Complex and scattered, this cubist-styled abstract hides secretive details amongst its subtle tones.
In the fore, the obvious patchwork weaves an array of eerie photo like tonal variations, creating a disorienting, yet unified look.
Beneath the obvious chaos we find several concealed designs; mostly asian in origin, two of which are centrally located. These two logograms are Seal Script characters, an ancient style of decorative Chinese writing that was common throughout the latter half of the 1st millennium BCE. Together the two characters mean ‘Wumen’.
The piece is entitled ‘Wumen 48’. It references a collection of 48 Zen Stories by the author Wuman Haikui. The title of the collection is ‘Wumenguan’ which breaks down into three Chinese characters:
無 (wú) – has the straight forward meaning of: without, no , not.
門 (mén) – is a very common character meaning door or gate.
關 (guān) – as a verb means ‘to close’, but also functions as a noun, meaning a barrier or checkpoint, like a customs checkpoint at a border or a guarded passage.
It’s popular translation is ‘The Gate-less Gate’, but I wonder if this is correct. In this sense, if there isn’t a gate, there isn’t any demarkation of one area from another. If there isn’t any distinction, there is no idea of moving though anything; there is no idea of progression from something to something. Interestingly, this is much of what Zen is about; non-attachment, not clinging to idea’s of things but rather fostering a non-conceptual awareness.
This leaves ‘guan’. If it is to be taken as a ‘checkpoint’, this denotes a stopping point, one that is governed in someway, allowing it to be open or closed depending upon assessment. The idea of a checkpoint is real enough, but is somewhat confusing in relation to a ‘no-gate’; why mention the no-gate at all?
Perhaps the ‘no-gate’ is not to be taken as it is read, but perhaps is simply referencing the author’s name: ‘Wumen Huikai’. The easiest way to read this is ‘Wumen’s Checkpoint’. In this way the use of the collection of 48 koan’s is clear; it is a collection of Koan’s by Wumen to check if your mind-path is open, or closed. Or if it is translated ‘Wumen’s barrier’, the challenge is more decisive.