New exhibition “Holy Politics”

"The war with the giant baby

Film “The War with the giant baby”, acrylic on canvas, 150 x 200 cm, 2013

The Buddha Arch  in Jeruslem

To Nadya Berg, a Down syndrome girl and friend of my childhood

A triangle is not an entirely stable form, especially if it is inverted and set on one apex. Precisely such an unstable triangle is formed by the three great religions with sacred shrines located in Jerusalem – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The apex of this triangle (and at the same time its point of origin) is Judaism, and lines of equal length extend from that point to Christianity and Islam. The instability of this geometrical form is the reason for the chronic and incurable conflict that flourishes between the religions, painting the history of the Eternal City in the colours of hostility and suffering. In order to bring peace to this holy place, the shrines of these three world religions need to be supplemented with the shrine of a fourth – Buddhism – thereby converting the triangle into a square. A square (the symbol of the earth in China) is a stable, “peaceable” geometric figure and, in addition, Buddhism has a reputation as a peace-loving religion, capable of combining harmoniously with other forms of faith. So we may cherish in our hearts the magical hope that an influx of Buddhist pilgrims to Jerusalem will be the alchemical element that acts like a cube of ice in a cocktail, cooling the combustible local mix and adding a dash of peace to its flavour.

The decision to erect a Buddhist shrine in Jerusalem was taken in 2214 by the World Government – not the wicked, shadowy institution that people talk about nowadays, but a perfectly legitimate and enlightened government, consisting of young Down syndrome girls, to whom the nations of Earth solemnly entrusted authority over the planet in 2202. The decision to form a government of Down syndrome girls was symbolic of the end of the Age of Evil: their mouths may slaver like the mouths of little babes, their eyes may stare like astonished rhinestone buttons, their lives may not be long, but they are absolutely good and kind, their souls overflow with compassion and their hearts are free of all greed and guile. Although they did not entirely understand the differences between the religions, the twelve Down syndrome girls in the World Government were unanimous in applying their rounded palms, moistened with gold ink, to the plans for the construction of the Buddha Arch in Jerusalem. The project was originally conceived and proposed by myself back in 1999, when I was living in the Holy City. I conceived the entire project in my head and proposed it to a crooked little window that looked out onto a gigantic heap of sand, with a black chicken wandering around on it. I received no reply from either the black chicken or the heap of sand, and had to wait almost two hundred and fifteen years before I could start construction work on the Buddha Arch in Jerusalem. But I was a resourceful and zealous architect, and my work engulfed me completely, like the cold, affectionate flames of a pyre.

In essence, the project was as follows: it is not possible to erect a gigantic image or gigantic statue of Buddha in Jerusalem without insulting the religious feelings of Jews and Muslims, for in these religions the commandment of Moses applies: “Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness”. Therefore it was decided to construct a figure of the standing Buddha in the form of a gigantic opening or entranceway, surrounded by columns i.e. in the form of an Arch (with an outline reminiscent of the twelve ancient giant Buddhas carved into cliffs in the mountains of Afghanistan, which were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001 – so our arch can be perceived as a transparent Buddhist response, devoid of retaliation and replete with compassion for all living beings). The height of the Arch is … m. The height of the opening in the form of a silhouette of Buddha is … m. The upper corners of the Arch are crowned with four stupas of white marble.

The view through the arch offers a magnificent panorama of Jerusalem, with the Dome of the Rock glinting like a golden egg at the centre of the pale yellow horizon. The Pilgrims’ Way, leading to the gates of the Old City, passes under the vaulting of the Arch, and a stream of people constantly flows along it, pressing forward eagerly, walking or riding on animals, or in vehicles drawn by animals – by that time the absolute prohibition on pilgrims using mechanical means of transport at any stage of their journey will have been restored, but animals will be allowed to pass along the Pilgrims’ Way [1], and so the non-human voices of horses, donkeys, mules and camels mingle in the air above it. Occasionally even an elephant can be glimpsed in the crowd, and the Prince of the Arctic once arrived to do obeisance at the Holy Shrines in a carriage drawn by blue-eyed white huskies, to which his long-standing rival, the Emperor of the Antarctic, responded with an even more outrageous gesture, by showing up to offer worship in a chariot of ice (equipped with microscopic nano-refrigerators to prevent it melting under the fierce rays of the sun), harnessed to a hundred penguins

But only the Christian, Jewish and Muslim pilgrims pass on under the vaulting of the Buddha Arch. The Buddhist pilgrims stop there since, after all, the Arch is the goal of their pilgrimage. The Buddhists sit along the side of the Way, some in the lotus position, meditating on the Way and the motley crowd streaming along it. They call this Way the Way of Prebirth. Sitting there in their orange, red and yellow robes, the Buddhist monks bless the pilgrims of other faiths, presenting them with flowers or incense, which disappear without a trace after a few minutes. They are especially numerous around the springs where the animals are washed (only a meticulously washed animal may enter the Holy City): some sit with their eyes open, some with their eyes closed, some sing mantras, but all their thoughts slither down the glossy sides of the non-human beings like transparent drops.

The never-ending procession of believers rolls on along the Way of Prebirth, a sight so flamboyant, it could fittingly have graced the opium visions of some ancient Englishman who wandered widely through the obscure fringes of the colonies. Every possible kind of cap and turban is on display here – if some of them were unwound, they would certainly release a torrent of exotic stenches from the Punjab, Bangladesh or Sumatra. The faces glimpsed passing by are as black as tar babies, or as white as the spirits of curd cheese, or as dusky-yellow as honey mixed with ash. There are also occasional glimpses of the blue or green faces of mutants with colossal excrescences, some of them strewn with eyes, like a currant brush strewn with berries. Some of the mutants move past indifferently, acting as luggage-bearers (robots are banned here), while others are so inspired with religious fervour that they rush along at a crazy speed on their tall, spindly mosquito legs, vaulting over the unhurrying Orientals in their haste to bend their dozens of knees at the Holy Shrines.

That is how peace will come to this land of prayers.

 [1] Except for those pinkish near-humanoids with cloven hooves whose eyes gaze out benignly at the world from behind blond lashes.

©Pavel Pepperstein, 2010

Pepperstein’s new exhibition “Holy Politics” will open on 27th January 2014 at Regina Gallery, Moscow (http://www.reginagallery.com/)

 

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