September 8, 2008

Art as Practice: Shane Hart and Upala Yoga, or “Stone Union.”

Via Erin Needham, from the Winter 07/08 issue.

The earth is not concrete. It is alive. It breathes. But, we humans cannot always see the vastness of its geologic time scale. Our experience involves the tangible and direct movement and erosion of the earth by waves, wind and earthquakes. Still, in one lifetime, we don’t see the formation of mountains, or of rocks whittled to sand.

And yet we know that the earth is in flux. Just so, are we impermanent. We too move, migrate and mingle amongst each other for a time. Much of civilization rests on the fear of that impermanence, and on the backs of people who are committed to negating that fear by leaving a mark-to showing future generations who they were, why they were important. But some of us are content to create and build irrespective of legacy. Meet artist, businessman, Buddhist-and stone balancer—Shane Hart.

Shane Hart began the ancient Buddhist and Inuit practice of stone stacking in 1995 while at San Diego’s Seaport Village, after witnessing another stone artist at work. The improbability of the structure peaked his curiosity-and the moment his first stone “clicked into place,” he was hooked. Stones have found themselves in unthinkable positions ever since. His art form, Upala Yoga, or Stone Union, is more than a balancing act. Rocks in varying sizes and shapes (some tall, thin; others obtuse) are delicately and patiently placed with strong hands to stand in salute. When rocks fall (as they often do), he laughs and begins again. For Hart, the longevity of the artwork, and the result, is less important than the process. This process is a meditation for him, and is treated as such, both in ceremony and attachment.

Hart works in nature’s own studio, often ringed by curious observers. While living in San Diego, most of Hart’s stone balancing was done at Cardiff By The Sea, along Highway 101. In 2003 he moved with his family to Bellingham Washington, occasionally constructing stone structures during excursions into the Mt. Baker area and along local hiking trails. While putting up stones at a city park in January of 2007, a crowd formed. Strong public response has inspired public works ever since. He appreciates the community that forms through his work, and encourages them to help out.

But what Shane Hart creates is more than art, or sculpture, or an interesting conversational piece; what is imparted from the stone sculptures is what goes into them: some sense of coming back to the present moment, again and again. Something simultaneously grounding and inspiring. To find our inner line, to know balance and sit in harmony with our surroundings is the foundation and form of meditation. It’s our own balancing act. Upala Yoga reminds Hart, and us, that beauty, grace and consciousness are all grounded in impermanence. This temporal reminder is exactly why Hart wants to continue stacking rocks one on top of another. Because eventually, when the smoke trail of the incense is gone, after the flags are removed, when the audience moves on; whether by the force of nature or his own, the stones eventually fall.

And that fall, as much as their temporary balance, is the contemplative art of Shane Hart.

For more: upalayoga.com

Erin Needham is valiantly trying to sell ads for ele so that we don’t burn out and sell out to The Man.

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