Meditation can really free up our thinking, help us gain clarity and remove blockages that can so often hinder creative work.
Can matter be moulded and manipulated by the mind like magic? Can thoughts and other invisible forces bend reality? Are we shaping things or are things shaping us? Is the mind separate from the objects and phenomena it perceives – can one exist without the other – can external objects live without a set of eyes and a functioning brain to observe them? Do we exist in the world or does the world exist in our heads? Where do ideas come from anyway?
As a meditation teacher and industrial designer these types of questions really excite and even influence my work. I’m fascinated with the invisible forces that impact and somehow shape our world. The practical designer part of me wants to explore the connections between meditation, creativity and materiality. I’m really interested in how these ethereal concepts overlap and relate to the physical world of form, matter and materials. Meditation plays an integral role in my life but I’ve found that it can be applied in numerous ways and used as an effective tool in the creative process.
Meditation can really free up our thinking, help us gain clarity and remove blockages that can so often hinder creative work. “Art’s purpose is to sober and quiet the mind so that it is in accord with what happens” ~ John Cage. In the past I’ve ran various ‘meditation making’ workshops with groups of artists asking the question: Where do ideas come from? The aim was to transcend the everyday mind with its cultural rules and established ways of thinking to generate fresh ideas and create new ways of making. I have experimented with it in my studio, meditating alone for hours at a time and then continued that state of awareness into silent semi-automatic making – allowing bodily movements and ideas to just happen with no effort or control. I’ve used it when I have felt stuck or blocked – I’ve used it when I have been ill or felt unwell and I’ve used it to help manifest my present moment reality by planting seeds of intention into my past meditations. Over the years the process has become a constant source of bliss, energy and creative inspiration. I’ve seen many areas of my reality gradually blossom as a result and I would go as far as to say it has fundamentality changed the way my mind looks at itself and the material world around us.
But is the world around us really as solid as it seems? First of all everything you sense or see is the brain converting light waves and other stimulus into electrical signals that then project images somewhere inside the head. So in a weird way we are always looking at our own mind rather than external bodies or objects. We are forever trapped in our body’s own internal imaging processes (similar to Neo in the Matrix but without the machines). I often say to my clients/students: There are 7 billion people on the planet but 7 billion very different realities. On another level our brains are hardwired to seek out positive mass and outlines. Take a look around you right now. Notice all the empty space surrounding you and the physical ‘stuff’. Did you notice that there is far more ‘nothingness’ than matter? Even the white space on this page between these words you are reading right now. In fact ‘space’ is the primary and most prevalent ingredient in our universe. According to quantum mechanics – every person and every solid object we perceive is 99.9999999999999 (that’s thirteen nines) empty space. When we zoom in to atoms, the smallest building blocks of reality, what we find isn’t solid stuff at all but in fact tiny packets of energy called quanta, spinning around at dizzying speeds in huge voids of nothingness – mind blowing right! To quote the great man Wayne Dyer: “It’s the space between the bars that hold the tiger, it’s the silence between the notes that make the music and it is out of the silent space or the gap between our thoughts that everything is created”.
So without empty space or gaps there would be only noise. Without space nothing would grow,
without space nothing could exist. The mind is very similar, the average person thinks between 60-80,000 thoughts a day – many of my friends, students and family ask me: How can I switch my thoughts off? I reply: You don’t need to switch them off that would be ridiculous – you would be dead. Instead you need to go within and re-learn how to see the stillness and silence that is already there – in fact the thoughts, feelings and ideas all spring into being from this empty chasm between and behind thoughts, like a ship sailing on the surface of a vast ocean or clouds moving across the sky. The stillness, space and silence are already there in abundance hidden in the background – but we have forgotten about this place, we have lost contact with it. Meditation therefore becomes the vehicle that re-connects us with this lost and sacred realm.
The more we visit this silent place the more space we create for ideas, healing, compassion, love and personal growth. In fact all ideas and creative insights are said to bubble up from this infinite expanse of emptiness. Every second a new arrival, a thought, emotion or idea arises in the mind from beyond, each having the power and potential to transform and manifest into action. Actions, behaviors and habits are the mind in motion, most of the time it’s the unconscious mind moving us through life – carving out our legacy. Our lives therefore are a result of these invisible, subtle forces that take root in this infinite field of potentiality - a space pregnant with possibilities.
Nothingness transforms into thoughts, thoughts into ideas, ideas into actions and actions take the form of bodily movements.. these movements can fashion objects, write music, speak words, visit a workshop and so on until you have a finished object or work of art. This fascination with empty space sparked my ‘Om Rhythm’ project. The structural table began with a simple idea. I wanted to create something from nothing, so I started with 6 tiny dots on a piece of paper. The dots were braille, a hidden form of language. They spelt out the invisible mantra ‘Om’. I then wanted to explode a physical 3D object from these tiny points, which resulted in a structural coffee table made predominantly from space. The welding and fabrication was a playful process using intuition to guide the building & placement of each steel segment. So the dots came to represent the ‘nothing’ with the steel lines representing the ‘something’.
When it comes to material reality and the physical landscape I can’t help referencing the city in which I live and grew up in. This city represents a big influence on my identity and my work. I grew up and still live in Sheffield, England, once the beating heart of the industrial north. As a kid I lived on a giant Brutalist block of flats in the 80’s called Kelvin Flats, a carbon copy of the infamous Park Hill Flats that still stands today like a concrete fortress overlooking the city. My high-rise upbringing was a weird and wonderful introduction to the world that has stayed with me, ever since I remember feeling like we were growing up on a huge concrete spacecraft with streets in the sky that stretched for miles. I still remember peddling my Chopper bicycle and playing football on the never-ending labyrinth of landings and streets... the ball would go over the edge and it would take an eternity to go get the ball back. This was my first impression of the real world. My young self was surrounded by these heavy materials, supersized structures and bulky configurations. My cute and cuddly consciousness was very concrete. The Kelvin Flats were demolished in 1995. I remember moving off when I was about 7 years old to go live in a real house with a real garden. Sheffield built three such projects off the back of Le Coubusier’s Utopian dream for mass social housing. However the reality was in stark contrast after years of neglect. Kelvin like its two brothers (Park Hill & Hyde Park) fell into disrepair with crime slowly taking hold.
These slightly sci-fi memories of growing up on Kelvin Flats inspired my new ‘Topian’ collection, a recent commission for Wentworth Pewter who are also based in Sheffield and one of the last remaining pewter-smiths in the UK. The collection brings ancient pewter and metal spinning out of the industrial past and into contemporary concrete living. The group of table top items consisting of two vases, two candle holders and a bowl, are inspired by the factory in which they are hand made and the shelves stacked high with tools & chucks used for metal-spinning. The collection pays tribute to Sheffield’s industrial roots with its famous Brutalist buildings. The name refers to the utopian vision of post-World War II society to build a better world and the dystopian outcome of many of the neglected buildings that fell into disrepair. I really wanted to capture the concrete essence and metal manufacturing heritage of the city with this project but we also wanted to be mindful of environmental impact so decided to add factory waste into the concrete mixture. My very first exploration with concrete was back in 2001 while undertaking my Industrial Design Degree. I had the same intention to draw inspiration from my industrial roots. The Kelvin Lamp pays homage to the flats I was born on. The proportions were based on the humble brick and the idea was to impersonate an actual piece of the flats. The prototype in the images was a batch production project, a total of 6no. were made with accompanying jigs and moulds to cast the concrete body.
In my work I’m always looking for sculptural outcomes. I want to bring experimental ideas together with raw-honest material and elegant forms. Two good examples of this methodology are the ‘Frames’ family and the Om Vessels. The Frames Table and Bench duo comprise of geometric steel lines gently nod to structural engineering in architecture, come together with natural oak or ash to form a super strong yet flexible dining table and seating platform. The sculptural Om Vessels can be configured to create unique yet practical art clusters or constellations. The storage hole offers the perfect place to store keys and other precious pocket items. You can also use them like oversized coat hooks to hang your coat or bag on. As an added bonus they can also be used as a passive speaker to naturally amplify music from your smart phone’s loudspeaker. In an active state the vessels are highly functional design objects and in a passive state they become an art or sound installation.
Credits - Anwar Studio