Filipino artist Lao Lianben’s practice (b. 1948) has been highly associated with the aesthetics of Zen (translated ‘Chan’ from Chinese, 禪宗), which subsequently hardened into an individual artistic style. The paper locates it alongside the geopolitical history of Zen and what is now called ‘Zen art’ through tracing the practices that the artist categorically cited as his influences: painter-monk Fachang Muqi (牧谿, b. unknown, d. 1269) and painter Mark Tobey (b. 1890, d. 1976). Viewing how Zen was remediated from China to Japan and to the United States of America through this gesture, Lao’s practice can be adjudged to be at times indifferent and co-operative to these geopolitical maneuvers which propagated Zen’s potential in nation-building and its secularism. However, Lao’s participation to the larger “Zen art” discourse can be differentiated through examining his later denials of the influence of Zen. This ambivalence can be interpreted as his deployment of a secularism that established distance from the philosophical thought out of ‘a will to care’ for it. This reveals his position of in-between-ness as Filipino-Chinese, specifically as someone who was making sense of a transforming culture that he cannot categorically subsume into egotistical gestures of Othering. Furthermore, by examining Lao’s practice in relation to Zen/Chan Buddhism, the study centers the discussion to manifestations of ‘Zen-influenced’ art that may be considered peripheral and collateral to the primary (and canonical) trajectory of its history.
Mark Louie Lugue, University of the Philippines Diliman, Philippines