I cannot explain how I swim in the waterfall

About This Project

This sculptural piece (my first…ever) is an exploration that combines my recent exposure to Daosim from my trip to the Confucian Studies Summer Institute 2017, Beijing and Qufu, China, and my desire to extend my artistic practice using photographs (mine or others) to create some other object, environment or experience.

As I began considering materials and the significance of the form, I reflected upon the Daoist teachings I had been learning whilst in China and the influence of the artists Robert Irwin, James Turrell and Larry Bell of the California Light and Space Movement, of whom I was researching at the time. It is not surprising to consider this influence in the context of the meditative and holistic experience they sought to create, where there was no separation between the work and the environment in which it is experienced.

One of the key concepts that resonates with me from the Daodejing is the notion of Ziran, or “naturalness” or “self-so-ness,” that is explored in the passage of the old man at the waterfall in the Lu valley, quoted below:

Confucius was looking at the cataract near the gorge of Lu, which fell a height of 240 cubits, and the spray of which floated a distance of forty li, (producing a turbulence) in which no tortoise, gavial, fish, or turtle could play. He saw, however, an old man swimming about in it, as if he had sustained some great calamity, and wished to end his life. Confucius made his disciples hasten along the stream to rescue the man; and by the time they had gone several hundred paces, he was walking along singing, with his hair dishevelled, and enjoying himself at the foot of the embankment. Confucius followed and asked him, saying, ‘I thought you were a sprite; but, when I look closely at you, I see that you are a man. Let me ask if you have any particular way of treading the water.’ The man said, ‘No, I have no particular way. I began (to learn the art) at the very earliest time; as I grew up, it became my nature to practise it; and my success in it is now as sure as fate. I enter and go down with the water in the very centre of its whirl, and come up again with it when it whirls the other way. I follow the way of the water, and do nothing contrary to it of myself – this is how I tread it.’ Confucius said, ‘What do you mean by saying that you began to learn the art at the very earliest time; that as you grew up, it became your nature to practise it, and that your success in it now is as sure as fate?’ The man replied, ‘I was born among these hills and lived contented among them – that was why I say that I have trod this water from my earliest time. I grew up by it, and have been happy treading it – that is why I said that to tread it had become natural to me. I know not how I do it, and yet I do it – that is why I say that my success is as sure as fate.’

Zhuangzi, Chapter 10, The Full Understanding of Life

So this piece really is my reflection on becoming your natural self so that you can find your way, or dao, and find harmony in the ever-changing but permanent cycle of change that is life in the cosmos.