Tea at Noguchi Museum

The Gate- from everyday to sacred      Tsukubai- the water basinFull Tea house

Today is Easter. Season for rebirth and renewal: Birds are singing. Daffodils are thriving. Trees are burgeoning. Magnolias are blossoming. Spring is here. I feel revitalized.

It is time to celebrate the season’s change and welcome new beginnings, new directions.

I’ve always been a bit Asian in this regard and maybe as a European, I’m also sensitive to the change of seasons and align my lifestyle to each one that comes. For example, the colors I wear, the flowers that adorn my space, the food I prepare, and the tea I drink. My moods are also impacted and as a child, I marvel the new buds coming out daily. I welcome them heart fully.

Today, I saw my first cherry blossoms of the season at the Noguchi museum Zen garden and discovered Tom Sachs art installation: Tea Ceremony. Immersed in Noguchi’s timeless sculptures, the artist created his own inner and outer tea gardens. He appropriated the Japanese tradition of Chanoyu, tea ceremony, into a technology quilt of bricolage run on battery.

Within the space, a contradiction emerges: Noguchi’s serene space and rustic simplicity is now replaced by the artificial vulgarity and chaos of our time. We find in the waiting room, before the Guest is led into the teahouse, a stupa made out of McDonald’s arches, an ishidoro, the traditional lantern, built on a walker, a Bonsai sculpture made out of bronze, its branches representing our personal hygiene products such as toothbrushes, Q-tips, tampons- items we consume to penetrate our innermost darkness. Yet within the hideous and the sublime, between the polarity and ambiguous relationships of East and West, we can still find a balance and a respect for the other.

Whereas a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony can last 4 hours between the Host and the Guests, here the Americanized representation of a Tea Ceremony builds enlightenment on a digital clock, a soundtrack and a sign written in both English and Japanese “Be Here Now”, a line made famous by the Western-born yogi and spiritual teacher Ram Dass.

As tradition calls, all the tools are here for the Host to prepare Tea. Sachs built a mizuya, the water room which is the preparation area next to the chashitsu, the Japanese tea house. These tools take different shapes where Art is not so much about the beauty, the sublime and the natural elements, but rather the utilitarian and battery run of everyday objects. Yet the artist makes sure that every tool symbolizes the components of the making of the tea ceremony.

Twenty-first century meets Sixteen century: NASA astronauts and other modern heroes meet Rikyu, the Tea Master and founder of Japanese Tea Ceremony. Within their differences and contradictions, they share simplicity, a direct approach and honesty of self. Tradition is not invalidated but respected, uplifted to the present and takes on a utilitarian pattern. The Host is still preparing the Tea and engages the Guest to receive and to participate.

Whether Tea drinking experience is kept traditional or adapted to our present culture of gadgets and out of space sensation, it preserves the sanctuary and respect, the culture that thrives on hospitality and an intimate sense of connection. As for me, I still prefer the rustic simplicity, the natural sublime and a time and place to savor my bowl of tea where no digital clocks are in sight.

Tom Sachs: Tea Ceremony @ the Noguchi Museum – March 23 to July 24, 2016

9-01 33rd Road (at Vernon Boulevard) in Long Island City, Queens.

Tom Sachs- preparing tea                serving tea


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