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Works by Ghiora Aharoni and Arthur Liou focus on religious journeys for the benefit of one's future self
Aharoni’s series of sculptures reimagine vintage taxi meters.

NEW YORK, NY.- In the next iteration of its ongoing “Sacred Spaces” exhibition, the Rubin Museum of Art invites visitors to confront contemporary artists’ perspectives on pilgrimage to holy sites. Featuring artist Ghiora Aharoni’s series “The Road to Sanchi” and two video works by artist Arthur Liou, the exhibition engages time as a medium and challenges viewers to consider the sacred and think about their own experiences with meaningful journeys. These installations continue the exhibition’s focus on devotional activities in awe-inspiring places. “Sacred Spaces: The Road To… and the Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room” closes October 15, 2018.

Aharoni’s series of sculptures, which are being shown for the first time, reimagines vintage taxi meters, now obsolete, from India. Video screens embedded in the meters capture the artist’s rickshaw rides in India to sacred sites for Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists. Each sculpture, whose form simultaneously references a time capsule and the silhouette of a stupa, becomes the oculus of a pilgrimage. At the Rubin, the installation takes the form of a crescent, designed as an invitation to the viewer to move through the space, to circumambulate the sculptures, and to create a connection to the work that is spatial as well as visual. The title “The Road to Sanchi” refers to one of the most important sites in Buddhism, which is famous for its Great Stupa built over relics of the Buddha. Sanchi and the other sacred sites are never seen in Aharoni’s videos, making the journeys a vehicle for examining the prism of time and the act of pilgrimage for the viewer. They also express India’s history of cultural plurality and the natural commingling of sacred and secular in India today.

“The pilgrimage ride embodies so much of the essence of India for me: the intersection of time and a confluence of realities, as well as an intrinsic plurality that has been indomitable. As exclusionist movements are gaining traction internationally, it’s an enduring intercultural paradigm that is extraordinarily inspiring for me,” Aharoni said. “A pilgrimage allows us to experience time in a different way: this is a journey that’s been taken by thousands, if not millions, of others—we’re participating in a ritual which so many have done before us and so many will do after us. And at that moment, linear time collapses—the past, the present and the future all exist equally—and you shift into an alternative realm of time.”

The videos “Kora” and “Saga Dawa,” created by Arthur Liou, explore aspects of Tibetan Buddhist ritual and celebration as they take place in the breathtaking environment around Tibet’s holiest mountain, Mount Kailash. Challenging the distinction between landscape, sacred site, and personal devotional practice, Liou’s work invites the viewer to contemplate the significance of place in spiritual practice, and how pilgrimage cultivates intimacy with literal place, self-discovery, and the divine. The videos are being shown in succession, beginning with “Kora” on view through April 30.

In addition to its significance for Buddhists, Mount Kailash holds personal meaning for Liou, who journeyed to Tibet’s sacred mountain to mourn following the loss of his daughter.

“Pilgrims believe that by circling Mount Kailash by way of an arduous 34 mile-long path, one can cleanse the sins of a lifetime. In the summer of 2011, I embarked on a four-week expedition to western Tibet, including a four-day kora around Kailash,” Liou said. “The harsh elements and expansive landscape turned my thoughts inward. There was no immediate enlightenment, but gradual realization—that the pilgrimage is an external mirror to my solemn confrontation with past and future. The kora, as a circle, has no beginning or end.”

Visitors can also take a pause inside the Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room, an immersive installation inspired by traditional Tibetan household shrines. The ongoing focal point of Sacred Spaces this time features the Sakya Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Filled with flickering butter lamps, the scent of incense, and the sounds of chanting, it conveys the feeling of a space that would be used for offering, devotion, prayer, and contemplation.

“A sacred space can be a physical place, but more importantly, it is an opportunity to step outside of daily routine and distraction, and contemplate what is resonant and meaningful,” said Beth Citron, Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art at the Rubin.

As visitors explore the concept of spiritual journeys to affect future outcomes, they will also be invited to write letters to future museum visitors in a dedicated area in the gallery.

Sacred Spaces: The Road To… is organized by Beth Citron, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art; the Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room is curated by Elena Pakhoutova, Curator of Himalayan Art; the design and installation are overseen by John Monaco, Head of Exhibition Design, all of the Rubin Museum.

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