Buddha's Seat


Eleanor Heartney



One of the tenets of western aesthetic theory, most recently set out in the writings of critic Clement Greenberg, is that art unfolds in space, while music unfolds in time. The sculptures of Clyde Lynds belie that notion. Using fiber optic technology, Lynds choreographs light in ever changing configurations across the surface of intricate stone reliefs.The magic is accomplished by a hidden apparatus which filters light through an arrangement of slowly revolving, superimposed discs, spreading it across a complex network of filaments which end in the sculpture's face. The light which reaches these filaments produces luminous configurations which bring to mind cultural references as diverse as medieval Europe, the stone age civilizations of the Yucatan or American WPA art. As the mechanism alters the light, patterns slowly emerge, melt into each other and fade away, to be replaced by other equally arresting designs. An entire cycle may take days, or even weeks, to complete.

Serving as the ground for this ephemeral light, the concrete sculptures themselves assume various shapes. Some resemble ancient monoliths carved with patterns and glyphs inspired by both modern and stone age cultures. Others are clearly architectural forms suggesting columns, temples, arches and tympana. They speak of the human desire to communicate across time and to create objects which endure through the millennia. Thus the play between the somber immobility of the stone and the fleeting light becomes a metaphor for a cosmology based on both continuity and change.

The earliest known ancestors of Lynds' light sculptures include the Abu Simbel on the Nile in Egypt, constructed so that beams from the Sun God Ra would penetrate the entry opening at the time of the equinox, illuminating statues of King Ramesses II and various Gods. Other precedents are the dolmens and megaliths of the British Isles, including Stonehenge, calculated to line up with the sun at seasonal intervals and, some believe, to predict the occurrence of eclipses. The Caracol an observatory at Chichen Itza in the Yucatan of Mexico, and the stelae of the Mayans were used for observations of cosmic light and the recording of history. Lynds stelae pay homage to these ritual structures, created before art was an entity separate from religion and science.

In modern times, artists have frequently turned to light in their search for a visual equivalent of music. These experiments have produced works like Louis Bertrand Castel's harpsichord powered "color organ" in 1734, Thomas Wilfred's "lumia compositions" of the 1920's and Moholy Nagy's "Light Space Modulator" of 1930. More recently, artists like Dan Flavin, James Turrell and Keith Sonnier have dematerialized the art object by turning it into a field of colored light.

Lynds revitalizes this tradition, employing light as a medium for creating a new kind of contemplative sculpture which combines the spirituality of ritual structures with mesmerizing, moving light Although he has evolved a highly original and technically sophisticated solution to the problem of how one might "paint with light", Lynds is ultimately less interested in fiber optic technology itself than in its expressive possibilities.

Lynds was trained as a painter and developed a style that explored ambiguous qualities of light on surfaces and objects At the same time, he was always interested in the permanence of carved stone and fascinated with the work of the sculptors and architects of the stone relics he observed in his travels to Greece, Egypt, Mexico and lapan In time, he notes, his painterly explorations of light began to feel artificial Instead of simply creating a picture of something, he asked himself, why not do the something itself?




Lynds' first fiber optic pieces were created in the mid 60's His first use of stone with fiber optics was a single small work done in 1972 Composed of a simple concrete block imbedded with fiber optic filaments, it produced a motionless glow This was Lynds' last foray into stone until 1982, when he began making the work for which he is now known.

Over the years the range of sculptural reference has grown while the light markings have become more complex, allowing a full range of drawing and painterly effects. When exhibited in a gallery setting, Lynds' sculptures conjure the ambiance of temples, shrines or memorial chambers. Arranged in semi-darkened rooms, his flickering stelae rise like ancient monoliths given new life by modern technology Often, the gallery installations are informed by particular literary and historical sources. The centerpiece of a 1991 installation was a work entitled "Lustral Basin" which was based on the form of a Minoan ceremonial bath. Filled with water which submerged the light display, this low, circular receptacle made reference to the water born Mayan God Quetzalcoatl A Latin phrase wrapped around its base warned of the "drop of bitterness (which rises) to torment amongst the flowers" Thus, this work, and the larger installation that contained it, served as a meditation on ritual meanings of water as a source of creation and destruction throughout human history.


The current installation, "Buddha's Seat", was inspired by a short story by Yukio Mishima which tells of the myriad sensual delights of the "Pure Land" which await the traveler of the imagination These wonders concern a contemplation of light not unlike that to be found in Lynds' recent work. In the story, the act of concentrating on images of infinitely multiplying light and color is known as "thinking of the Lotus Seat on which Lord Buddha sits" Mishima describes enormous petals surrounded by pillars from which hang draperies "adorned with fifty thousand jewels and  each  jewel emits eighty four thousand different lights, (in which) each light is composed of eighty four thousand different golden colors, and each of these golden colors in its turn is variously transmogrified"

In this installation, stelae producing flowing geometric patterns stand silent guard to a bench which undergoes a variety of transformations of a basic tantric form As light and stone interact in these works, peculiar illusions take effect At times, it appears that the fields of color originate simultaneously above or below the stone surface When the light displays are at their most intense the stone relief almost disappears, only to reassert itself as the light pattern fades.

In addition to gallery installations, Lynds has created numerous public commissions, These make reference to the context in which they are placed. A sculpture created for the entrance to Hewlett Packard's Boston headquarters, for instance, eschews the archaic quality which characterizes so much of Lynds' private work for a streamlined geometry more in keeping with the spirit of a progressive computer company The sculpture is composed of a pair of slabs, one steel and one stone, set alongside each other so that they rise to a soaring point The polished steel contains the mechanical apparatus for the light display which spreads across the stone, creating overlays of geometric figures and lines.

In "American Sunrise", which was designed for a New Jersey Veteran's Home, Lynds evoked the sense of exultant patriotism and confidence in American culture and technology which characterizes so much WPA era architecture He created a stone lintel for the main entrance which weaves together stylized symbols of sunrise, Liberty's crown, the American eagle and the stars and stripes By day the lintel stands on its own as a relief sculpture, while at night it is washed with abstract light patterns, overlapping and emphasizing the underlying carved forms.



For a busy plaza in downtown Birmingham, Lynds created a triumphal arch Composed of pol­ished stainless steel topped by an arc of carved stone, it offers three passageways The central opening rises higher than the others and frames a stainless steel obelisk on which a stainless steel sphere balances with delicate grace At night. the light show on the stone arch spills over onto the polished sphere, an effect in keeping with the work's title, "Alabama Moon"

In these, as in his other public works, Lynds draws both from his personal experience and from local culture. The light images which play across "Alabama Moon" make reference to, among other things, kudzu vines, the night sky over Birmingham and symbols employed by natives indigenous to Alabama, while "American Sunrise" employs symbols which celebrate the patriotic service of the residents of the Veteran's Home.

Lynds incorporates a similar mix of references in several public works in progress. For the new Townsend-Harris High School in New York City, he is giving visual form to the idea of intellectual aspiration with a stone marker inscribed by the Latin phrase "Ad Astra per Aspera" (Through Difficulty to the Stars) and a light display which will describe the night sky in Aristotle's day For the Institute of Marine and Coastal

Sciences at Rutgers in New lersey, a thirty-five foot stone and steel wall relief will feature a gridded, cresting wave form The grids will feed moving light back to an internally lit steel container while glowing images of plankton, the beginning of the ocean's food chain, illuminate the surface of the sculpture Other commissions in progress include a large two story relief for a new office building for the federal government at Foley Square in New York City, and a sculpture for a new border station at Nogales, Arizona, also awarded by the General Services Administration.

Although they are based on the same tech­nology and involve the same play of moving light against solid stone, Lynds' public works function differntly than do his private ones Instead of creating their own environment. they must be woven into a preexisting context. As a result. the public works tend to be more broad ranging in many of thei r references They speak about the possibilities of shared experience and common understandings, bringing art back into the social world from which it has so often seemed to retreat in recent years.

In his private and public works, Lynds explores a multilayered visual language which lends itself to both personal and communal associations Painting with light over intricately carved stone surfaces, he bridges the gap between the spatial and the temporal arts. In the process, he helps us understand time in a different way No longer just a linear progression of moments, time in Lynds' work is a blending of past and future into an all encompassing present.

Thus, to fully engage with a work by Clyde Lynds is to lose oneself in this experience and to sense a merging of personal and cosmic time. In the process we may, like the faithful of Mishima's story, find our­ selves remade by the transformative power of the imagination.