, while freeing oneself from the earthly preoccupations that inhibit the path toward nirvana.
This delicate balance has long been fodder for the creation of art. And for local artist Fumino Hora, it’s the basis for her latest body of work, “The Way of Samsara,” which currently comprises an installation-style exhibit in the Hodge Gallery at Pittsburgh Glass Center.
A native of Tokyo, Hora came to Pittsburgh in 2006 after living in…
Hong Kong for 14 years. She has studied photography at Pittsburgh Filmmakers, and has been a resident artist at Pittsburgh Glass Center this year, where she worked on creating a variety of the pieces in the exhibit, oftentimes combining glass with paper.
“I chose to use glass and paper as material as they are breakable and fragile,” Hora says. “They are impermanent in nature, which reflects Zen aesthetics.”
As she has done in the past, Hora used her own body as subject matter, making body molds and casting her form into both glass and paper sculpture. Some, like “Rokudo: Six Paths” are partial casts of her torso, nearly light as air, suspended on monofilament in one corner of the gallery. Others, like “Sen-ju: The One Who Can Hear All Cries of the World” are comprised of solid-yet-somewhat-clear glass casts of the artist’s face and hands.
Having a milky, yet- almost clear, appearance, the cast glass pieces look to be almost perfect, save for the slight imperfections — veins and veils of white color — that undulate through each cast.
“The human body is a perfect representation of Zen aesthetics, or human imperfection,” Hora says, “because the body itself is a vessel to carry physical imperfections and sensory vices.”
Thus, in pieces like “Kalpa: A Span of Life 1 and 2,” Hora has added even more imperfections where there were only a few, mainly in the form of rust, nails and bandages, which she has applied to the casts and have in their own way become important elements in the installation. “They represent pain, suffering and decay, both physically and spiritually,” she says.
Hora titled her series and installation “The Way of Samsara” because the Sanskrit word samsara means “going through the cycle of repeated births and deaths,” Hora says.
“Our bodies are fragile and vulnerable, and destined to decay. We are all mortal; our lifespan is limited,” Hora says. “However, unlike other factions of Buddhism, Japanese Zen does not deny human imperfection. Instead, it will accept and forgive all human beings just as they are. Rather, it will advocate the appreciation of the transient beauty of the present life: a delicate balance between the material world and the path to the spiritual awakening.”
As visitors to the installation will see, Hora also has employed her skills as a photographer and new media artist in this site-specific installation in which photographic and video elements throughout all echo Zen aesthetics.
Ten large organza scrims titled “Hagoromo: Celestial Maiden’s Robe ” flank the gallery space, five to each side. Each feature printed digital images of Hora dressed in a white robe and mask in front of pine trees in snow; they function in the space much like painted icons in a church.
“I tried to set up my installation as if it were a chapel or a temple, so that people are able to meditate and contemplate,” Hora says.
As for the sheer nature of this presentation, she says, “The nature of new-media arts is transient. They exist on the fact that they are mortal and destined to disappear. It is very much like Zen; advocating ‘nothingness’ as a core of the concept.”
Though her works, with their cool white, almost-antiseptic appearance, borders on the sublime, Hora relishes the imperfections contained therein. For her, the word “imperfection” does not insinuate something negative.
“By accepting and forgiving all imperfections, humans can attain the ultimate mindfulness,” Hora says. “The message I wish to convey through my works are: cherish your life and embrace yourself. The time we have in life is very limited, but because so, we should treasure every day, and every moment.”