Every summer I go on a vacation by myself, usually into the countryside of Japan, or a small town of middle age houses tucked in the European continent. I drive into the area then walk on my feet until I get to some rural temples, or chapels and spend a couple of nights there. In the morning I will climb up the top of the hill and got a birdview of the entire landscape along with the morning sunshine that absorbs the dew and fog among trees. Just like the mountain, the forest and the temples, I feel waking up from inside.
I always enjoy encountering a temple, a chapel on my way to the hilltop. A silenced architectural structure, unlike those visited by travellors or scholars, stood alongside the stairs, with no signs or guild boards. It is only you and it, in between the silence. The door to the interior is open, or not. There are sculptures of deity, or God inside, or not. Sometimes I know, or I think I know who those deities are, most of time I have absolutely no idea. I just be quiet, enjoying the encountering and watching them from a distance in the dim light.
I am an art historian, and a good one. I know most of the images in Japanese art and architecture, regardless modern or pre-modern. Also I have been trained to know those wonderful stories behind those images, gained from hours, hours of sleepless reading. Even I know how to look at those images differently and how to interpret them differently due to different methodologies. I acquire different eyes because of my training of my thinking ability. Then I usually teach people how to look and make them believe that looking is the most important thing in this world, because your vision defines you just as human’s vision defines novelty of the world.
There should be no images that I can not talk about, because I have not only taken training in Japanese art, but also in Renaissance art, knowing how to SEE those masters’ drawings and why the statue David is a genius piece. I took tons of classes in modern art, photography, western architecture, so many that none of my peers read as much as me, sleep as little as me. As they joked, I am everywhere. So technically I can talk about a painting regarding its form, author and meaning, analysizing a sculpture regarding its periodization, style and function, even I have never seen even I have no knowledge on it.
However, when I walk into the temple, or the chapel seeing what I see, I always keep silence, resting my brain from any rationalization. My eye captures every fleeting moment how the change of the light leaves trace on and changes the dynamic of the sculpture. The color, the lines and the contrast between light and dark leave an impression on me. and I always tried so hard not to take out the small black note I always carry with me, full of jottings from museum, gallery visits. I just enjoy my looking, and that is it.
The viewing experience is always a multi-sensory one, you see the light, the color, and you see the dancing dusts, exposed in the sunlight that penetrates from the old roof onto the floor. You smell dust too, mixed with the smell of the dump wood, as well as some incense, maybe lit sometimes ago somewhere. You palms feel the cold, dump air that almost crystallize into a drop of dew on your finger tips. When you walk, you feet sense the floor vibrating as a response to your steps, as well as the sound of the wood cracking that pumps your blood up a little bit — you are worrying if you will break something– then you see the dancing dusts around your steps fall back to silence and you are relieved. Everything is just as it is: back to silence.
In the past one day I thought it was enough so I climbed up the tower and closed my eyes for embracing the wind when I jump. When I did so, I heard a voice coming out of the strong wind surrounding me, a voice simply asked: why don’t you open your eyes and see? I opened my eyes, and saw the cityscape unfolding in the night below me, and saw those corners on the streets which I have never paid attention to shining like gems and not far away, the rivers are singing together with the night boat, trees dancing with the stars, which circulate each other. Brought back by the wings of the wind to my little attic, I reconciled with this world.
For some reason I can never imagine myself study Buddhist images and sculptures: for me they are alive. Every single time I feel they are enlivened by my sight, then they reveal an archaic smile, which always gives me a chill.