Wes The Pants,  Proboscis Shield (He Knows) , 2016, 45cm x 22cm x 5cm. Carved wood, enamel paint, collage.

Wes The Pants, Proboscis Shield (He Knows), 2016, 45cm x 22cm x 5cm. Carved wood, enamel paint, collage.

Cracks in my Stupa

by Wes Maselli


Leaving the stupa, I would later recall hearing the low humming of an engine, as I walked across the field, half Indiana Jones, half Eckhart Tolle, towards the podium of large spinning prayers wheels.(1) Tall as a church door they were, wrapped with prayers written in gilded impasto, gleaming reflections of heaven’s silver lining.  

But there was not one diligent monk or inquisitive punter to be found. So, did someone just spin the wheels and leave? Alternatively, had they known what they were doing, and built the podium in the exact right place, to catch the draft of divine wind spilling from heaven’s open door, and in so doing, keep the wheels turning in perpetuity? I sensed a 50/50 chance that I was on the verge of enlightenment. If I squinted my eyes, would I see pure love?

Experts observe three characteristics that a sacred act or object will express one or more of: repetition, exaggeration, and extraordinariness.  Numerous (repetition/exaggeration) large (exaggeration) and spinning (repetition) wheels, produce an intangible asset: karma (extra-ordinary), no matter by what force they spin.

Wes The Pants,  2 stroke prayer wheel: karma machine , 2013, digital print on wheel, repeated.

Wes The Pants, 2 stroke prayer wheel: karma machine, 2013, digital print on wheel, repeated.

As my eyes closed, my ears opened, and I perceived then the sound of an engine beneath my feet. “This was a Karma Machine! … but isn’t that cheating??” Leaving my second stupor for the morning, I remained confident enough in my own naivety, to not be cynical in my judgement.

The prayer wheels spin and make karma (sacred), and a diesel generator makes them spin (profane). This is the sacred/profane dichotomy. A monk, a hierophant, a vicar, a diesel generator, the prayer wheels themselves, are all somewhere on the profane scale, trying like the advancing lion in Zeno’s paradox, always getting closer to, but never arriving at, the sacred.(2) Real things can never be sacred, because the sacred isn’t a physical thing, but it is the cause of all things. Sometimes, prayer wheels are set over a stream, hydro-powered. In some places dogs are trained to spin prayer wheels. And for our troubled world, there are now even micro printed wheels, able to make thousands of prayers with each turn.

Wes The Pants,  Zero one, no worries: Australian Idiom in Binary Code,  2017, still from film recorded on DV, approx. 3 mins.

Wes The Pants, Zero one, no worries: Australian Idiom in Binary Code, 2017, still from film recorded on DV, approx. 3 mins.

In the Gibson Desert of Central Australia, sitting just outside the circle of group of Ngaanyatjarra men as they sung the Tingarri song cycle well into the night, I found myself again in a liminal situation. The verses were repetitive, in rhythm and word, and the men sung with tremendous and exaggerated inflections. Though necessary, the stylisation of the language made it harder for me to understand, as I tried to visualise the desert journeys of the Tingarri, protagonists part person, part animal. The incessant rhythm was beat equally emphatically by stick or empty 1.25L coke bottle, and in between verses, as the men gathered themselves for the next one, it was almost mandatory that somebody crack a joke.

I have a radical equation.  Think of a dad-joke as something really profane, not in the sense of being rude, but just something really heavy in itself with no real claim to funny brilliance, just a few sentences that, for sure are true, but not funny. A dad-joke has the form of a joke, i.e. prelude then punch-line, but as a joke, it is meaningless. GOD {insert denomination}, on the other hand, has no real form, but as far as meaning goes, it is supreme. So,

God = 1/Dad-joke

  1. A stupa is a structure containing relics, typically the remains of Buddhist nuns or monks.

  2. Zeno’s paradox, a set of philosophical problems thought to be set by Greek philosopher Zeno of Elea, supports the idea that motion is an illusion. See here

Wes Maselli is an artist in Adelaide, South Australia, Studio Coordinator at Mangkaja Arts Resource Centre, Western Australia.

Issue 19: RITUAL, June 2019.