Momentary State – Kusen Collaboration with John Fraser

still state, artwork by Blair Thomson

John’s Kusen

Zazen is often called the mountain still state, the balanced state.

What we need to understand is that the state is momentary. It is a quality of this moment.

Not the person, the moment.

This moment rolls in and out of balance. When out of balance, self, world and linear time all arise, together. When in balance, it is not that the self and the myriad things are negated or affirmed but, as the shin jin mei tells us, they cease to exist in the old way.

More zen articles at Kusen & Notes from John

Windswept Carn an Tuirc and Glas Maol


waga iho wa
koshi no shirayama
kouri mo yuki mo
kumo kakari keri

my Koshi
white mountain
cozy winter den
ice and snow
overlaid by clouds

Eihei Dogen


The voice of the valley is endlessly preaching.
The colour of the mountain is nothing but pure body.
During the night, I heard eighty-four thousand verses.
How shall I expound this to others?

Su Dongpo, composed when visiting Mount Lushan overnight (quoted from ‘The Wholehearted Way’ by Koushou Uchiyama Roshi)


Through Discord and Harmony – Glasgow School of Art Fine Art and MFA Degree Shows – Part 2

(article continued from previous post)

A vaguely familiar and catchy game type tune pulled me into an installation piece, ‘THE PURGE’, a joint work by three artists Chitra Sangtani, Lewis Prosser and Martha Simms. The tune and glittering colours welcome me to enter into the game world of The Purge, with an unsettling laughing audience on the screen behind me as I look to the earth spinning on the other two screens, to be offered on it the chance to win – to play and come out of this with nothing, if I can make it out of here at all I wonder. It is a sci-fi world where the gentle arts order has been vaporized. Some of the ‘Fun Trivia’ questions catch my attention –

‘With emphasis on the word ‘what’, what is totality?… Describe the sensation of total loss in 3 accurate words… With regards to the previous rounds, are you feeling lucky?’



‘The Purge’ film stills



Copyright the artists Chitra Sangtani, Lewis Prosser and Martha Simms

I like this piece, it symbolizes some feeling the graduates have about their situation in the art world and society and it marks a turning point perhaps in the fine art degree shows generally, which couldn’t have been ‘achieved’ in the Mackintosh building – here there is a more raw freedom to create without fear of the history and burden of expectations that came with the show. George Garthwaite’s work are wacky poetic odes to the dark heaviness that can seem to haunt the soul, the bleakness (of being a a young fine artist in the Tontine?). In his blog the artist says he is ‘interested in a world ridden with images and cartoons.’ The warm coloured textured paintings signed GG are at first glance comic strip satires of the seemingly everyday mundane transformed into peculiar and frivolous situations, but there lurks the impression of more depth, probing the soul… Moving away from everyday reality much like The Purge, a sense of upbeat animation elevating the dispirited or woebegone from the no-win.


Painting by GG (George Garthwaite), copyright the artist

There is also the feeling that this is not some kind of truly glorious stage or end point as was the feeling in the past, but a stage where the guidelines have been reset by the students. The idea now for students to go on to further education also frees up this stage point as more fluid and somewhat sets up the undergrad show as at odds with the new art establishment. So no matter how manic or non picturesque some of the degree works have become, let it be, GSA is serving the students well here with this working environment, although it has its obvious drawbacks too as an exhibition space, but these obstacles are surmountable and challenging in a good way. So out of something bleak, destruction has forced a new setup, which along with a changing mood amongst young artists, has encouraged a new wave of beatnik creativity.



Artwork by George Garthwaite, copyright the artist



‘Stage on TV’ and ‘Dead Horse’ by Jessie Whiteley, copyright the artist

I pass more corners, through more white walled nooks and more doors that open the wrong way. Must have just come the wrong way. A dead horse or some other animal perhaps sleeping and composed of plaster is almost stumbled across, it brings me closer to the floor at least, and also helps me take in some favorable examples of painting that are adjacent, with confident colours and brush marks. The installed sculpture and paintings here by Jessie Whitely are fun in an expansive way, and continue the non solemn mood of the show. They lift the spirits, and are imaginative and dreamlike, while technically very competent and attracting the viewer with the varied surfaces and textures. The artist says of the work:

‘Painting and drawing’s direct and sensitive qualities lead my work and allow me to work with ideas from chance and the subconscious… I use fantasy as a way of thinking about reality from day-to-day life and to explore the reality of the imagination, from working with it visually and manually. I work from an emotive, personal response to the theatrical, fantastical and humorous settings of modern life and the myth and metaphor of an Internet generation.’


‘Acid Rain’ by Jessie Whiteley, oil on canvas on board (50x100x240cm), copyright the artist

As I went down the stairs of the Tontine, I realize this has been a captivating undergraduate show, with ups and downs I guess, but good sometimes not to have too much well presented consistency in the fine art context. The building is a bit mad and bad an environment – an ideal change. A bit tired out, I headed back up through the city centre on foot via the art stores on Queen Street, uphill towards the canal and the M8, to the Glue Factory for the Maters of Fine Art Degree Show. Always good to see what those masters of fine art are doing over there, it is a fantastic exhibition space.

The entry to the space was welcoming and I am given a floor plan. There are some experiments with potential, and early on the installation and video work by Monica Foote captivates, ‘This is Where the Magic Happens’. This piece has stage set like shapes on the left and right that fragment and interrupt the video projection – these frame a space where the artist made a performance piece. Nearby I am stopped by Morwenna Kearseley’s two channel video installation ‘To Speak is to Starve’ with the large projections facing each other. As I stand in between the projections I am unable to see both at once. Looking from point to point I see fast moving close-ups of a hand turning and tapping to create rhythm. Visual information is edited to a minimum, allowing the sound of voices and the notion of voices to accumulate and move your perceptions. I walk around the show. Although presented adequately enough, some of the works this year are missing something integral, though at first I think maybe this is just the feeling after coming from the undergrad.

Some of the video pieces are becoming more engaging and sophisticated. Using video projection to shine angular forms of light through acetate with a seamless array of other materials, Heather Lander creates the standout highlight of this show – ‘Materials and Duration (1 and 2)’ (1 – Diacel acetate, projector, steel, video edit of light sculpture, wood, 17 min video loop; 2 – 4 way video splitter, LED monitor, perspex, steel, video edit of light sculpture, wood, 12 min loop). Two artworks charge the dark industrial space with hologram like intensity, a smaller structure with four contained moving images that deftly reflect up onto perspex, and the large piece which opens out around the whole space so that both pieces work together. The larger projection of the forms reflect off and through the transparent plastic, which are hanging together in aligned layers, and jettison the chromatic light reflections out onto the surrounding walls of the darkened room and large metal door surfaces at the furthest end of the space.


Heather Lander, ‘Materials and Duration (1)’, photograph by Jack Wrigley


Heather Lander, Installation view of ‘Materials and Duration (1 and 2)’, photograph by Jack Wrigley

The piece mesmerizes and is a beautiful experience to gaze at and be part of in the space. Standing, glimpsing the ever changing light here and there, near and far, as it meanders and curves, metamorphosing from combined 3D looking geometric forms to organic flows of colour, fusing in and out of focus. There is a harmonic calm here in this piece, yet strength. The artist gives an insight into the thinking and application of her work:

‘Our perception of reality, and how phenomena such as illusions and technology can alter this, has been the key component to my work this past year. How we recognise and keep hold of reality in a world that is working towards complete virtual immersion is the question my work is currently investigating.

The imagery being projected in the two pieces in the degree show use edited video I took of a perspex sculpture I made that I projected moving image onto. This sculpture was the first thing I made while on the course and it has been my resource material for the sculptural/video installations.’

From being immersed in the chaotic creative whirlpool of the Tontine earlier in the day, this momentary and yet highly sophisticated piece has made it well worth coming to the MFA exhibition. Altogether the GSA Degree Shows this year have been energizing, and with the three distinct exhibition environments each has been unique.

Through Discord and Harmony – Glasgow School of Art Fine Art and MFA Degree Shows – Part 1


Gazing at 'Materials and Duration (1)' by Heather Lander, photograph by  Jack Wrigley
Gazing at ‘Materials and Duration (1)’ by Heather Lander, photograph by Jack Wrigley

Methodically I began the GSA Degree Show journey. Working my way through the gleaming open spaces of the Steven Holl designed Reid Building, an interior shimmering in neutrality and sinuos equilibrium, taking in the impressive efforts of the students in the various design disciplines. Spotless presentation in a perfect exhibition environment, no place for too much messy artfulness – an appropriate haven for the marketing of the school, indeed an additional key asset to the Mackintosh building. Communication Design was particularly strong this year.

With larger scale works and quirky comical pieces testing the boundaries of the what the Communication Design department’s designers conceive of as art or design, and continuing to plug any gaps in between. Calum Macleod’s large collagraph print holds the space and combines a dynamic and outwardly simple composition with modulating colours and a repeated, almost biotic or cellular texture that draws the eye around the curve. I like the confidence in the paper’s unworked negative spaces. After this masterclass in design at the Reid I headed down through the Merchant City to see the Fine Art Degree Show at the Tontine East Building, unsure what to expect from the new space with the Mackintosh building being out of action due to the ongoing process of fire damage restoration.

At Glasgow Cross the narrow entrance to the Tontine was fronted by friendly looking red and black suited bouncers, an unlikely but curious start. Up the stairs of this traditional early 1900’s Grade B listed office building the show began on the third floor, past some padlocked space below, through some double doors and an old reception area. Next into a wider room nevertheless packed with walls and things, plastic, soil, fragments of artwork, monitors, skirmishes in creativity versus architecture – what exactly happened here?

Tontine East Building
Tontine East Building

Wondering around a corner and old kitchen, drawn into a darkened series of rooms and the noise of some overly loud video works, then into rooms where the graduating students had built more rooms, leaving curious gaps with various detritus around. Walking further, and looking ever hopefully for signs to guide me through more doors, some with fascinating tiny handles on one side and full height ones on the other, like being pulled into someone else’s fairytale or nightmare, the show continued. However I started to adjust to the situation, the Tontine fine art world, where the realm of the fabulous Mackintosh campus and its brilliance and harmony was far enough away and out of mind. The display began to organise and space out, more light filtering in through the large windows looking onto the lanes and old and new Glasgow around the historic junction of the cross. There was the sense I was moving somewhere, from one work to the next, albeit in circles.

One artist I liked early on was Georgia Mackie, whose two large video works were like numerous flickering strips of vertical film, each subtly but quickly changing colour and with a mysterious tonality. ‘Seasons 1 to 4’ (HD video, 14:20 min, 2015) is more compressed with verticals, each a moving image in itself, but too narrow to see any subject – the digital flowing abstraction transitions from warmer reds and oranges to cooler purples and blues. The scale of the projection here being about two metres across. The pieces are silent which works with the imagery and which is also a relief from the combination of the sound ricochets of other pieces nearby. In ‘Seasons 5’ (HD video, 4:36 min, 2015) the complexity is less, the strips being thicker and so allowing the changing areas of light to emerge and have a more impact against the blacks and dark blues. These combine to make a mature video installation.

Georgia Mackie’s work on vimeo

A performance artist-musician with drums connected to his limbs awoke from a deep slumber in his degree show pod and subsequently furtively stalked me for a while. I awkwardly stopped and let him pass by without a word, his drums clanging as he went by, adding to the intermingling sound waves of different works, or was it the building itself speaking? After the Reid Building the students’ works looked sometimes bizarre, sometimes deliberately very poor quality in execution, yet they were not invisible but were communicating, about all sorts of issues, ideas, preferences. There was a lot of noise going on, into the varied jumble of peoples’ heads, but it was exciting – maybe not a roller coaster ride, more like being pulled through a series of washing machines…

'The Purge', Chitra Sangtani, Lewis Prosser and Martha Simms, copyright the artists
‘The Purge’, Chitra Sangtani, Lewis Prosser and Martha Simms, copyright the artists

(part two of review continued in next post)

Working on a new artist film – Directionless

Directionless 1 (

I’ve been continuing the themes of the Journey to Nowhere series with a second film, called Directionless at the moment, which I have started editing, adjusting clips, cropping, trying out combinations and planning ‘scenes’, though like the previous film there is no clear plot from a to b, nor dialogue at the present. Detached from land, finding a home only temporarily, leaving again… with hopefully mysterious situations, this film will be more experimental than the last. A lot of the footage is quite low tech which I like, and leaves open possibilities for sound. So far I have a fair amount of drawings that I have worked on specifically to bring in, plus footage of structures. Finding fragments, pulling together.

Directionless 3 (

Directionless 2 (

Transient worlds within worlds, and divergence – with translations of Basho and Ryoukan

Imperm (Photograph)

within the thin covering snow
Three Thousand Worlds

again inside this world
fragile snow falls


vision of decay in mind, the wind permeates the body


at the month’s end moonless –
a one thousand year old cedar
is hugged by the storm



Contained – Spaciousness
Tranquil – Distorted
Phenomenon – Concept

Exhibition Review – ‘JANUS’ – Stephanie Burt and Kirsty Palmer

J A N U S Poster2

Upper image: Janus (satellite) as imaged by Cassini, NASA, 2008.
Lower image: ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’, 1975, Peter Weir. Screen shot.

A refreshing breeze moved through the Saltmarket in Glasgow in January, with a series of temporal, light and strangely magnetic works shown by artists Stephanie Burt and Kirsty Palmer. Being exhibited at 87 Saltmarket as one of the The Glasgow Masters Series for 2014-15 (both artists having graduated from Glasgow School of Art MFA in 2014), this collaborative joint show expressed similar themes of transience and materiality in each artist’s works, though with different styles, colour and relationship to the space, a bright, high ceiling refurbished tenemental shop in the Merchant City area.


Inviting the viewers closer and closer, we discover fragmented shapes, half hidden in the gallery nooks and crannies and shadowed recesses, and tip toe around changed and unchanged materials of cloth and remnants of something with paint, or microcosmic remnants of past or future worlds, taking the form of something lunar, broken, battered or newly emerged from darkness. The exhibition title JANUS is apt, the name of the ancient Roman deity symbolizing change and time, and the overseer of impermanent transitions, laterally taking the form of a bearded two headed fellow – gazing firmly into time past and time future. The timing of the show in January is right too (the month is named after Janus) at the beginning transition point of the year. The sense of collaboration here is in artworks that are at their nature fleeting themselves as well as pointing outwards to temporary metaphysical realms.

This is seen in the image of ‘Janus’ reworked and torn by Kirsty Palmer – from an image of a satellite moon of Saturn named after the Roman god, aka Saturn X. There is the astronomical sense of movement and providing change seen in the ancient classical ideas of the heavens, where for instance Janus would provide the god Jupiter with the possibility of motion. The pieces ‘Janus I’ and ‘Janus II’ (digital print, plaster, fabric, both created in 2015) are small pieces on the floor surface or wall ledge, at first inconspicuous and seen from afar, in a way cleverly expanding the sense of the dimensions of the gallery space.



Palmer subtly places pieces with plenty of breathing space and assymetrical, some laying flat and others standing, with or without delicate frame like structures, that are works in themselves and also serve to guide, question and protect, and these make up a constellation of ‘Studio Objects II’ (2015, plaster, paint, balsa wood, fabric, drawing). This installation of various media is unified yet with disparate elements. Something of her creative process is revealed in the accompanying exhibition info: ‘Through an apparent process of simultaneously revealing and concealing, it can be seen to draw attention to variations between certainties or extremes; the ‘big’ and the ‘small’, the vertical and horizontal, the solid and transparent. Works often refer to ideas of the ‘fixing’ of an image whilst acknowledging a temporality and precariousness.’



The installation ‘Miss McCraw Loses her Skirt at Hanging Rock’ (2015, baby shoes, lamp, cactus, metal wire, ribbon, cloth, lace, string, paper, metal) by Stephanie Burt, image above, is contained in its own private space, lit by a lamp on the floor. It scales up the back wall on its frame of linear metal dynamics, overlaid with fabric, in a similar process to that of Palmer. The frame, wire and ribbon extends through the space opening up further negative spaces. This collaboration of concepts complements each artist.

IMG_2642 (steph2)2


The hanging cactus is fun, and with the strange once forgotten baby shoe and personal items, questions about the origin and history of the materials and previous owners emerge. The exhibition info alludes to this: ‘…invites the viewer to explore dialogues between her sculptural installations and their settings through a fictional narrative at times referencing film and literature. Materials used in her works are usually abandoned and yet hold traces of their interior and exterior environment.’ There is a delicate balance in this collaborative exhibition that perhaps allude to a worldview of change, impermanence, critique of consumerism and indeed a movement away from grandiose artistic gestures whether in scale of work, longevity or sense of product, or dominance of message and reliance on language based communication. Rather a sense of flux, here and gone.

Listen with Our Listening – Kusen Collaboration with John Fraser

Listen (

John’s Kusen

A pernicious and invisible delusion for practitioners is that there is an inside and an outside to experience: We should cleanse inner experience by eradicating thoughts and noise, and our experience of the world will be transformed.

But of course, there isn’t an inner and an outer, there’s just this experience, within which there is inner and outer, self and world, mind and body, and all the other familiar created dualities.

Our task isn’t to change this experience, but to listen to it. Really listen. Listen with our ears. Listen with our eyes. Listen with our skin. Listen with our breath. Listen with our listening.

More zen articles at Kusen & Notes from John