N E X T .

Life as Art Practice (a glimpse of urban life in Kyoto)

Bridge Sitting

By Garr Reynolds

Published in Presentation Zen “The Naked Presenter”, September 24, 2006.

Being fully engaged in the moment seems increasingly hard for people to do these days. Our lives are not just filled with business but with ‘busyness’. We spend much of the day “living in our cluttered heads” and fail to see, I mean really see. We miss so many moments each day, moments which may have been teeming with inspiration, stimulation, beauty, art, emotion, perhaps even answers to our questions if we had only noticed. But we were not aware, and we did not observe. In Buddhism Plain and Simple, Zen priest Steve Hagen reminds us that “We tune out much of the world—and much of ourselves as well. And we don’t even realize how removed we are from what is going on”. Hagen says that most of us fail to live life to its fullest because we freeze our lives into a certain view.

When you think about it, the really great creatives – designers, musicians, even entrepreneurs, programmers, etc. – are the ones who see things differently and who have unique insights, perspectives and questions (answers are important, of course, but first comes questions). This special insight and knowledge, as well as plain ol’ gut feel and intuition, can only come about for many of us when slowing down, stopping and seeing the world for what it is in all its complications, in all its simplicity, and in all its reality there before us.

Life as Art Practice

This may sound like new-age, gobley gook, but it really is just a matter of slowing down. Yet, this is easier said than done. What got me thinking about this the work by Kyoto-based Swiss designer and artist Markus Wernli. Markus is in the middle of a very cool social art project which is related to this idea of slowing down, taking time and ‘being in the moment’—and he's sharing it with the world. Says Markus: “Each moment of the everyday, every action of living, poses the question: how it might be lived differently, more truthfully and respectfully.” With this in mind Markus offers up his services, one hour a day, every day, for about twelve weeks in various Kyoto locations. This is being done, says Markus, "...in an effort to ignite our streamlined, hyper-functional lives with meaningful encounters and fresh discoveries”.

Each day of the week brings a new “creative treatment in urban environments” and you are all invited to join Markus or watch the episodes unfold from where ever you are around the world in QuickTime. I love the simple way Markus has presented his ideas on the website including the video recordings which have been edited (no audio needed) to give us the essence of the daily happening. I really like his simple use of graphics for the calendar.

Markus’ seven “meaningful encounters and fresh discoveries” in many ways are simple things we can remind ourselves to do (‘practice’) at least once every week. I rephrased them a bit to fit my own individual circumstance below. By remembering these (among others), I feel I can remain more aware, more connected, and perhaps more creative:

  1. Take a break, enjoy a simple cup of tea in a different setting than ever before;
  2. Express your gratitude to someone whose important contributions go unsung;
  3. Take a walk off the beaten path [possibly wading through a city canal];
  4. As you walk in your city, ask yourself how the contributions of many might make a difference on a sterile infrastructure;
  5. Gain an even greater appreciation of trees. These oxygen producing, carbon dioxide absorbing trees are, as Markus says, living chroniclers of urban development and human activity;
  6. Take time to sit down outside and take in the scenery. No book. No laptop. Just sit and take it all in;
  7. Tell your story. And listen to the stories of others.

Markus is an extremely talented and interesting guy. He presented for our design group, Design Matters, over a year ago (on his new book on Japanese gardens) and he was a fantastic presenter and engaging storyteller: of course, his slides where stunning and made sans-PowerPoint.

Garr Reynolds is a communications consultant and educator in presentation design based in Nara.