HOME HISTORY ARCHIVE FILM & VIDEO EXHIBITIONS PUBLICATIONS SELF-PORTRAIT WITH CAMERA 1960-2006 (2011) ART JOURNAL OF THE NGV 2011 LAST LIGHT 2007 CONTINUUM 2003 MIND OF TIBET 2003 SHADOW PORTRAITS 2002 FACES 1976-1996 (1997 & 2003) SOMEWHERE IN FRANCE, 1917 (1999) SUE FORD: A SURVEY 1960-1995 (1995) TIME SURFACES 1994 FROM VAN DIEMENS LAND TO VIDEOLAND (1993) SIXTIETH OF A SECOND 1961-1981 (1987) A DIFFERENT LANDSCAPE 1989 TIME SERIES 1974 CONTACTS

Mind of Tibet 2003

a film by Geshe Sonam Thargye & Sue Ford

Remembrance + the Moving Image

catalogue essay

by Ross Gibson

© Australian Centre for the Moving Image 2003

Mind of Tibet, a multi-screen installation designed as a meditation space, is also a kind of

habitable mandala. With astonishing candour, the close-up faces of hundreds of Tibetan

pilgrims greet the camera and form a benign crowd accompanying the viewer in an

intimate, unending vigil.

The Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg once confided that whenever he observes any

moving image sequence depicting human beings, his desire for the close-up face is as urgent and potent as his private memory of the

love expressed, face-to-face, by his mother when he was an infant. Surely his private compulsion is shared by legions. Gazing at a

close-up face on a screen, the viewer feels the alluring presence – half-memory, half-expectation – of someone who might extend and

intensify their own aliveness.

The wonder of Mind of Tibet is that it presents the ‘anthropological scenario’ – the documentation of people who are unused to the

camera and are involved in ritual activity – as a scene suffused with permission and an all-encompassing, unsentimental benevolence.

In Mind of Tibet, a sense of composure holds all the shots together

and energises almost every candid face. This composure is

generated by ritual activity, and by protocols and teachings that

govern the behavior of every human figure in the scene. Moreover,

every shot-to-shot conjunction in the endlessly looping video is

threaded together by a guiding wisdom that gives shaper to the all-

encompassing environment of the installation. Call it love, call it

counsel for compassionate existence, call it ethical instruction

governing all human action (including the aesthetics of camerawork

and editing): whatever it gets called in whatever language, this

composure stems from a traditional wisdom that binds people, places,

sounds and things into a sophisticated existence.

Sometime in the late 1990’s at an unspecified location in Tibet, under the serene ‘gaze’ of the sacred mountain, a ceremonial Buddhist

teaching festival was conducted. A monk was asked to take a cheap handycam through the crowd, documenting the event so that the

undeniable existence of these devout people could be ‘captured’. The tape was to be an enormous family album for exiled Tibetans

around the world. But it was also a witnessing document in case any misfortune befell the pilgrims. It was a subtle, pragmatic act of

remembrance.

Years later, when Australian artist Sue Ford sat with eminent Buddhist scholar

and teacher Geshe Sonam Thargye to view the tapes, they felt it was

extraordinarily clear that the camera had absorbed something more than just a

crowd at a festival. Geshe Sonam and Ford were moved by the direct

engagement that was so evident in the faces of all these ‘ordinary’ people

encountering not the camera but a monk with a camera. (here is the answer, of

course, to the puzzle about how in this case the anthropological ‘scenario’ has

produced the exact opposite of a flawed anthropological record: the person

bringing the camera into the ritual world was not an outsider.)

Geshe Sonam and Ford realized they had the makings of a meditative environment that could bear witness to the compassion that is the

subject of so much Buddhist teaching. When they began to assemble the shots, working with co-editor Ian Bryson, they found that the

sequencing of the ceremonies and teachings at the festival guided the editing decisions for the installation. If a particular shot or

particular sound or phrase were presented, it was clear in Buddhist teaching what should come next in the edit list. As they followed the

teachings, an unending and aesthetically cohesive account of the festival was threaded and looped together.

Gradually the video was composed of all-encompassing loops

radiating around the viewer as the monk’s camera traced circle after

circle through the crowd, and as the repeating chants and the

unstinting ceremonies of nourishment enfolded the crowd in a

compassionate assembly of learning and witnessing. All the while the

teaching loops around to start again each time the payer wheels are

joyously spun anew.

To complete this concentric aesthetic (which is also an ethic), the

artists suggested the enfolding array of eight screens so the visitors

can literally become immersed in the crowd of pilgrims. Sitting within

the circumambient mandala of endlessly repeating images of ordinary

Tibetan people, those visiting the installation find themselves in the

midst of a consciousness that knows how the past, present and

future are all folded into each other, in the endlessly remembering

Mind of Tibet.

Ross Gibson

Production manager and co-editor: Ian Bryson