To Sit Near

Video installation with woven textiles and mixed media

In Hinduism, the term Upaniṣad refers to Sanskrit texts of revered religious teaching and ideas, the word itself meaning “to sit near”, “sitting near devotedly” or “secret teaching”. It reflects the early Indian practice of sitting near the feet of the teacher, who passed on the oral teachings from those that came before him; at the same time, it implies the student’s willingness to “set to rest ignorance” and receive spiritual knowledge.

To Sit Near draws from a similar openness and attentiveness to discover underlying truth, and seeks to expand the discussion on religion and faith today. The work is interested in the diverse interpretations that emerge from our interactions and exchanges about religion with the people around us, and seeks to activate a discussion on what religion/faith is to an individual. More importantly, it questions: how do we truly live in a world with varying shades of grey? And finally, how do we view faith in this current day and age, compared to the past?

Centred around a series of woven textiles and mixed media, the artwork draws together elements of performance, video and sound which resonate and work in tandem. The focal textile piece is a material exploration of the manifold religions which have woven humanity together throughout history, the people that have come and gone from this earth, and the teachings that have been passed down through scriptures or objects. The different textures, colours and materials entwined in the work symbolise the pluralism of human beliefs and how the divisions between religious views and lived experiences can be overcome.

Using the textile and mixed media pieces as a starting point, three movement artists from different dance backgrounds were then invited to improvise and respond to the objects and these ideas. In an evocative video performance, gestures and rituals that cross over different religions and practices, such as the procession and the washing of hands, are alluded to. The accompanying soundtrack “Chayamaya”, developed by sound design artist berukera, samples and mixes traditional music and contemporary sounds.

To Sit Near is a timely reminder of the richness, value and beauty of diverse faiths in a moment where religion is, more often than not, a source of conflict and disagreement. The unique interpretations that each collaborator individually bring to the work are interwoven to reflect the multiplicity and coexistence of beliefs in our complex world

Written by Seet Yun Teng