88 PLACES This element of the one taste: (n)ever-changing project, consists of a typology of each of the 88 Orin, devotion bells, at the 88 Omuro Ninaji Temples (Shingon sect) in Kyoto. These small, hut-like constructions are a version in miniature of their 88 much larger and more widely known counterparts on the South Western Japanese island of Shikoku, which were built between approximately 900-1400 AD.
To undertake the 1,000-mile, 88 Temple pilgrimage at Shikoku on foot, takes between 40-60 days depending on the fitness of the pilgrim and is an arduous task for even the healthiest devotee.
By contrast, The 88 Omuro Temples (built in 1824) are located on a forested hillside in North West Kyoto and visitors can complete the course in between 2-4 hrs- ideal for those who don’t have the time, money or energy to undertake the Shikoku pilgrimage. Each Omuro Temple name and number corresponds exactly to its counterpart in Shikoku, and carries the same significance in terms of its relationship to specific saints. The Temples are visited by a cross-section of local (Kansai) people of all ages.
There are several explanations as to why there should be precisely ‘88’ Temples (which the Japanese refer to as ‘88 Places’) but one of the most prevalent is that they represent the 88 evils or human desires as identified by Kobo Daishi, the great Shingon saint who inspired the construction of the Shikoku temples.
In undertaking the course, both at Shikoku and Omuro, pilgrims seek to purify such desires through acts of devotion or prayer, often in the form of mantra, performed at every site. On arrival at each temple, visitors strike the Orin with a small wooden stick to signal the beginning of their devotions, recite prayers and strike the Orin again at the end to indicate closure. The pilgrimage is also regarded as particularly appropriate for healing and for those who have suffered loss due to bereavement.
88 Places was started during a 3-month period in 2005 and further work was carried out towards completion in 2007. The typological form of the work, a strategy prevalent in much contemporary Western visual art practice, seems particularly appropriate. Through constant repetition, this method of presentation can be seen to represent a form of ‘mantra’, alluding to issues of ‘self’ and ‘authorship’ so pivotal in contemporary Western visual art debate.
In this respect, the work reflects my ongoing interest in similarities between traditional Eastern and recent Western philosophy. ‘Form is emptiness, emptiness is form’ (The Heart Sutra’) seems remarkably post-modern in sensibility, yet predates Western thinking by over 2000 years.
David Williams April 2007