INTRODUCTION + POETRY + MUSIC + ESSAYS + TRAVEL + FICTION + TEXTILE ART + HAAG'S BIO
The central design in KALACHAKRA is an adaptation of The All Powerful Ten Symbol associated with the Kalachakra Initiation of Tibetan Buddhism.
In 1988 I attended H.E. Chogye Trichen Rimpoche's offering of the Initiation in Bodhnath, Nepal. It was also offered by the Dalai Lama in America in 1989. The Kalachakra is the highest initiation in Tibetan Buddhism.
Among other things, The All Powerful Ten Symbol relates to "good fortune," "world peace," and the "relationship of the microcosm to the macrocosm." It uses traditional Tibetan colors. These colors are also used as symbolic "colors of the world" in many other cultures.
In Sanskrit, each syllable is a mantra. Tibetan writing was derived originally from Devanagari -- the script in which Sanskrit is usually written. The All Powerful Ten Symbol is written in Lentsa, a decorative script in which the syllables, so to speak, have come "half way back" from Tibetan to Sanskrit.
After about sixteen months of intense work stitching this mantra, I noticed that each of the colored "ribbons" (verticals) is its syllable: i.e, reading from the right, the blue is Sanskrit "ha" in Devanagari, (it can also be construed as "Ma"); the green, "ksa;" the reds, "ra;" the yellow, "la;" the white, "va;" and the blacks, "ya." Although each syllable is extremely elongated and stylized, its Sanskrit form is still clearly discernible. Each ribbon is a syllable and a mantra. In addition, the entire symbol is a mantra composed of seven letters and the three symbols of sun, moon and flame.
This mantra, embodied in The All Powerful Ten Symbol, was read for me in Sanskrit as: "Om, ha k-sa ma la va ra ya-m." It was also read for me by a Tibetan Lama from Ladakh as: "Om hung hyan mala wara ya hung pet." In Tibet, it is called the rNam-bcu-dban-ldan. In Sanskrit it is known as Dasaksaro vaci.
When I first saw the 1989 brochure announcing the Dalai Lama's teaching of the Kalachakra on Fred and Megan Karlin's coffee table in Montecito, California, I said to Megan: "That would make a beautiful needlepoint."
"Have it," she said.
Thus began -- though my original impulse was simply to fill the beautiful symbol with decorative pattern -- one of the most arcane pursuits of my life.
It took me some time to ponder the mathematics of transposing the symbol from the brochure to canvas, but when I finally began to stitch it in Marin County in Diana King's house under a skylight with sunlight streaming in, I immediately perceived there were just two decisions to be made: the width of each letter's vertical and the width between the verticals. Once those decisions were made, the other elements of the symbol were automatically determined. After outlining a couple of the verticals, I began stitching pattern into the green.
I had worked most of the green, part of the red vertical next to the green, and a few OMs in the white when people, knowledgeable about Tibetan Buddhism, (who were visiting the Seeds of Change farm in New Mexico where, by then, I was living and working) said: "You do know that each 'ribbon' has a meaning?"
"No," I replied. "What are the meanings?"
They did not know, but promised to send me the information. They never did. And, because I was in the fairly desolate south west of New Mexico, there were no reference libraries. (And neither Google nor the Net existed at the time.) Wondering about their meanings, I continued to stitch on the green, the red and the white and to develop other elements in the design.
Upon leaving New Mexico, it took me a full year and a half to trace down various elements of the meaning of The All Powerful Ten Symbol -- indeed, it took me a long time to find out that that was what it was called. Only quite late in my search did I realize this symbol was associated with the Initiation I had taken in Nepal and that some of the knowledge connected with it is secret. My being an initiate opened a few doors that otherwise might have been closed.
When the needlepoint was almost finished -- it having been the witness and repository of much joy, adventure, rage, tears, and several crossings of the American continent -- Megan called. Several weeks before her call, she had sent me a card with a photograph of a rug displaying the The All Powerful Ten Symbol. Manufacture of these rugs had recently been authorized by the Dalai Lama.
I told her about my ignorance-of-its-meaning when I chose the symbol, about my slow learning of its messages, iconography, coding, about my often great rage at how difficult it had been to stitch. (It was the first needlepoint I had ever stitched and unstitched repeatedly to make sure the patterns counted across accurately. Ordinarily, I simply justify "mistakes" and go on. But here I needed a certain perfection to convey the impression of "rugs" lying beneath the topmost motif. ) I also told Megan about how little I had comprehended the Initiation when I took it in Nepal. And she, having by then spent over a year with the Dalai Lama, said. "The needlepoint is your way of understanding the teachings."
Musing on that "answer" over the years, it has taken on ever deeper meaning. It especially resonated as I began to study and practice North Indian Classical Music, for which, even though I have great love, I have no musical talent. However, again, I found I could begin to understand the music by transposing it into visual pattern and design.
Since 1994, I have completed three needlepoints based on North Indian Classical Music: Tintal Coin Purse; Kaida, Tabla Covers; Tukra, Tabla Covers. I am now at work on Mukhra/Tukra/Chakradar, a complex interweaving of a number of compositions based on a single set of drum bols. It is shown here (in progress) as it was exhibited at the Seattle Asian Art Museum in 1996 along with photographs of its progressive stages.
When completed, Mukhra/Tukra/Chakradar will be my largest piece and an even longer and more intense learning experience than the year and a half I spent stitching the KALACHAKRA. Like life, my needlepoints are a learn-as-you-go experience and, like Indian music, they are improvised on a strict "grid," on which one's muse develops beauty and meaning only as one proceeds.
Having given talks about the needlepoints to many audiences, and many explanations about their imagery to innumerable friends, acquaintances and strangers, it has been my hope to one day record and fully explicate the elements that go into each of the works. Because needlepointing is "one stitch at a time," it always seemed a quite feasible project. However, like many things one dreams of doing, when it comes to doing it in reality, it is just not possible. There are simply too many, almost too-subtle-to-be-conscious, decisions that one makes in creating any work of art -- especially as regards the subjective/intuitive choices of color, pattern and design. Therefore, the following notes contain mainly acknowledgements of some of the sources of my inspiration, explication of some of the symbols, certain recollections, and a soupcon of aesthetics and philosophy.
Cyberspace, indeed, strikes me as an ideal place in which to bring these "program notes" into existence, not only for their own sake, but to serve in place of wall placards the next time I exhibit the needlepoints.
The needlepoints should be shown with title cards only. For, first and foremost, they are to be seen autonomously -- just as they are, in and for themselves. One does not ask for explantions from a Rumi carpet.
However, I also believe, as most people do, that a work of art can take on greater meaning, depth, and excite a more complex appreciation if one comes to know the meaning/history/background of its "language," symbols, sources, and intentions. Websites, therefore, strike me as not only ideal but, soon, an indispensable adjunct to all exhibitions.
One will be able to go to museums and galleries unburdened by the necessity to bend, squint and read texts that are, inevitably, either too long, and therefore tiring to read on one's feet, or too short, leaving one unsatisfied and, not infrequently, puzzled.
I predict that quite soon every exhibition will have a computer (hidden in a niche), on which the museum visitor can immediately call up notes (or whole tomes) about any artifact on view. And/or one will also be able to go to any computer at one's leisure, before or after an exhibition, and study, to whatever degree one wishes, the background and context of a work of art, as well as be able to see it in the most minute detail, X-rayed, or hanging in various settings.
Websites will eliminate the need to buy and carry a catalog which, even now, relatively few museum visitors can afford for any show, let alone every show. Websites will also constitute both a permanent record, and a record that can easily be revised, updated, expanded or contracted to accompany a work in any future exhibition.
This explication of the KALACHAKRA needlepoint will begin with some of the elements contained in the syllables within The All Powerful Ten Symbol:
1) There are two syllables in the blue: ha which, in this context, refers to the "crown of the head," and ma which refers to the "spine."
The small stick figure in the blue was inspired by a petroglyph in Canyon de Chelly where, in my 1990 cross-country walk with A Global Walk for a Liveable World (which included several drives back and forth across the continent) I paused to sit for an afternoon on the canyon floor and add some stitches to the KALACHAKRA.
To the figure of the Canyon de Chelly petroglyph, which was chipped into the red rock below the cliff dwelling called the White House Ruin, I added the "spine" with stitches on either side of the backbone, and emphasized the "crown of the head" with lighter wool. With a single stitch, I differentiated the repeated figures into men and women -- the one in the detail (at left) is a woman. There are also red dots on a six point grid system between the legs of the figures. These are Braille for ha and ma.
2) Ksa, the Sanskrit for the green letter, is not used in its vertical. As mentioned before, the vertical is filled with a purely decorative pattern.
3) The red letter's right hand vertical is also filled with a purely decorative pattern. However, at the top, where it joins the blue, its syllable ra is stitched one time. The left red vertical says, in Sanskrit: "Satyam satyam varaanane satyam," "It is the truth, it is the truth, O Beautiful One, it is the truth." This is partially repeated in the red's lower horizontal. There are also flames in the red to indicate it is the mandala of "fire."
4) La, the letter in the yellow, refers to the earth. It is stitched alternately with three earth symbols, i.e, 1) sets of parallel lines, between 2) a cross atop a circle (when inverted -- a circle atop a cross -- this earth sign becomes the sign for Venus and the symbol for woman), 3) groups of eight lines and a sun.
(Along the right side of the yellow and up through the "lines" and "loops" of the syllables at the left, note that the central portion of The All Powerful Ten Symbol lies atop an intricate floorplan -- see below.)
5) Va, the white letter, is not used in its vertical. Instead, both the white vertical and its loop are decoratively filled with Oms, the original sound. Va, however, can be discerned in the red, as the inital syllable of "varaanane."
Ya, in Devanagari, is stitched, in grey and black, into the left of the two black verticals. In Braille it is stitched in grey and red. The form of the ya, perhaps, shows most clearly the similarity between the ribbons in The All Powerful Ten Symbol and their Devanagari origin. Note also, ya's relationship to English "y." It is believed the Indo-European languages are all derived, somewhat indirectly, from Sanskrit.
Ya is the mandala of the wind. "Wind," in the Braille alphabet, is stitched in grey, both horizontally and vertically in the right of the two black verticals -- with each letter, at times, reversed left to right.
Why correct and reversed? A copy of the Braille alphabet on an old and crumpled piece of paper once blew to my feet on a street in Los Angeles. I picked it up. It served as inspiration to use Braille as another decorative language. However, when I went to the Seattle Public Library to check and make sure it was correct, I was, after much searching, given a xeroxed copy of a Braille alphabet in which the letters were reversed left to right. I assumed the library copy was correct, only to discover, later, it was the reversed one. But, I had already stitched too many of the letters into the design to pick them out, so I left them in as a Ya, in Devanagari, is stitched, in grey and black, into the left of the two black verticals. In Braille it is stitched in grey and red. The form of the ya, perhaps, shows most clearly the similarity between the ribbons in The All Powerful Ten Symbol and their Devanagari origin. Note also, ya's relationship to English "y." It is believed the Indo-European languages are all derived, somewhat indirectly, from Sanskrit. Ya is the mandala of the wind. "Wind," in the Braille alphabet, is stitched in grey, both horizontally and vertically in the right of the two black verticals -- with each letter, at times, reversed left to right. Why correct and reversed? A copy of the Braille alphabet on an old and crumpled piece of paper once blew to my feet on a street in Los Angeles. I picked it up. It served as inspiration to use Braille as another decorative language. However, when I went to the Seattle Public Library to check and make sure it was correct, I was, after much searching, given a xeroxed copy of a Braille alphabet in which the letters were reversed left to right. I assumed the library copy was correct, only to discover, later, it was the reversed one. But, I had already stitched too many of the letters into the design to pick them out, so I left them in as a memento to the perils of research. Later still, I discovered that the Braille alphabet is printed in almost every dictionary.
Ya also refers to the "sole of the foot," a symbol by which the Buddha was known before he was pictured as a man. (He was also, originally, pictured in the form of a wheel -- a reference to the "wheel of the dharma.") Below each horizontal "wind," one can see foot-prints stitched in maroon. The footprints alternate as they "walk up" the ribbon. Within each footprint, "wind" is written vertically opposite the foot's arch. At left, on the right side of my working graph, "wind" appears with each letter/sign reversed left to right.
Three excellent Websites that contain further explication of the syllables of the very complex All Powerful Ten Symbol are Kalacakra Seed Syllable and The Tenfold Powerful One, and their meanings are delved into at Introduction to Kalachakra
As I worked on the KALACHAKRA I began to experiment, through the careful use of color, with the illusions of transparency, shading and dimensionality. Note where the black vertical begins to curve that there is a two-stitch variation in the colors to help "separate" the ribbon from its background. This two-stitch variation is also used in several other places, most noticeably around the sun and crescent moon near the top of the canvas to emphasize their roundness. At top center, an illusion of transparency is created where the white "Greek key design" goes "behind" the "translucent" "top" of the Lingaraj Temple floor plan. A red Om forms part of the design of the flame. Ksa is written in Devanagari in the crescent moon, as are "k," "s" and "a" in Braille.
The Egyptian Eyes "utat(s)" of Horus peer over the top of The All Powerful Ten symbol's lintel. The left eye refers to the moon, the right eye to the sun and to "health." At the left, still within the center section, on a level with the base of the flame, "Neti neti" is written in Sanskrit. It means: "Not this, not this," which is one of the descriptions of God in Hinduism. On the right, in Sanskrit, is, "Tat tvam asi" which means: "Thou Art That," or "That Thou Art" -- perhaps the most well known injunction in all of Hinduism. (The transcription of Nisargardatta's satsangs, one of the great modern books recording a Gnani's teachings bears the title "Thou Art That.") These symbols -- including my philosophy of "mistakes" -- are borrowed from the cultures I have studied, loved, and learned enough about to incorporate into my life.
The pattern that fills the top of the temple floor plan is based on the design of a Navajo chief's blanket. While variations on a Japanese design form the "deepest" background and the outermost border. One of my favorite devices is to use the same pattern, but to vary the colors, to create wholly different designs. The white dot pattern enclosing the red crosses to the right and left of the floor plan's top are based on the same pattern as the rectangular jewels and dark interstices in the outer border.
Also note, in the left border, that the color switches from blue to green in the last full cross shown on the detail above. This is one of the many "mistakes" left in. I was, at the time, living with and working for June Wayne. At night she, Hank and I would sit watching the McNeil/Lehrer Report on television in a wonderfully comfortable lounge beside the dining room. The lights were dim enough that I could not tell the blue from the green. In Oriental rug parlance, I consider it a form of "abrash" and treasure it as a reminder of those evenings. It was during that winter of 1989 that June, just before my Palm Springs exhibit, set out the needlepoints in her beautiful private gallery for their initial showing in California.
In a needlepoint the "top" elements (those one wants to appear whole, or as laying on or being supported by the lower layers) are stitched first, then one proceeds "down" through each successive layer. Using tribal rug colors in the background elements, the effect intended in KALACHAKRA is of the The All Powerful Ten symbol resting on a collage of rugs. Its theme, the leitmotif in all my work: The World Is One. The earth is a vast canvas where each design and stitch is essential and adds to the beauty of the whole.
In my studies I have come across few attempts to view the history (or consider the presence) of the whole world -- to recognize the glory, the essential contribution of each culture. Thus, the design elements of the KALACHAKRA are brought together to point to the necessity to keep in mind, especially today, the WHOLE world, to remember we are, individually and as individual cultures, but parts of that whole, each a pearl in Indra's Net. "Idam eva Shivam tv(u) idam eva Shivam." Every aspect is equally important.
The All Powerful Ten symbol lies on a stylized floor plan of the 7th century Lingaraj temple at Bhubaneswar in Orissa, India. This particular version of the floor plan was given to me by the architect Bob Hawley who was, at that time, working on a project of the floor plans of sacred spaces throughout the world.
KALACHAKRA was shown as a work in progress (as seen at right in this photograph by Eva Lothar) at the first public exhibition of the needlepoints in Palm Springs in 1989/90. The photograph reveals the substructure of the piece: The All Powerful Ten Symbol with the Lingaraj floor plan outlined beneath it.
It also shows the ascending footprints being stitched in the black vertical, and one can see the play on transparency where the floor plan's outline shows through what is to become the blue lintel of The All Powerful Ten Symbol. The floor plan can also be seen through some of the loops of the syllables at left.
Arranged by Margaret Roades and titled NEEDLEPOINT JOURNEYS, the exhibit was designed by Nancy Watt to surround the Palm Springs Library's koi pool and exotic plantings. The "journeys" of the work -- from the I CHING to the KALACHAKRA, stitched in Asia, Europe, and America -- distilled the complexities of a life lived within the "internationality" of the modern world. Thirteen needlepoints were shown and a Workshop on Improvisational Needlepointing was given for people interested in both spiritual iconography and needlework.
The KALACHAKRA was stitched in many places, including Marin County, the Dharma Sah Zen Center in Los Angeles; near Gila, New Mexico and, again, in Los Angeles. I stitched while I drove up the coast via Santa Cruz, Berkeley, Seaside, to Seattle. There, while I was mounting the needlepoints for the Palm Springs show, I listened to news of the Santa Cruz earthquake.
Then I continued stitching on the Global Walk for a Livable World from Los Angeles via Santa Monica, Redlands, Riverside, Palm Springs, Morongo Valley, in Joshua Tree National Monument, Twentynine Palms, and across the eastern deserts of California and the western deserts of Arizona; in Parker, Arizona, in Phoenix, at a sweat lodge near Flagstaff, at Paolo Solari's Arcosanti; in New Mexico in Las Cruces, Madrid, Cerrillos, Santa Fe, and in Las Vegas (NM) while visiting Rheua Pearce -- who had worked with Jane Addams at Hull House and who had known George Coluzzi -- during a storm that left four inches of snow on May 5; in Tucumcari and into Texas. Then, driving across the rest of the United States with Catherine Veatch, first stopping in Palodura Canyon, the Grand Canyon of Texas, Amarillo, and all across the north of Texas; in Columbus, Mississippi while visiting Carrie Barnes, and in Atlanta, Georgia while visiting Julia and John Fenton, I stitched.
Driving back across the United States -- visiting Faulkner's home in Oxford, Mississippi; stopping at some of the "mounds"; staying overnight in Hot Springs, Arkansas two days after their 1990 flood, and Little Rock, where we drove by the school in memorium; in Kansas paralleling a hurricane across the state through all but deserted small towns -- Catherine and I slept beside cemeteries, beside rivers and lakes and arrived in Steamboat Springs, Colorado to take part in a "use of the land seminar" with Pat Novak. Then back to Texas, and Tucson, and Phoenix, I kept stitching -- and back to Texas again, through Albuquerque, New Mexico; Tulsa, Oklahoma to visit the Philip's Museum, Fort Worth to visit the zoo and the Kimball Museum -- which they had disappointingly changed, in the intervening years, from comfortable sit-on-sofas-among-the-Oriental-rugs galleries to a standard stand-around-and-admire museum.
Then I went on a short visit to the Bahamas with Ruth Gilmore, and came back to wander with her through the Four Corners area visiting Chaco Canyon in northern New Mexico, Mesa Verde in Colorado, and Canyon de Chelly in Arizona, with a memorable stop-off at the museum in Holbrook -- stitching. Then alone, back to Santa Fe to help Dorothy Perron with her PhD thesis in Gerontology on the active aging and to visit with Joshua Smith at the Sol y Sombra; then up along the Chama River, nodding in at the Christ in the Desert Monastery, visiting Georgia O'Keefe's territory near Abiquiu and, finding the near-by Mosque open, wandering through it and among the white cliffs that O'Keefe loved. In Utah's Dinosaur National Monument; in the lava fields of Eastern Oregon; along the Columbia River and atop Mount Saint Helens in the awe-inspiring devastation still everywhere evident ten years after the blast; in Paradise on Mount Rainier and again in Seattle --I continued to stitch.
During this time I did a lot of Xoomij singing, and sometimes taught it, using it to communicate with spirit and nature. I sang at sunrise and, at times tried to charm the animals with this purest of all sounds. Listen to David Hykes and the Harmonic Choir's recording of Solar Winds to find out what Xoomij singing is -- if you don't already know. It is transcendentally beautiful. I learned it from Santiago Villerela in Austin, Texas while at work on Great Grandmother's Legacy .
Once again I drove up and down the West Coast again and again, and maybe again, traveling and stitching until I stopped in Berkeley to live, through the good offices of Amy Goodell, with Helene Walton. I slept on a horsehair mattress and read R.K Narayan, intermittently house sat, and went through forty boxes of my manuscripts, which had been stored at Giuliana Haight's, to prepare them for shipment to Texas Woman's University for archiving. When I was finished with the project and had shipped that ton of paper from my life, I had two reactions: 1) I felt like a clean porcelain tube; 2) I felt I had been sent to this earth to record what it was like to be a human being and that I had accomplished my mission.
And 3) I had no idea what to do next.
I kept stitching as I returned to my cousin's in Palm Springs, then found a place to live in Morongo Valley with Sue Coyle. There I helped Sue fight the good fight over water and corruption in the local government, and began my fifth flirtation with novel writing -- a love affair that finally resulted in NO PALMS. And again, I went to Texas, this time East Texas, to be a Fellow at the Syvenna Foundation, where I remember stitching in my cabin in the woods in the almost tropical nights while a huge green moth fluttered against my glass doors. Or, at times, I would sit with the glass doors open to watch the drama of the vast thunder and lightning shows -- and stitch. Returning to Morongo Valley I finished the KALACHAKRA.
Then I began, in a dramatic change of mood and motivation, the Needlepoint/Cattipoint, and soon after I began to paint Cattipoints (not yet posted to this Website).
Thus, major stitching on the KALACHAKRA was completed in the fall of 1992.
One of the very last elements to be done were the two small symbols/letters on either side of The All Power Ten Symbol. No one seemed to know what they meant. Finally, through Tom Kasa who, at that time still worked at the East Asia Library at the University of Washington and who had located the book "Yoga and Yantra" by P.H. Pott, which is as clear as any book about The All Powerful Ten Symbol's meanings, I met a Tibetan scholar. He confessed to not being sure of the meaning, but he thought they were to be read as: "Thus have I heard," the prelusory invocation that begins Buddhist Sutras. He suggested I check with the lama at the Sakya Monastery in Seattle. By chance we chose the same meditation time to go there and so met again. He introduced me to the resident lama, but the lama could not confirm the meaning of the two symbols.
A year passed and, in the meantime, the picture of the Dalai Lama's rug arrived and suggested to me a pattern for inside the two small symbols, i.e. I created a small pattern using both of the two symbols to place within each of the larger symbols.
When I was next in Seattle, I happened to stop by the Sakya Monastery to pick up a meditation schedule. The person I talked to asked if I had seen the Dharma room that was being painted in the Tibetan manner. I had, but my sister had not. So we stepped into there via the hallway door to view it. Even unfinished, it was awe-inspiring. A few moments later the large front doors were opened. In walked the Tibetan scholar. I recognized him, and started to say: "You may not remember me..." But he interrupted to say. "Ah yes, but I do, and they do mean 'Thus have I heard.'" Neither he nor I had visited the monastery since our last meeting.
A few final stitches were taken in 1995 to enhance the Oms in the white ribbon.
In 1990, on the Global Walk when we passed through Santa Fe, I sold my SX 70 camera to a young man more full of esoteric knowledge than anyone I have ever known. He was a collector of these, by then, old cameras, which I was finding too expensive to use. He also gave me some pictures taken with my SX 70 of an ancient Tibetan, he thought, "game board" which I have yet to incorporated into a needlepoint.
The photograph to the right is the very last picture I ever took with the SX 70. It and the other one by Lothar of the unfinished KALACHAKRA show the "random" way I work on many parts of the design at once. Lately, I have discovered one of the reason I do this -- without being aware that I even had a motive -- is to leave areas in many places so that if, late in the stitching and designing, I want to add another color or a new pattern, there is empty space throughout the canvas where I can work in the new elements, blending them subtly with the old. I never know where or when the inspiration of how to fill a space will occur.
It was during this 1990-time in Santa Fe, when I first visited Dorothy Perron with Anne Zanes, that I discovered the pattern that fills the lower part of the interior of the Lingaraj Temple. It was to become one of my favorite background motifs. In faded beige and blue, it was the pattern on the pillowcase on which my head rested while I slept.
At times, out of sheer boredom at doing the same thing over and over again, I stop work on a pattern and do a different one. At other times, having imagined a new pattern, I jump to it, avid with curiosity, to see how it will manifest.
At times I stop work on one piece and go on to a new piece until my reservoir of inspiration is full again. Once in a while, I even stop working altogether because I don't want to destroy the interim beauty of what is. There are many points in every needlepoint at which the underlying structures or designs are so beautiful, especially against the white of the pristine canvas, that it almost breaks one's heart to go on -- a feeling akin to the poignancy that comes after a time of great love or profound dedication. But the patterns must be completed; the essence of life is change.
The pauses are as important as the active stitching.
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the knowledge encoded in textiles, about the fact that I have been encoding knowledge in my needlepoints from the very first piece -- long before I was aware I was doing it. Perhaps this is how it begins for all of us -- we encode knowledge, not only of beauty, taste, technique and skill, but of philosophy and beliefs, perceptions, insights in many things we do quite automatically without being fully conscious we are doing it. Then out of realization, amusement, delight -- stitching often only for the eyes of God -- one starts to "encode" deliberately. Each piece I do is signed. At this moment, however, I do not recall where I signed the KALACHAKRA.
A few years after I finished my first needlepoint, the I Ching, I remember going to an excellent rug gallery, at that time on Phinney Ridge in Seattle, to an exhibit of very unusual rugs. Unfortunately I made no note of what kind of rugs they were, but they were large and hung high along the walls. They had a more random kind of pattern than the usual Oriental rug. The moment I walked in I "knew" that these particular rugs encoded a knowledge -- probably somewhat like physics. I just knew it. I spoke with the gallery person. He agreed that there was something special about these rugs, but he couldn't tell me more than that. They had curving lines, "randomly" placed, a little like the lines shown in "Tao Magic, The Chinese Art of the Occult" by Laszlo Legezaa on pages 33 and 37.
These designs have always puzzled me because their lines seem so unplanned. Yet, because of their context, one knows they are meaningful. They communicate to those who can read them. These particular lines relate to what's known as the "Sound of Jade" script and their meaning is, in a sense, "secret," not meant for the uninitiated.
Later, I saw a similar kind of line to those in the book and those in the rugs at my niece's wedding which took place at a family cabin on Hoods Canal. My niece is the astronomer, Suzanne Hawley, and most of those who gathered for the three day wedding were mathematicians, astronomers, physicists, etc.. To arrange the rocky beach for the wedding they picked up dozens of oyster shells and re-distributed them in patterns of apparently random lines curving back on themselves. I asked what the lines meant. No one knew. The scientist claimed to just be doing what they did for fun.
Recently, another master of improvisational needlepoint, Laurel Anderson, showed me a photograph of a landscape in Australia in an Aboriginal Art book. The picture was taken from a high place or a plane out across flat land where a river ran through it. There, again were the seemingly random curving lines -- the flow of water in an undisturbed landscape.
Often the knowledge in needlepointing, embroidery, weaving, rug making, etc. is the transmission of traditional, sometimes "secret," knowledge which exists among women. "Secret" in several ways:
In a somewhat more general sense, I also found I could distinguished three different categories of "encoded knowledge."
First) There is that which can be "read" by the initiated or cognoscenti -- that is if one is aware of certain knowledge, signs or symbols one will recognize the design/reference.
Asian Diary #1
For instance, anyone who knows there are traditional layouts of the
sixty-four kua of the I Ching, including
the one I used as the basis for my first finished needlepoint,
knows at a
glance "this is The I Ching, the Book of Changes."
Similarly, a student of Eastern Mysticism will recognize the central
Kundalini design of Asian Diary #1;
or the Tibetan bhupura in the mandala design, of the Green Pillow
and the Chinese Longevity signs on the reverse of the
Therefore, being aware of the first kind of encoded knowledge depends on the viewers own wide ranging knowledge or interests.
Second) There is that which can quite simply be read if one knows the language. I am particularly fond of the Devanagari script in which Sanskrit is most often written. I find it a beautiful and meaningful language to use in designs. Therefore, if you know Sanskrit, you can simply read the mantras or drum bols or letters I use in Tintal Coin Purse , Kaida, Tabla Covers, Tukra, Tabla Covers, Mukhra/Tukra/Chakradar, and Ten Thats.
Third) There is the kind of encoded knowledge that is unique to the individual needlepoint in the same sense that a book is unique to its author. The kind and use of color, the kind and use of design elements, the kind and use of textures, etc. Using continental stitch in all four directions, for instance, gives the work a rich and varied texture. Also, adding to the texture is the hairy-ness of the Persian wool, the softness of silk, the sheen of rayon and the shimmer of gold. Elements such as these help, subjectively, to evoke emotions in the viewer of any aesthetically made object, picture, piece of music, etc.
In this piece, which I have called KALACHAKRA, regarding the first kind of encoded knowledge, the initiated can immediately discern: here the All Powerful Ten Symbol of the Kalachakra; there, the Egyptian Eyes of Horus; there, a design based on a Navajo Chief's blanket; along the edge, a Japanese design, etc. and supporting all the other symbols/iconography is the floor plan of the Lingaraj Temple in Orissa. In addition to this kind of knowledge, there is the second kind in the many mantras scatter throughout which one can read if one reads Sanskrit. The third kind of knowledge is often evidenced through juxtapositions, the colors themselves, the following of tradition, as well as the personalizing of tradition.
For example, I placed the All Powerful Ten Symbol, a Tibetan Buddhist symbol on the Lingaraj Temple floor plan because Buddhism lies on a foundation of Hinduism. It bears somewhat the same relationship to Hinduism that Christianity does to Judaism.
Any Hindu temple floor plan would have served this purpose. However, the choice of the Lingaraj Temple turned out to be unexpectedly and extraordinarily relevant, which adds another depth of meaning for the viewer who happens to know what I only discovered several years after I completed the work, i.e within the Lingaraj Temple are four statues of lion and elephant -- the lions overcoming the elephants -- a reference to Hinduism reasserting its dominance over Buddhism in India. It seem to have been a karmic choice.
It often happens. A symbol, a pattern, a design, strikes me as intuitively right for a particular space. Then, later, I find, as in the case of the Lingaraja Temple, it has more than uncommon significance signifigance to the meaning of the work at hand.
Recently, I ran across "A Foreshadowing of Twenty-first Century Art -- On the Meaning in Turkish Carpets" by Christopher Alexander. His thoughts are both similar and different than my own, re the knowledge encoded in Oriental carpets. Both of us attempt to go beyond the usual explanations of garden, water, sky, etc. I don't quarrel with these interpretations, but they don't begin to deal with either the first or second kind of knowledge spoken about above.
Alexander, on the one hand, tries valiantly to intellectualize, generalize, and hypothesize progressions of the, more than likely, intuitive use of specific variations in design from minute detail to overall pattern. I, on the other hand, see most textile design as akin to the Raga concept in Indian Classical music -- given a theme, and having experience within a tradition, one composes as one goes along. Thus the glory of the music, or the the glory of the rug being unique each time. Infrequently, I suspect, were hand-made carpets totally designed ahead of time (especially this would be true with Tribal rugs). If the artist herself is doing the work, breathing space always remains to change one's mind or color or feeling, or do it in reverse or backward, just to see what it will look like. The gaiety, the joy of variation, of freedom to try a new color or design is in all the great rugs, all the great textile art of the world.
One of the main aspects of the third kind of knowledge conveyed in the the
KALACHAKRA is the borrowing of symbols from many cultures, from both
sacred and secular traditions, using traditional meanings -- particularly
in the "ribbons" -- along with purely decorative patterns. As in Indra's
Net, and the all-over distribution of design, each symbol is uniquely
beautiful (like a fractal), and comprises the "center", the whole --
especially this can be seen in the "Thus Have I Heard" symbol where the
symbols themselves are used for the pattern within the symbols. As in
holography, each part contains the whole. Each sacred or secular concept
mirrors every other spiritual concept or belief.
The translucence and
luminescence which I am working on again in the Mukhra/Tukra/Chakradar is also a
reference to "enlightenment" -- sourceless light illuminating one's work.
In Hinduism, God can be describe in two opposite ways. Just below the lower ends of the verticals of The All Powerful Ten Symbol, written in Sanskrit is: "Idam eva Shivam tv(u) idam eva Shivam." Translated, it means "This too is Shiva, and this too is Shiva." It is the sacred way of articulating the description of God opposite to "Neti Neti," "Not this, not this" i.e. this is not God, and this is not God, no-thing in itself constitutes God.
It rests against the background of the design from the Santa Fe pillow. Below it in the center of the outer border is "Idam ch'dam cha" which is the secular way of saying: "And this too is God, and this and this and this." I have adopted this as my personal mantra.
Jan Haag may be reached via e-mail: email@example.com
II The Unicorn
III Green Pillow
VI Chinese Chair Pillow
VII Great Grandmother's Legacy
VIII Octagonal Beanbag
IX Flora and Fauna Beanbag
X Asian Diary #1, Kundalini
XI Asian Diary #2
XII Tibetan Yantra Beanbag
XIV Eye of Horus Amulet
XV Erika Sachet
THE FOLLOWING NEEDLEPOINTS ARE BASED ON THE RHYTHMS AND MELODY OF
NORTH INDIAN CLASSICAL MUSIC
IXX Tintal Coin Purse
XX Kaida, Tabla Covers
XXI Tukra, Tabla Covers
XXIII The Ten Thats
+ TRAVEL +