The Rubin Museum Adds a Touch of Zen to New York City
November 14, 2016
In a city where “too busy” is the norm, and at a time of great uncertainty, the
Rubin Museum is providing a chance to experience the tranquility of the Himalayas.
Sacred Spaces, themed as “devotional activities in awe-inspiring places,” first appeared in the fall of 2015, featuring the Museum’s Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room. The new iteration, Himalayan Wind and the Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room, opened on Friday November 11, and adds a soundscape to the experience, complements of the High Himalayas.
“Part of what’s driven Sacred Spaces is the need and desire to expand the Shrine Room, which is one of our most popular exhibits,” says Beth Citron, Curator of modern and contemporary art at the Rubin. “And it gives visitors an opportunity to pause, to take a break from the traditional experience of a museum. It’s really a space for contemplation and to have visitors slow down.”
The first show included a panoramic photograph taken in Mustang, Nepal, by Jaroslav Poncar, and a video installation created by Deidi von Schaewen of a Jain communal ritual in Shravanabelgola, Karnataka, India. The new edition builds on this and enhances it through the medium of sound, creating a unique experience that can transport you across the world.
“For the second iteration we’ve commissioned a music and art group called
Soundwalk Collective to create a new installation called Khandroma: Himalayan Wind,” says Beth. [click to listen to what it sounds like] “They actually traveled to Mustang, Nepal (in collaboration with sound artist Francisco Lopez) and collected the sound of wind at some of the world’s highest sacred monasteries. They created a sound composition based on that.”
The Collective traveled to Nepal twice in spring and early summer 2016 to create their aural composition, which incorporates such sounds as wind echoes from the valleys, chanting, and prayer flags flapping. The wind sounds were compiled from 120 hours of recording in more than 200 monasteries and villages.
“They felt that this was the best time to travel in terms of weather and wind,” explains Beth. “They had planned a more extensive itinerary across the spine of the Himalayas, but they really found in Mustang just what they were looking for in terms of the quality of wind, sound and experience.”
Visitors will enter a dedicated room and listen to the multichannel audio in a serene environment. The room features 4 state of the art speakers on each side facing each other, with two towering white speakers set perpendicular in front of the adjacent walls.
Visitors can pick a spot, close their eyes and take it all in; or walk past the row of speakers and let the sound wash over like a smooth wave.
“It’s not specifically a site for meditation, but it can be a meditative experience if one wishes,” says Beth.. “We’ve soundproofed the room and carpeted the floors, so even just the change to the feeling in the room helps people to not rush through, but to slow down, really tune in and listen. The competition in the sound room is 37 minutes, so one can spend a good amount of time listening to the full track.”
From there, visitors are welcome to enter the Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room. The room which debuted at the Rubin in 2010, is inspired by traditional shrines used for prayer and meditation. It features a multitude of ritual objects which one can learn more about at the interactive site here. This guide is also available on a screen adjacent to the Shrine.
“Soundwalk also composed a new audio experience for the Shrine Room with sounds of some of the monasteries they’ve visited,” says Beth. “On the opposite side of the gallery is a video (filmed by Soundwalk founder Stephan Crasneanscki) of some of the imagery seen at these monasteries, set to a separate audio track.”
The two screens are set on one wall, showing circular kaleidoscopic imagery of prayer wheels and prayer flags. The images change every few minutes into different. Intriguing patterns (one evokes, fittingly and hopefully, an evolving planet). Headphones are set on the opposite wall, and visitors can grab a seat and take in the multi-sensory experience. The wind is accompanied by the sound of a melody repeating over and over like a mantra; coupled with the imagery, the effect is positively hypnotic.
From there, nestled to the right of the screens, guests will actually be able to play recordings of Khandroma at dedicated turntables. Might the experience encourage people to visit the source? “It will be interesting to see if that happens,” says Beth. “It’s pretty remote and not super-easy to get to, but I hope that it inspires people to travel to that side of the world.”