Mona Martinez Seno

 The power of sculpture lies in its silence and stillness in the midst of human activity, and my work seeks to use that quality to engender a shift in consciousness. Like a haiku, the work provides a simple moment requiring acute perception, inviting and bringing the viewer into my philosophical and meditative world. Recently I have used a single natural element, nude and stretched out as an expanse over the floor of a space, inhabiting the architecture with a quiet yet unmistakeable presence, compelling in its largeness. It is made for a human space, relating to both the architecture and the human body, and is intended to be experienced alone. The material is not precious in any economic sense; it is part of the ordinary and mundane in our lives. If we pay attention to it, however, we can be quite transformed.


The ordinary material, through its transformation of a space, is given new meaning, reminiscent of something larger than and existing outside of the gallery: five inches of water filling my 12 by 12 foot studio floor becomes an ocean or large indefinite/depthless body of water, but having the smell and feel of a small swimming pool. Creases in the rubber compound that waterproofed the room create organic lines which resemble cracked mud or a desert floor underneath the water, or tiny mountain ranges on the ocean floor. Sand sifted over an entire gallery floor in mounds and flat areas becomes an unnatural desert landscape, seeming to be perfectly pixelated as if computer generated, giving a sense of infinity and the feeling of one being larger than life, towering or flying over an expanse of other-worldy sand dunes.


The sources of my work are interior: a spirituality inspired by a study of mystics from various traditions, the experience of the mystery that is in nature, a solitude in the midst of activity that allows us to both lose ourselves and feel connected to everything around us, a deep respect and attention to the essence of a thing or material, an investigation into the power of perception.


My spirituality, the way I experience the world, has roots in the psyches of various cultures—my home country, the Philippines, where an intuitive identification with nature from its Indian ancestry conflicts with the rigidity of a western Catholic culture imposed by the Spaniards, the homely sincerity of Japanese spirituality where an intimacy with nature and its essence which springs from its animistic Shinto roots blends harmoniously with the interior-based philosophy of the Zen Buddhists. Having traveled widely and grown up with people from all over the world, I see the division that comes with societal and cultural notions, and I appreciate the universality of the human being. My work seeks to provide an experience that is accessible to all people, in its sensory and spiritual being.


The work, though sincere and straightforward in itself, is also subversive in its criticality. It cares not for the conventions of art as a history and market-driven business, nor does it give in to the logical/analytic irony pervasive in much contemporary art. In its quiet strength, it confronts us with the power of nature’s whisper, and makes us more aware of ourselves as forces that have the ability to both destroy and revere. In didactic terms, it provides the kind of insight that a dry landscape garden in Zen Buddhism offers, a world in miniature that we are asked to enter fully to release all pre-conceived notions, to a realm beyond meaning where we can watch our minds, aware of the emotional impact of our fragile and changing perceptions. In asking the viewer to participate in the work, the viewer is given an unexpected responsibility, feeling vulnerable in the other-worldly space of the work.


Walking through the sand installation “Intimate Vastness”, the viewer becomes aware of his imprint on the delicate material, and his consciousness is turned inward, to the movement of his body through physical space. His pace slows, and he focuses on each step through the sand while feeling, through the expansion of sand to the corners of the room and the repetition of mounds, that he is in the midst of something large and grand. The mounds, however, are small, miniature, and he feels god-like, larger than life. The feeling of solitude, aloneness, in the midst of the work, however, is balanced by the evidence of others who have “been there before” and left footprints in the floor, creating a sense of connectedness with others.


In the second part of this installation, he is invited to a smaller room which is white and veiled slightly with a translucent white cloth. Behind the veil lies a cornerless white space with diffused light which is at first highly disorienting; without any reference points or horizon for the eyes to focus on, the space seems thick, as if foggy, the white closing in on you at the same time expanding away from you to infinity. The viewer has only himself—in his body—as reference in the space. This work developed from several related works that were womb-like structures, which eventually grew larger and larger until it could accommodate a person. It also emerges from my intimate relation to Buddhism and meditation; the “spaceless space” approximates the notion of Emptiness, a state of mind all Buddhist practitioners aspire to. Removing all distracting, logical space elements, the viewer is forced to pay attention to himself, the only thing which is sure and visible. This state of mind is associated with the right side of the brain, the seat of creativity, intuition and wisdom.


It has become apparent to me that in fact, my childhood dream to become a doctor is taking shape—not in the medical world, but in the spiritual and artistic spheres (like the healer/priestess/tribe leader of the ancient Philippines) . Many people who have seen my work first-hand have commented that the work makes them feel calmer, and brings out a childlike wonder in them, which I relate to spirit. I am elated to find that they enjoy the spaces and desire to stay in them for extended periods of time, to “live” in them. The work seems to be made from my unconscious for healing and spiritual growth, mine initially but also for anyone who is drawn to it.


“Art is innate in the artist, like an instinct that seizes and makes a tool out of the human being. The thing in the final analysis that wills something in him is not he, the personal man, but the aim of the art.” –Carl Jung


“In the presence of eternity, the mountains are as transient as the clouds.”