Saami petroglyph

Interpreting Encoded Fragments

As an artist I am drawn to a variety of art forms which help to present our inner thoughts and feelings into something new and sometimes remembered. You can sense this when looking at a cave painting as well as a Jackson Pollock painting. There is something very powerful about the original intention that becomes encoded into each work of art. Encoding is simply the process of converting information from one form into another.

ZenAssemblage is unique in that it takes a man-made substance (tires), and instead of there being human intention behind the encoding there is air pressure and friction guiding the explosion and fragmentation. Each substance achieves its own encoding and the viewer then becomes the interpreter.

In some ways, the idea of encoded fragments can also include the luscious brush strokes of Zen calligraphy. It’s a remarkable capturing of energy  that is translated with a heavily loaded paint brush as it hits the smooth surface of paper. The end result is the combination of a breath that was taken before the brush hits the paper, the movement across the paper and the release of breath as the brush is suddenly pulled up. Even if you have never painted before, there is a part of being human that tells us about that brush stroke and allows us to share the excitement of the energy it represents.

A single expressive stroke can hold an intention and emotionally bring us to a place we weren’t expecting to go. When this stroke is made with a material we weren’t expecting to see in this way, we are then brought into a place of inquiry. This is the place where shift happens.

The information below is a sample of Japanese, Chinese and other cultural uses of the circle as an artistic expression and form of communication. ZenAssemblage takes on the challenge of tapping into this collective consciousness around circles and invites you to enjoy the visual experience of remembering.

Ensō = Zen circle

Zen circle art

Zen Calligraphy Circle Art

In Zen Buddhism, an ensō , “circle” is a circle that is hand-drawn in one or two uninhibited brushstrokes to express a moment when the mind is free to let the body create.

The ensō symbolizes absolute enlightenment, strength, elegance, the universe, and mu (the void). It is characterised by a minimalism born of Japanese aesthetics.

Drawing ensō is a disciplined-creative practice of Japanese ink painting—sumi-e ink. The tools and mechanics of drawing the ensō are the same as those used in traditional Japanese calligraphy: One uses a brush to apply ink to washi (a thin Japanese paper).

The circle may be open or closed. In the former case the circle is incomplete, allowing for movement and development as well as the perfection of all things. Zen practitioners relate the idea to wabi-sabi, the beauty of imperfection. When the circle is closed, it represents perfection, akin to Plato’s perfect form, the reason why the circle was used for centuries in the construction of cosmological models.

Usually a person draws the ensō in one fluid, expressive stroke.[1] When drawn according to the sōsho style of Japanese calligraphy, the brushstroke is especially swift. Once the ensō is drawn, one does not change it. It evidences the character of its creator and the context of its creation in a brief, contiguous period of time. Drawing ensō is a spiritual practice that one might perform as often as once per day.[2]

  1.  17th-century Rinzai master Bankei Yōtaku occasionally used two brushstrokes.
  2. Jump up Seo, Audrey Yoshiko (2007). Ensō: Zen Circles of Enlightenment. Boston: Weatherhill. 
Circle art of shaman

Gold Shaman’s Costume from Amur River, Russo – Chinese border

Shaman’s Costume from Siberia

This is a costume of the Goldi Tribe of the Amur River in Siberia. It is worn by the shaman in his or her travels to other worlds. Amongst the many images and symbolic motifs, there is an open circle on the back side of this costume (shown above). The shaman goes into trance and is symbolically transported to the center of the world where he climbs the cosmic tree to the other realms.

Also central to this visionary experience is of shamanism is the archetypal and hypnotic image of the mandala, a series of concentric circles. Most significant is the mandala surmounting the underworld which represents the the simultaneously the sun and the hole-in-the-earth through which the shaman leaves the earthly sphere and descends to the underworld (also known as the lower world or non-ordinary reality).

Excerpt from article “Shamanic Tree of Life” by Joan Vastokas

Tibetan Tree of Life Thanka Painting

Circle art

Sacred Geometry

Sacred Geometry has its roots in the study of nature, and the mathematical principles that they embody. Geometric ratios, and geometric figures were often employed in the designs of ancient Egyptian, ancient Indian, Greek and Roman architecture. Medieval European cathedrals also incorporated symbolic geometry. Indian and Himalayan spiritual communities often constructed temples and fortifications on design plans of mandala.

Ouroboros Egyptian

Gnostic gem from Roman-era Egypt (1st century AD), with an ouroboros surrounding a scarab.

The ouroboros is an ancient symbol depicting a serpent eating its own tail. The ouroboros often symbolizes self-reflexivity or introspection, especially in the sense of something constantly re-creating itself. It first emerged in Ancient Egypt and has been important in religious and mythological symbolism. In funerary scripts found in the tomb of Tutankhamen (14th century BC) the ouroboros figure represents the beginning and the end of time.

There are other historical representations that exist in Greece, India, Norway, South America and Germany. Each of them interpreting, in essence, the symbol of a circle being completed.

Circle format of Thanka.

Tibetan Thanka Paintings

Thangka serve as important teaching tools depicting the life of the Buddha, various influential lamas and other deities and bodhisattvas. One subject is The Wheel of Life (Bhavachakra), which is a visual representation of the Abhidharma – Art of Enlightenment teachings.

Thangka perform several different functions. Images of deities can be used as teaching tools when depicting the life (or lives) of the Buddha, describing historical events concerning important Lamas, or retelling myths associated with other deities. Devotional images act as the centerpiece during a ritual or ceremony and are often used as mediums through which one can offer prayers or make requests.