The Eye is the First Circle: Films by Charwei Tsai | Curated by Haema Sivanesan

“The Eye is the First Circle” features new works based on the artist’s research conducted at the PRS Library in 2019 on the mandala and its relationship to practices of pilgrimage. Tsai utilized Manly Palmer Hall’s collection of tantric buddhist…

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“The Eye is the First Circle” features new works based on the artist’s research conducted at the PRS Library in 2019 on the mandala and its relationship to practices of pilgrimage. Tsai utilized Manly Palmer Hall’s collection of tantric buddhist texts and artwork, and reflected on his writings on the thousand year old rituals and traditions at Koyasan tracing his own steps during her pilgrimage to Mount Koya, Japan. Taking its title from the opening sentence of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay on spiritual growth “Circles” (1841), Tsai explores how artistic research coordinating with everyday interactions in life and nature are experienced as opportunities for personal growth and transformation, where the world itself is regarded as the manifestation of divine power.

The exhibition consists of a series of inter-connected bodies of work that explore the idea of the mandala, often described as a ritual circle. The central installation of the exhibition is an installation made of mirrors and ashes titled “The Womb and The Diamond – Seed Syllables” (2021) referring to two important mandalas in the tantric buddhist tradition Shingon. A series of five scroll paintings elaborate on this theme, invoking the Five Tathagatas or buddha principles that aid in transforming afflictive emotions into wisdom. Set among these scrolls are beautiful scripted shells and wooden blocks, along with a program of video works that elaborate on the artist’s engagement with tantra. A selection of relevant books and articles from the PRS Library collection provide insight into the artist’s research and background context for these works. Taken together, the exhibition transforms the space of the PRS Library into a mandala.

A new publication on the artist’s recent work, “The Womb & The Diamond” (Taiwan: Live Forever Foundation, 2021) is now available at the PRS Bookstore.

Charwei Tsai is preoccupied with the human/nature relationship. Her work meditates on the complexities of cultural beliefs, spirituality, and existential transience. Her multi-media practice is highly personal yet universal in her exploration of geographical, social, and spiritual motifs, encouraging viewer participation beyond passive viewing.

Her recent exhibitions include: Lines Tell Everything about the Universe at Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan (2021); Biennale Jogja #5 Equator (2019); Power of Intention: Reinventing the (prayer) Wheel at Rubin Museum, New York (2019); Water at Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, Australia (2019); Charwei Tsai: Bulaubulau (solo) at Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA), Manchester, UK (2018); Minimalism: Space, Light, Object at Art Science Museum in collaboration with National Gallery Singapore (2018); Hear Her Singing, commissioned by Hayward Gallery at Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London, UK (2017) Water Moon (solo) at Institute of Contemporary Art, Villeurbanne/Rhône-Alpes, France (2017) and Biennale of Sydney The Future is Already Here (2016). Tsai also publishes a curatorial journal Lovely Daze, since 2005. The complete set of journals is in the library collections of MoMA, Tate Modern, Pompidou Center, and MACBA, Barcelona. Tsai graduated from Rhode Island School of Design (2002) and completed the postgraduate research program, La Seine, École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris (2010).

Curator: Haema Sivanesan is Chief Curator of the Glenbow Museum, Calgary, AB Canada. Her curatorial work typically focuses on art from South and Southeast Asia and its diasporas, with an interest in non-western, post-colonial and transnational art histories, world views and practices. She is the curator of the major exhibition and publication project, In the Present Moment: Buddhism, Contemporary Art and Social Practice (forthcoming, 2022-23).

‘The Eye is the First Circle’ by Charwei Tsai | Curated by Haema Sivanesan ​
Exhibition Runs: November 21, 2021-March 6, 2022

Selected films:
1. Incense Mantra (2013) 8.00
2. Alba’s Pilgrimage (2012) 10.46
3. Bulaubulau (2018) 12.37
4. Songs of Chechupati Camp (2017) 17.03
5. Root of Desire (2018) 7.07
6. Bardo (2016) 5.30

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