June 13, 2014
In Tibetan Buddhism, the figure of Tara is revered as a bodhisattva, one who strives toward enlightenment and compassion for the benefit of all sentient beings. Tara, like other figures in the Eastern tradition, appears in many aspects, each associated with different beneficial qualities and identified by a different color and ritual implements. There is a White Tara, a Black Tara, a Red Tara, and so on. Tara is depicted in thangkas, religious paintings on cloth, and in mandalas, representations of the universe in balance, often showing figures from the Buddhist pantheon and arranged in symmetric, geometric compositions.
An interest in exploring creative uses for technology and merging it with the ancient, universal form of the mandala led artists and longtime collaborators Max Almy and Teri Yarbrow to create Blue Tara and White Tara, two pieces that combine state-of-the-art nanotechnology and projection in dazzling displays of color and light. The artists have installed Blue Tara at David Richard Gallery for Projected, a group exhibit of digital arts, and have placed White Tara in Currents, at El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe.
Blue Tara involves video projection and a glass disk, 60 inches in diameter and etched with an elaborate pattern. At the center of the disk is a smaller circle, made using an optical film developed by 3M that takes ambient and projected light and bounces it back at a higher frequency, making it brighter. “We also added diamond dust to the center to add a little optical sparkle,” Yarbrow told Pasatiempo. “Blue Tara is hung about 5 inches from the wall so the projection goes beyond the piece and onto the wall.”
“We have been working with large installations where we used projected video,” Almy said. “We started with really big installations with projected video on surfaces — on paintings, on large copper pieces, all kinds of stuff. Not being super-rich, we could never afford the bright-enough projectors to fight ambient light in galleries. We always had to be in a slightly darkened situation to get the most bang for our buck. We started creating pieces that have holes in them. We would do these elaborate cut-outs. You get the brilliant color coming through those openings. Last year we did a piece where we combined a plasma screen behind copper and additional video projected on the surface, so there are two moving images — the one showing through the holes and the one on top giving a kind of overlay of beautiful patterning.”
Their interest in patterns is evident in Blue Tara. The etched glass refracts the projected mandala imagery, creating more intricate geometric configurations. The light appears to emanate from the center of the piece in a hypnotic display of radiating lines. “We’re interested in the interplay of ancient geometry with high technology,” Yarbrow said. “The mandala is an ancient form everyone can relate to. We think of these pieces as meditative. Last year a lot of people stood so long in front of our mandalas that Frank [Ragano] and Mariannah [Amster], the directors of Currents, put chairs out.”
Blue Tara developed from an earlier series called Portals, multimedia works that combine cut copper pieces with LCD screens and projection. “We like to play with the idea of multiplicity in our pieces,” Almy said. “There’s a lot of layers. In the copper pieces there are patinas and torched surfaces, overlaying images, and rear projection. But we really wanted to play more directly with light.” Last year, David Eichholtz, co-director with Richard Barger of David Richard Gallery, suggested they do a piece in glass. “We struggled with the idea of using glass,” Almy said. “We couldn’t put a plasma screen behind it because you can see right through the glass and there’s no way to hide it.” The optical film developed by 3M provided an opportunity to work with light and glass without having to mask an LCD or plasma screen. “We talked to 3M and their distributor. They sponsored us for the Currents show. The stuff is incredibly expensive. You buy it by the inch.” Instead of being etched, the surface of the White Tara disk is entirely coated with the optical film, resulting in a more brilliant display than was possible with Blue Tara. “Now when we project the video, it’s not just the circle in the middle. It’s the whole entire pattern,” Almy said. The projected imagery is a blend of sacred geometry and representations of subatomic forms such as the Higgs boson, the so-called God particle. The projected imagery ebbs and flows from the center of the disk in a kaleidoscopic display of constant motion and harnessed light energy. “We’re made of energy,” Almy said. “The world is energy. The quantum physics aspects are the philosophical underpinnings of everything we do. That’s the way we think and breathe.”