The Beautiful Excuse of ‘Light’

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The Beautiful Excuse of ‘Light’

“Finding your self - yes it’s this huge park in San Diego where we live – it looked so glorious from far away that I asked my husband what it is and h

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“Finding your self – yes it’s this huge park in San Diego where we live – it looked so glorious from far away that I asked my husband what it is and he replied  “probably it is some place where Hindu’s meditate…an ashram type place”  … “you know Sehr”… I was so desperate I just went there … people from all walks of life and nationalities come there … to meditate”  – after some other irrelevant  after midnight conversation on  a WhatsApp call  with my friend who is married and settled in California…I ask her again  “so did you find yourself there” .. “No… but it was good… I felt in peace…”  I was penning down this essay that you are reading now on ‘art and spirituality’ and this ordinary conversation somehow touched the core of my reckless interrogation – we the people seek and climb…but the question arises… what for ?  The most formal explanation is sought after by William Kandinsky ; “Where he goes on to offer a visual metaphor for our spiritual experience and how it relates to the notion of genius: The life of the spirit may be fairly represented in diagram as a large acute-angled triangle divided horizontally into unequal parts with the narrowest segment uppermost. The whole triangle is moving slowly, almost invisibly forwards and upwards. Where the apex was today the second segment is tomorrow; at the apex of the top segment stands often one man, and only one. His joyful vision cloaks a vast sorrow. Even those who are nearest to him in sympathy do not understand him. Angrily they abuse him as charlatan or madman. So in his lifetime stood Beethoven, solitary and insulted” :(Popova, 2014)


In line with this 700 years ago the Sufi poet Rumi divided this advance into the acquired knowledge and the one that already exists within us. .. “A spring overflowing its spring box.”  This intelligence is not the kind that moves from the outside in, as in traditional learning. “This second knowing is a fountainhead from within you, moving out.” (Paintner, 2007)


While watching art 21’s documentary titled ‘spirituality’ there is a remark on James Turrell’s  (Quaker meeting house)  as the “Ecumenical place, where people could find inner peace”  and another one on his outstanding interplay of light-installations  “when you  really start to look that’s when you lose yourself” While John Feodorov reflects upon sharing the high-contrast of his native American identity versus Christian background of Jehovah Witnesses…  “The ambiguity is where the spiritual lies” (21, 2001)


Across these reflections the words that roll into form are – mystical, light, being, faith, air, breath …through art 21’s documentary Shazia Sikander’s preparation for the Vasli/special paper and the act of meticulously balancing a tea-wash over it in layers brings in ritual, act and performance… and relevant aesthetic processes such as Waqas Khan’s appear into the discussion; what is the distinction between the spiritual and actual … spirit or act? Is an act itself a spirit? As Kandinsky thought that absolute form was adrift from the soul, one wonders, what is the purpose of this forward movement?


A contradictory vision is offered by Slavoj Zizek (the great postmodern philosopher) in his lecture on spirituality and abyss – He supports and condemns art such as poetry by saying there is “no ethnic cleansing without poetry” and further explains “we are basically half decent people and its difficult for us to kill someone and so on …so you need some kind of absolute mythic, poetic, religious vision again to function as a screen to make it possible. I agree with Steven Weinberg when he said somewhere that “without religion bad people would be doing bad things and good people good things” you need something like religion to make good people do bad things” …I can tell you that this is what happened in my own country you know the story its Yugoslavia… ethnic cleansing ….nobody can be totally cynical…each of us have our island of authenticity …and here is where poetry enters …You need a vision to do the horrors Heinrich Himmler he confronted the problem – he knew well that officers and soldiers were obliged to do horrible things while organizing Holocaust .His problem was how  to enable German soldiers to do all without becoming beasts. He had in his pocket Bhagavad Gita, leather bound version of oriental wisdom – in the encounter between Arjuna the warrior and god Krishna just before the battle… Arjuna is on the battlefield with tens and thousands of soldiers – apposing army… and he has doubts – “my God… Do I have the right to order the attack…  thousands will die and so on all the suffering” and god… basically gives him a nice lesson of this act without being fully involvedand it is – or not – what we in the west … hold it as oriental ontology he says “but material realities are just appearances. If things grow, disintegrate, disappear, the true reality is the reality of your eternal self ‘athman’ which is eternal…so the logical conclusion…Don’t worry. Do all the killing and so on what you can destroy is already in itself negligible, it deserves to perish and so on and so on… and precisely again don’t get involved …” (Tuigen Heim, 2015)


So is the integrity of the apex to each man his own – does everyone needs to find their own light?


Bill viola’s  art comes to elaborate ; “In 1983 installation Room for St. John of the Cross (Kidel) … a cursory glance at his collected writings, Reasons for Knocking at an Empty House, finds a description of an earlier installation, / Vapore, coupled with an extract from Rumi that provided the inspiration for the piece: Though water be enclosed in a reservoir yet air will absorb it, for it is its supporter; It sets it free and bears it to its source, little by little, so that you see not the process. In like manner, this breath of ours by degrees steals away our souls from the prison house of earth. (Viola, Reasons 38)” (Elmarsafy, 2008)


And further on Viola explains “I think that all art, to be honest, must be a form of individual practice . . . and not a form of address to an audience” (Viola, Reasons 280). Although one might cavil with the reality of such formulations? Art does need viewers, after all? The statement is remarkable for its defiance of the dynamics of art as a contemporary Western institution (Wagner). Furthermore, Viola foregrounds the function of art as ritual, which he describes as “function in the original sense of art” which “you can use to learn something in your life, to go deeper” (Viola, Reasons 282).” (Elmarsafy, 2008)


In art 21’s documentary Shazia Sikander reminisces about the experience of reading the Quranic script as a child and the effect of the text – its wholeness and richness – without knowing/understanding the language.  She takes that memory and brings the aesthetic of the Arabic-word in the borders of her miniature-painting.


“Similarly, Viola sees the sacred character of texts such as the Bible and the Quran in the fact that they have an empty core, a space made for the reader to inhabit in his engagement with them (Viola, “LOVE/DEATH”). Occasionally, Viola will produce participation almost automatically, as when he plays back a DVD of the Dalai Lama praying into the camera before his audience at the Tate Modern (and all those who view the subsequent webcast) and commenting: “You’ve just been blessed by the Dalai Lama whether you wanted to or not” (Viola, “LOVE/DEATH”). Viola’s is an art in which it is impossible not to take part.”  (Elmarsafy, 2008)


The great twentieth century maestros like Pollock, Mondrian had broken free from previous representations to a new search “The goal of these and other artists was to develop an art which expressed a reality beyond the material, a consciousness like that of a meditative state in which ordinary reality is transcended.” (Tisma)


James Turrel puts it as simply as “to bring the cosmos closer down to the space where we occupy” while discussing the crater that took him from his daughter’s birth to her marriage/graduation – and two failed marriages and a relationship – as he puts it “the greatest discouragement you feel sometimes, it’s difficult for others to follow the natural course of things and how to get something done.”


When I began looking up for this piece of writing it was a spiritual mess of thoughts, ideas, information, facts, history and geography but it has slowed down… gradually.. .finding something of its own – from within and raptured itself in light… “always something to work with light in the outdoors, when going to the meeting house I would ask my grandmother what are we going to do there and she would reply; “just wait …we are going inside to greet the light” – this was the idea to go inside and find the light within literally and figuratively …and so a fascination of light and how we come to light” James Turrel (21, 2001)


The Roden Crater project by artist James Turrell was a collaboration and extreme scientific and astrological knowledge was pivotal for its making (located in the Painted Desert region of Northern Arizona, it is an unprecedented large-scale artwork created within a volcanic cinder cone by light and space)  “look at the horizon it’s a milky cloudy type of a view …as you go higher in sky the sky becomes a uniform blue maybe with clouds but if you can be in a ‘well’… so to speak …maybe a crater like Roden’s you see no contrast with the depth of the sky and your view so you realize its closeness and sometimes if you are conscious enough you’ll discover that you are in the atmosphere you are not separated from the sky at night and even during the day you have this feeling that you are one with the universe” (crater team) (21, 2001)


It is known that Rumi was walking in Konia in a Bazaar of metal objects and the constant hammering and beating of the metal objects created a rhythm…Such that he got carried away by it into an ecstatic dance.. “Come and join us in the music … we have a celebration …rise and beat the drums  …we are drunk but not from wine …this is the night of the Sema…when we whirled ecstasy…there is light now…there is light …there is light…” (sufi soul; the mystic, music of Islam)


Henceforth music is a vital part of Rumi’s philosophy his most famous poem begins with the sound of the reed flute ‘nay’ “Listen to the nay” he writes “how it laments its separation from the reed bed…It’s a wonderful symbol for man’s separation from God”  Kudsi Erguner comes from a long line of Turkish nay players …Thanks to Rumi the nay is nothing less than an allegory for mankind … “When the reed flute is not played it doesn’t have any spirit in it …So the human being is in the same situation when there is not – the inspiration of God …there is not any harmony, any melody in him …breath is the symbol of life… the symbol of the spirit …It is the symbol of the animation of the material …and that’s why in the Sufis ceremonies of the whirling dervishes the nay becomes the breath” … Kursi Eganor (sufi soul; the mystic of Islam)


The Sufis divide their journey into four parts … “Towards God, with God, in God/ ecstasy and the Fourth part represents coming back – At the end we try to understand our mission” ;(sufi soul; the mystic of Islam) Turrel  shares on experience and the process, maybe a language to know the mission .. “When you read a book you are often so involved in the space you don’t let anyone enter it whatever happens outside you disappears, people pass by you and you don’t even notice them so you’ve paid the price … and entered that space …well people come to art and look ‘AT’ it and this is one of the problems of contemporary art so they don’t actually enter the realm that the artist was involved in and have a little more of a distance there and the situation of the journey to the place like the crater is the fact that you have to do something and ‘some involvement’ and have this come over you …you have to be quiet and it actually makes this experience much stronger” (21, 2001)


Ann Hamilton puts small round pupil like cameras in the mouth and stands opposite face to face with another person ‘looking’ at them with the ‘mouth’ ! – the mouth with the circular form in the middle looks like an eye during the process – this brings me to know light anew … light as we have seen in the centre of all rhyme and movement – it serves like a cosmic adhesive for the world …it is one point… and in the famous Sufi poet Bulleh Shah’s words;

Ek nuktay wich gal mukdi hai

Pher nukta chor husabaan noun

Chad dozakh gor azaaban noun

Kr saaf dilay dian khuban noun

Gal eseey gher wich dhakdi hai

Ek nuktay wich gul mukdi hai

( ‘Ek Nukte Wich gal Mukdi Ae’,)

It’s all within a single dot

Hold that dot and forget the worldly math

Let hell be …and forget about the hellfire

Shut the doors of not believing

Clean away the heart’s dust

It is all sacred within this home

It is all within a single dot

This singularity and closeness can make light the breath of all existence … As Rumi put it “we have come to unite not to divide” and Kandinsky followed “To harmonize the whole is the task of art.” …




Popova, M. (2014) Kandinsky on the spiritual element in art and the Three responsibilities of artists. Available at: (Accessed: 16 June 2016).In-line Citation:(Popova, 2014)
Tisma, A. Art and spirituality. Available at: (Accessed: 15 June 2016).In-line Citation:(Tisma)
Sufi soul: The mystic music of Islam, Available at: (Accessed: 9 June 2016).In-line Citation ;(sufi soul; the mystic of Islam)
‘Ek Nukte Wich gal Mukdi Ae’  Available at: (Accessed: 16 June 2016).In-line Citation:( ‘Ek Nukte Wich gal Mukdi Ae’,)
Tuigen Heim (2015) Slavoj Zizek – the abyss of spirituality. Available at: (Accessed: 15 June 2016).In-line Citation:(Tuigen Heim, 2015)
Elmarsafy, Z. (2008) ‘Adapting Sufism to video art: Bill Viola and the sacred / تجليات التصوف في فن الڤيديو: بيل ڤيولا والمقدس’, Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, , pp. 127–149. doi: 10.2307/27929798.In-line Citation:(Elmarsafy, 2008)
Guion, D. 2008:A Study Of Spirituality In Contemporary Visual Art And Foundations Funding’ Presented in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Doctor of Philosophy in the Graduate School of The Ohio State University. In-line Citation: (Guion, 2008)
Paintner, C. 2007: The Relationship between Spirituality and Artistic Expression: Cultivating the Capacity for Imagining’ Newsletter, spirituality in higher education, volume 3, issue 2. In-line Citation: (Paintner, 2007)
21, A. (2001) EPISODE: Spirituality | art21. Available at: (Accessed: 15 June 2016). In-line Citation :(21, 2001)
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