Touching the Burning Infinite:
Originally appeared in the Winter 2012 issue of Written River: The Journal of Eco-Poetics
We live in a high velocity, technocratic, and a (sometimes) loud and harsh world. It is a world increasingly characterized by violence, environmental degradation, psychological stress, cultural marginalization, urban anonymity, and a mind-numbing overload of digital imagery and information. Living within such conditions can have a detrimental impact upon the human psyche. Under such duress, art --- a universal human leaning shared across all cultures --- can serve as a salve for the heart-mind.
Art, both East and West, ancient and modern, causes us to pause, to contemplate, to return --- if for just a moment --- to a slower, more natural rhythm. Art also invokes experience, specifically within the inner life of the viewer. When that art is --- by its very nature --- spacious, contemplative, minimalist, and evocatively mind-like, the viewer is naturally invited into a meditative process. Therein, one can find healing and illumination.
With such art-making, and within such art-viewing, a person may even experience a sudden flash of deeper spiritual insight. This is one of the key features of what the late Tibetan meditation master Chogyam Trungpa called "Dharma art"; and, this was my own experience the first time I saw the art featured in this article. With my first glance, something elemental and primordial reached out to me.
It is no accident, then, that I first reached for contemplative and aesthetic terms from the Japanese tradition to describe these works. As it just so happens, the artist is versed in an understanding of these terms, both from an intellectual point of view and as an internal experience as an artist.
H: One of your most well-known installations is the 9/11 Memorial in London, commissioned by the 9/11 London Project Foundation as a permanent addition in England. Crafted from polished World Trade Center steel from Ground Zero and the 9/11 attacks, you were actually given the opportunity to create a piece of sculpture from the rubble.
What was your own personal experience of 9/11 and what was your experience on the artistic and emotional level working on the 9/11 Memorial in London?
MA: Creating the piece for 9/11 was very taxing on an emotional level for me. I worked for two years on the monument and the entire time I kept praying that I make something that had a reverence for the victims. I prayed that I was able to make something that was respectful. My concept was simple; to polish to a mirror finish the World Trade Center steel. My hope was to create something non-denominational and put forth light into the world. So, I made a highly reflective piece.