Alchemy of Uncertainty and This Time with Tea: Tea in the Dark #8 and #9
08.01.2020, 9:57 am
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Uncertainty. Tea leaves. Texture. Water. Sound. Temperature. Time. Scent. Color. Flavor. Transformation

Elements and sensations co-mingle. The constant remakings of our bodies, planet, the universe. We prepare for tea. We bring mind into focus: gather utensils, tea leaves, prepare space, water. We make tea. Note temperature, the color of dry leaves, see thin leaves fall into a teapot, watch flowing water. Time, tea and water co-mingle and transform. Wait, pour. The rising scent of wet tea leaves, darkening shades of green. Taste. Alchemy — parts of us becoming the chemistry of tea: tannins, L-Theanine, sunlight, time. Pause, swallow. We are materially transformed, linked to tea plants, time and season, humans and labor, sunlight, earth, universe.

Sensations arise with our bodies’ material interactions through time. Then dissipate.

During July 002020, we staged Tea #8 and Tea #9 of Tea in the Dark: Koans for the Anthropocene five days apart. These ongoing iterations of Tea in the Dark use practice to explore tea’s capacity to transmute vast scales and cosmological forces of elemental change into intimate, embodied human experience. They aim to re-weave our modern consciousness into cosmological rhythms of continuous transformation. We experience this re-weaving as a deeply ecological act.

Tea practices have aided humans in sensing themselves as being interconnected with the cosmos and attuned–or disharmonious–with it. Such awareness can deepen our collective ability to grasp the fact that our species’ existence on this planet is precarious and unpredictable. It can invite creative inhabitation of ever-changing planetary conditions. 

Teas #8 and #9 activated tea as a medium of hospitality and for contemplating cosmological co-existence. Preparing, sharing, and drinking tea can be a skillful means for drawing vital nourishment from elements of our world that compose and sustain us—while connecting us with one another. Both of these projects occurred online. But we felt that the contexts of sharing tea linked us intimately with friends and strangers across the North American continent. Guests received analog, material component for both projects (a postcard for Tea #8, and mailed canisters of tea for Tea #9).


TEA #8 This Time With Tea, July 25, 002020, in collaboration with Make it With Tea and Summer Tea in Prospect Park 2020 (August 15th, 2020)

In late June 002020, we began to plan for our upcoming project in collaboration with Make it with Tea. We threw three coins six times to construct an I Ching Hexagram. The result was Hexagram #45: Composure/Gathering Together. We began here, imagining how we might stage Tea #8 in ways that induce us to individually and collectively “concur with all things, abide in everything gathered together.”

The I Ching (Book of Change) dates to around 1000 B.C. For us, the texts and images of the I Ching are creative reminders—voices from an ancient consciousness of our species’ evolved ability to sense its interconnection with the cosmos. And a provocation to use that consciousness to attune to the ways of the cosmos and use them as guides for navigating change.

Tea preparation and tasting (earthenware utensils, water, tea leaves, time etc.) are  embodiments of material transformations that the I Ching witnesses. Its text and images are endlessly evocative. We consulted its wisdom on the fundamental principles of reality, and found hints for how our micro-productions might “maintain the proper relations between heaven, earth and humankind.” 

We posted information on smudge’s website for guests attending the tea and for those interested in learning more about the I Ching.

All things (photons of sunlight, the movement of nuclear waste, human bodies, tea, viruses, hurricanes etc. etc.) are configurations of fundamental dynamics of reality’s continuous unfolding. The temporary states of reality’s materials and forms configure, dissipate, reconfigure. Change continues on, reshaping the world.

When we make and drink tea, as when we act in any way, we move within and alongside the transformations that the I Ching maps. Each tea time is a transformational process that occurs only once. That profound fact is tea’s vital nature. It is alive with its unique difference and unrepeatability. Each sip of tea is the manifestation of singular materials, circumstances, and vital energies that are co-created and exchanged by its participants. 

We staged Tea #8 5, 2020, as a seven act micro-production for “eco-cosmological being.” We gathered online with six collaborators to drink tea and co-create an I Ching Hexagram. This collaboratively arrived at Hexagram would be imbued with the energies and conditions of the people, places, and moments playing out on the Zoom screen. The seven acts were:

For This Time with Tea, we did not approach the I Ching as a form of divination. We activated it as a practice for reintegrating ourselves (as individuals and groups) into the generative, unfolding tissue of existence — while the many planetary uncertainties of the Anthropocene and COVID-19 unfolded around us.

The Hexagram we arrived at together was #60: Pattern. 

We then used Pattern as inspiration to design and produce image-sensation postcard artworks—transpositions of the unique, singular forces at play within the group’s shared time together.  

Materials for the postcards included a stamping of “patterns” made from rose hips (used for the Tea’s ikebana arrangement), along with iron, green tea and watercolor. Each postcard included poetic excerpts from Hexagram #60’s text.

We mailed the postcards to participants of Tea #8 as a gesture of ongoing connection, and invited recipients to activate their postcard as they wished. For example, those who are able attend the upcoming Summer Tea in Prospect Park 2020 on August 15, 002020 could use the postcard to help them contemplate the unrepeatable context and collective action(s) of that event. 


TEA #9, Alchemy of Uncertainty, July 30, 002020, in collaboration with the Alcyon Center, Maine


solar can print (365 suns) from June 21, 002019- June 21, 002020, Provincetown, MA, smudge studio

June 21, 2020, marked summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. Global cases of COVID-19 passed 30 million on June 28th. On July 4th, Earth was at perihelion in its orbit around the sun. July 14th marked the 75 year anniversary of the Trinity test of the first atomic bomb in New Mexico. July 13-23rd, the Neowise comet graced night skies on Earth while on its 6,800 year orbit around the sun — a circuit it’s been making since the birth of our solar system. 

Our awareness of material change—our sensations of transformations arising and falling away—are the sum total of our life experience. Because of this, our ability to notice, learn from, and find joy in transformation is of great consequence. Such awareness doesn’t always happen easily. We often need to strip away habitual thoughts and ossified verbal descriptions of what we think things “are.” Transformation can be subtle and enigmatic. And yet, we can often glimpse it through readily available visual sensations—scent, touch, flavor, sound—as they pass into and out of awareness.

7 grams of green tea were sent by mail to each guest in advance

On the afternoon of July 30, 0002020, we guided seven guests through a shared aesthetic experience of elemental transformation. The moment to moment process of observing the transformation of tea leaves into a cup of tea, and then into our own bodies, unfolded in “ten acts.”

First, we introduced the 8-minute cold brewing method that we had designed for our chosen tea (Ayame Kabuse sencha).

To further set the stage, we shared Lu Tong’s poem about the wildly transformative effects that tea had upon him, over 1000 years ago:We then made tea in slow motion while aligning awareness and sensations with the unfolding transformations, and uncertainties, taking place in our singular shared time of tea-making. Rather than relying on thoughts, memories, or feelings to contemplate elemental transformation, we focused on our immediate, fleeting sensory experiences. We noted mingling, changing sensations of scent, texture, color, sound, flavor as they arose and fell away. The making and drinking of tea was punctuated with moments of silence, artistic response, and reflection.

The life and art of our favorite, humble tea monk, Baisao, provided further inspiration during the micro-production.

Sipping tea together within times and conditions of radical uncertainty, we considered the power and vitality of the simple, hospitable act of sharing tea.

*additional details for both Tea in the Dark #8 and #9 can be found on the Digital Chakaiki 茶会記 tea record

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