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Title: Right mind-minding : the practice and transmission of Zen and Tantric Buddhist method practices in the poemobjects of Dom Sylvester Houédard, 1960-1975
Author: Simpson, Nicola Jane
ISNI:       0000 0004 7967 6221
Awarding Body: Norwich University of the Arts
Current Institution: University of the Arts London
Date of Award: 2018
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There are several important areas where this study makes an original contribution to knowledge. This is the first substantial study of the work of Dom Sylvester Houédard. Although Houédard features in the recent studies on the contexts of the British concrete poetry movement, no previous research has focused exclusively on his work or foregrounded his spiritual vision as method. The aim of this thesis is therefore to investigate the artistic experimentation and textual practices found in the poemobjects made by Houédard between 1960 and 1975, and to provide a conceptual theoretical framework based on Mahayana Buddhist epistemology, in particular Tibetan Vajrayana Tantric Buddhism and its associated performance rituals. Research to date has primarily focused on the influence of Zen Buddhism on the post-war American avant-garde, and although there is an emerging body of research addressing the influence of Tibetan Buddhism on a few individual American artists, little is known about the transplantation of Buddhism, Zen or Vajrayana, to Britain and this affect on the British avant-garde. This study aims to reposition Houédard, not only as a key figure in a community of British artists, but as a central figure in the Western encounter with Tibetan Buddhism and an important conduit for the dissemination, understanding and transmission of this wisdom. The methodological approach taken in this thesis is a mixed methodology based upon archive as research, exhibition as research, interview, curation, performance and analysis. The analyses call on Buddhist and Tantric spiritual epistemology in providing close readings of text, image and performance. Drawing upon an extensive body of unpublished work and correspondence from private and public archive collections, this study analyses a comprehensive selection of unseen material. Selections of this material have been curated into three exhibitions: frog pond plop: the yoga of concrete, The Gallery, NUA (2010); The Cosmic Typewriter, The Life and Work of Dom Sylvester Houédard; The South London Gallery (2012); Performing No Thingness, East, NUA (2016). I have also edited some of this material for two monographs: Notes from the Cosmic Typewriter, The Life and Work of Dom Sylvester Houédard (Occasional Papers, 2012) and Dom Sylvester Houédard (Riding House, 2016). I have worked with a number of contemporary artists, poets and musicians to realize Houédard's poemobjects as scores for performance. These performances have been interpretative in nature adopting a Cagean aesthetic derived from Zen Buddhism whilst also exploring the potentialities of a Tantric Buddhist performance aesthetic. Therefore this study makes a major contribution to research on Dom Sylvester Houédard by confirming his central role in a transnational network of artists encountering Buddhist epistemology, and by demonstrating the legitimacy of interpreting and performing his work within this conceptual framework. It also offers some important insights into the significant role that British encounters with Buddhism in the 1960s and 1970s played in shaping aspects of kinetic art, participatory art and concrete poetry.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: History of Art