Charred wood and blackened earth conjure up ideas of life, death, and rebirth, as well as the burning away of illusions and desires -a reference to the fierce deities of Tibetan Buddhism that represent cutting through or overcoming our desires. Yet it can also be seen as a reminder of war, destruction of the earth, corruption within ourselves, and the close relationship between purification and destruction. The Hopi Prophecy speaks about a time of purification, as does Buddhism. The Native American sweat lodge ceremony, which the burning ritual for Purification suggests, is called a purification ceremony.
Purification was first created at the University of Massachusetts. The sculptures were carved from wood discarded at a local lumberyard. With firewood and written prayers, the sculptures were burned on a campus field and set in Hampden Gallery. A strong contrast was created between the white gallery walls and the black charred wood. This inspired collaboration with Ranjanaa Devi, director of the Asian Dance and Music Program, and the Nataraj Indian Dance Troupe. A dance and music performance was created around the sculptures called Pooja, the Five Elements in Prayer, in Bowker Auditorium.
Purification sculptures have been exhibited at: Sculpture Trail in West Yorkshire, England, 2005; Franconia Sculpture Park, Schafer, MN, 2003; Western Carolina University. Cullowhee, NC, 2003; Forest Hills Park, Boston, Massachusetts,Spirits in the Trees, 2002; Zen Mountain Monastery, Mount Tremper, New York, One-person exhibition, 2002; Byrdcliffe Arts Colony, Woodstock, New York, Outdoor Exhibition, 2002; Hampshire College Art Gallery, Amherst, Massachusetts, New England/New York/New Talent, Curator, Jeanette Ingberman, co-director, Exit Art, New York, New York, 2001; Bowker Auditorium, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 1999; and Hampden Gallery, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 1999.I was invited to do a similar sculpture at the Stone Quarry Hill Art Park in Cazenovia, New York. This time two fallen logs were found on the park grounds, carved with a chain saw, transported, and stood upright with a park tractor. Firewood was collected and the sculptures were burned in a ritual burning performance. The sculptures are standing where they were burned, indefinitely. They create a strong contrast with the white snow in winter. I created Purificationwith student assistanceat Western Carolina University with six logs that were discarded at a local lumber mill. With wood from the city of Minneapolis, assisted by interns, I created many variations of Purification at Franconia Sculpture Park, Schafer, Minnesota. The main piece was burned on the anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki. Another version was created at theSculpture Trail in West Yorkshire, England on the day of the subway bombings in London.
Each time, the piece evolves with the situation, site, inspiration, and materials. The sculptures do not have to be burned on site. The Purification sculptures are anchored in, or heavy enough to just be placed on the earth. The burned surfaces are very durable to the elements, handling, and transportation. Similar sculptures have been exhibited outdoors for months to years in sculpture parks and galleries.