The Triple Gem
Htein Lin (Burma)

15 – 26 February 2012
Mon – Fri: 11am – 8.30pm
Sat & Sun: 10am – 8.30pm
Esplanade – Jendela (Visual Arts Space)
Admission is free

Festival Highlight / World Premiere

The Triple Gem is a new installation created for the Fringe by Burmese artist Htein Lin. The philosophy of Buddhism is one of the two main inspirations for his artistic practice, the other being his experience as a political prisoner, depicted in the installation The Scale of Justice which was presented at the Fringe in 2010.

Monks’ robes are used to create a triptych of three rooms, each representing the three facets, or the ‘triple gem’ of Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. The installation incorporates items such as monks’ bowls and umbrellas, video and sound, as well as guided meditation

Htein Lin has used material means to represent immaterial concepts such as impermanence. We invite you to participate, contemplate and take refuge in The Triple Gem.

”In oppressive societies artists don’t just need skill and creativity – they have to be courageous and tenacious to a degree that many of us find imaginable.  An example of such an artist is Burmese painter and performance artist Htein Lin.“ - The Guardian

Relationship to Art & Faith

The Triple Gem takes as its starting point The Triple Gem of Buddhism in which Buddhists ‘take refuge’, namely Buddha (either the historical Buddha or the Buddha nature—the ideal or highest spiritual potential that exists within all beings), Dhamma (universal truth), and Sangha (the community, or the monkhood). The installation has three parts, or rooms in which to take refuge.

The first room, lined with monks’ robes, focuses on the Buddha, and in particular the reclining Buddha from Wat Po in Bangkok. A film of the Wat Po reclining Buddha, accompanied by the mesmerising real-time soundtrack of coins rhythmically entering the donation bowls around the Buddha, is projected on the back wall. Nine monks’ bowls are arranged on the floor, reflecting the faces of those who gaze upon them. The alms bowl itself appears in Buddha’s life in the story of Sujata who gave Buddha a bowl of milk rice. After partaking of the meal, Buddha threw away the begging bowl into the river to symbolise the mind of non-attachment.

These nine bowls represent the nine qualities of Buddha. As in the tradition of Burmese pagodas, each bowl is identified with a wish such as ‘peace’, ‘exam success’ etc. Coins are placed by the artist for visitors to throw into the bowl if they wish.

The second room, lined with white material, focuses on the Dhamma and invites the audience to participate and learn from the teachings. 6 conical mosquito nets, suspended from the ceiling each contain the figure of a seated meditator made from a cage of chicken wire – all shaped from the figures of six volunteers in Singapore. The open and transparent nature of the wire shapes, which are hollow and contain only air, reflects the Buddhist doctrine of anatta in which the body changes from moment to moment, and thoughts come and go with no permanent conscious substance to experience them; rather, conscious thoughts simply arise and perish. The six sculptures reflecting the Six Qualities of The Dhamma (Anguttara Nikaya) . The second room contains further empty hanging mosquito nets, and cushions and further space where the audience can participate by sitting and meditating. Written guides, and guided meditation in English by a famous Burmese monk, U Zawtika via headphone will be available. A film of the artist's own meditation practice will be projected on the rear wall.

The third room, formed again from monk robes, depicts the Sangha, or community, usually taken to mean the monkhood. The artist's video performance ‘Homage to the Monks’, in which he pays homage to Burmese monks for their loving kindness (metta) for the people of Burma.

The Triple Gem draws on Buddhism for its philosophical underpinnings and symbolism. While most ‘Buddhist art’ is associated with traditional architecture, interiors and religious artefacts, here, this multimedia installation aims to express concepts of Buddhist philosophy through contemporary artistic means.

Buddhism is not a religion about the worship of Buddha, but a philosophy founded on the universal truth which the Buddha himself elucidated. The real focus of the installation is therefore not Buddhism per se, but the Dhamma which is a universal truth applicable to any faith, and sometimes defined as ‘the art of living’. The Dhamma, in its quest for mental purity, could be seen as the most fundamental art that there is, and if understood, can bring perfect harmony.

While there is much debate as to whether Buddhism is a religion or philosophy, Htein Lin considers Buddhism to be the latter, and that meditation is a practice which can benefit people of any faith and no faith. Through The Triple Gem, we hope that visitors can experience each of these rooms and their corresponding philosophical tenets, be inspired by them, and find relevance to their own personal lives.

Publicity photo credits: Htein Lin