Monday, 28 January 2013

Tai Chi Oak Tree

One of the marked differences between the Third Eye Centre at its inception and contemporary arts centres such as the CCA is the relationship that the former had with spirituality. Tom McGrath (the Centre's first director) and many others involved with the Third Eye were followers of the teachings of Sri Chinmoy, a Bengali-American advocate of meditation, vegetarianism and exercise. Chinmoy's influence pervades the documents of McGrath's stewardship of the arts centre, from giving the enterprise its name (Third Eye was his second choice, after Beauty's Bounty was rejected); to the cafe, which was founded as a vegetarian co-op; to the scripts of McGrath's plays, one of which, The Hardman, includes a stage direction for the eponymous lead to go into a Yoga position, complete with the instructions 'Please see I. S. Iyengar's Light on Yoga for further details.'

It is interesting to speculate what kind of relationship the art of the day had with teachings such as Chinmoy's, especially considering the coincidence of the founding of the Third Eye Centre with the emergence of video and conceptual art in the UK in the late '60s and early '70s. There are seemingly certain similarities between these strands including an economy of means (often, especially in the case of video, dictated by scant resources); a contemplative aesthetic; an investigation into the nature of being and a self-reflexive, philosophical approach. Whether or not there is any direct correlation is difficult to assert, although these cultural tracts, along with various others, seem to have coalesced around the nascent arts centre, playing a significant role in its identity.

I have posted 3 videos from the archive below; the first is from a Tai Chi demonstration that took place in the Third Eye in 1977, the second is an extract from a Michael Craig-Martin artist talk of the same year in which he reads the text from his [in]famous An Oak Tree piece, the third footage of Chinmoy in 1975, meditating with the help of what looks to be a casio keyboard. Craig-Martin was mentor for many of the YBAs and an inspiration for the Scottish neo-conceptualists, and so has been more influential than most in the development of visual art in the UK. In this piece he plays with ideas of semiotics and idealist philosophy, providing an interesting counterpoint to the minimalist humming of the spiritual leader Chinmoy and the slow, performative actions of the Tai Chi demonstrators.

Start all of the extracts at the same time and you get a 3-channel video conflating conceptual art, Tai Chi and meditation in a small portrait of the Third Eye Centre in the mid '70s.

Tai Chi demo from The Glasgow Miracle on Vimeo.

Oak Tree from The Glasgow Miracle on Vimeo.

Chinmoy from The Glasgow Miracle on Vimeo.

For any who might be interested, Adam Curtis has another, more sinister take on the influence of eastern spiritualism on western culture in this extensive and fascinating blog post:

1 comment:

  1. Anyone interested in the late Bengali cult leader may want to check out a blog titled SRI CHINMOY THE SKINNY. Tom McGrath was a sometime disciple of Sri Chinmoy Ghose, which meant that he had to obey his so-called spiritual master in all things. Mental health professionals now agree that the Chinmoy cult is (and was) extremely dangerous. The internet is full of accounts of former Chinmoy disciples who discovered that the man they called Guru and Supreme was psychotic, deranged, manipulative, greedy, dishonest, and very likely a sexual predator. The Third Eye Centre was a lively and enjoyable place to visit. But the behind-the-scenes influence of Sri Chinmoy Ghose can only be described as sinister. Tom McGrath hardly questioned Chinmoy Ghose's godlike control over every aspect of his disciples' lives. This was a man who claimed he could see into the past lives of his disciples. To leave the cult, or be expelled from it, was to risk dire consequences. I am greatly relieved that the Centre for Contemporary Arts has expunged all memory of Sri Chinmoy Ghoae. He was a charlatan and a man of low character. How he conned his way into the United Nations, or tricked the great and the good into befriending him, is for a real investigative journalist to uncover. We don't need a return to 'spiritual values' whatever they may be. We need moral people who can be held accountable within an open and democratic framework. Eastern cults do not allow for any of that. As Ninian Smart said years ago, there is such a things as BAD religion, just as there is good religion. We need to educate our young people to be discriminating or they may suffer years of mental, emotional and sexual abuse from other Chinmoy Ghoses.