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Committing a Dream: Chapter 3 — Travelling without Moving with Himali Singh Soin
(Above: Himali Singh Soin, Ritual Telepathy at the Relic Chamber, 2019)
“The sound moves between a spaceship revving and a gong bath. Both have been sourced from found archives that assist people in sleeping better,” says Himali Singh Soin about the soundscape of Ritual Telepathy at the Relic-Chamber.
The sound sets the pace for a video that is part meditative, part celebratory and part science fiction speculative.
Gong meditation is a sound practice involving the use of gong sounds and vibrations for therapeutic purposes. This practice is also sometimes referred to as a “gong bath” because participants are “bathed” in meditation gong sound waves.
It’s Poya (full moon) evening at the Ruwanwelisaya stupa in Sri Lanka. Monks wrap the stupa with the Buddhist flag. Ruwanwelisaya is the oldest stupa in the country and is said to hold the relic of the Buddha’s right collarbone.
Collarbones, i.e. the clavicles, are somewhat uneventful. Sure, they help us hold up our arms freely and away from the trunk etc. And sure they are the most commonly fractured bones but, aside from that, they are quite devoid of drama.
A broken collarbone was one of the injuries sustained by the prince of a Bronze Age civilisation killed some 3,846 years ago. The murder is known as one of the earliest recorded political assassinations in human history.
The thing I remember most about collarbones though is that Rahel — from Arundhati Roy’s God of Small Things, 1997 — “had absurdly beautiful collarbones and a nice athletic run”.
On the ‘uneventful’ Roy writes in The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, 2017, “Even in the most uneventful of our lives, we are called upon to choose our battles...”
Because how can we not?
In thinking through this video Himali brings up the introduction to Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene, 2017: Curiosity is an attunement to multispecies entanglement, complexity, and the shimmer all around us... Landscapes shimmer when they gather rhythms shared across various forms of life. Shimmer describes the coming in and out of focus of multispecies knots, with their cascading effects... Landscapes enact more-than-human-rhythms. To follow these rhythms, we need new histories and descriptions...
The introduction is co-written by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, Nils Bubandt, Elaine Gan, and Heather Anne Swanson, who are also co-editors of the book Living on a Damaged Planet.
The introduction echoes Buddhist philosophy, which speaks of impermanence. Nothing lasts forever: no thought, no feeling, no self-knowledge and definitely no physical reality. In this ecosystem marked by impermanence, everything is interdependent.
“All component things in the world are changeable. They are not lasting. Work hard to gain your own salvation,” spoke the Buddha as his last words.
“The imagery focuses on the natural tableau made by the men leaning and relying on the stupa,” Himali explains. “What could happen while we wait for the cloth to come around? Can we dream collectively? Can we bear the weight together? Move, hold, wait, rest; the video is largely interested in these ideas."
“A figure from the future is witness to this ceremony. Carrying a post-anthropogenic silver coconut, the figure's emergency blanket quivers in the light, reminding us of the shimmering connection between stillness and movement.”
NASA first developed the emergency blanket, ‘cept NASA calls it the space blanket, in 1964. The blanket was, and still is, used to reduce heat loss from bodies on space travels. It is also used in and on spacecrafts for thermal control.
In the interim though, the blankets have come to be used for a plethora of purposes. According to the Borgesian Wikipedia, “A space blanket (depending on the function, also known as a Mylar blanket, emergency blanket, first aid blanket, safety blanket, thermal blanket, weather blanket, heat sheet, or commonly referred to as shock blankets) is an especially low-weight, low-bulk blanket made of heat-reflective thin plastic sheeting.”
The blanket has journeyed many many miles into deep space, but also journeyed far on rough seas whereabouts it keeps those seeking refuge, warm from the biting cold.
In telepathy space does not matter.
Be it the ritual of the performance of the ‘figure from the future’ or the ritual of the monks wrapping the stupa. Could it be that ‘entanglement’ is really all that is being communicated, or all that needs to be communicated, via this and every other ritual telepathy ever?
Coconuts know something about stillness and movement. They are known to drift across oceans before landing and rooting on distant beaches.
Ritual Telepathy at the Relic-Chamber is a slowly unfolding work. Slow like the heart of a blue whale, timing six beats per minute.
Whale songs assist humans in sleeping better. They also assist humans in meditation.
Since the 1980s, a whale has been recorded singing on 52-hertz. It is the only known whale calling on this frequency. This has led to it being called the world’s loneliest whale.
Would you meditate to the sound of the world’s loneliest whale? Or, like me, does even the thought of that make you forlorn?
Meditation is the centrepiece of Buddhist ritual and practice. Shamatha, ‘calm’ in Pali, a meditation technique common to several Buddhist traditions, involves following and being mindful of one's breath.
Dolphins can go without breathing for up to 15 minutes. And their brains are bigger than humans'. In 2013, in India, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) declared that, “dolphins should be seen as non-human persons”.
“[O]n the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much — the wheel, New York, wars and so on — whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man — for precisely the same reasons,” writes Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, 1979.
Anna Tsing is most known for her book The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, 2015. In her introduction to the book, titled Enabling Entanglements, Tsing writes, “[I]nterspecies entanglements that once seemed the stuff of fables are now materials for serious discussion among biologists and ecologists, who show how life requires the interplay of many kinds of beings. Humans cannot survive by stomping on all the others.”
Mushroom is a fungus. An acre of soil contains approximately 1000 kilograms of fungi, 680 kilograms of bacteria, 400 kilograms of earthworms, and 400 kilograms of insects.
Taking a forest breather has positive effects on psychology and physiology. Shinrin-yoku, literally meaning forest-bathing or taking in the atmosphere of the forest, is a practice that originated in Japan in the early 80s.
Soil analysis has confirmed that the 1943 Bengal famine was caused by then-British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s policies and not the drought. Insufficient soil moisture is telling of poor rainfall and high temperature. Weather data used to simulate the moisture present in the soil found this not to be the case in 1943.
All component things in the world are changeable. They are not lasting. Work hard to gain your own salvation.
The Buddha’s last words are still with us.
Towards the of his life, Guglielmo Marconi — who, alongside JC Bose and others, made key contributions to the development of the radio — believed that sound never dies. It only becomes inaudible to human ears. One has only to invent the right kind of ear, and access to this (infinite/impossible) archive would be possible.
Artist in Focus
Himali Singh Soin is an artist and writer based between Delhi and London. Her work involves literature, outer space and the natural environment to construct imaginary cosmologies that think through ecological loss, and the loss of home. Her work has been shown at Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA), Serpentine Galleries, and Lewisham Art House in London; Kadist, San Francisco; Abrons Art Center, New York City; MeetFactory, Prague; Fabrika, Moscow; Office for Contemporary Art Norway (OCA), Oslo; Dhaka Art Summit, Dhaka; Khoj International Artists’ Association, Delhi and Serendipity Arts Festival, Goa among others. More here and here.
Invisible Light (Curatorial Note and Themes)
Jagte Raho (Curatorial Note and Chapters)
Committing a Dream (Curatorial Note and Chapters)
Gitanjali Dang is a curator, writer and overall shape-shifter. In 2012, she founded Khanabadosh, an itinerant arts lab.