Red Thread Diptychs by Wendy Ann Greenhalgh
"How is it that perfectly accomplished saints and bodhisattvas are still attached to the red thread?" (from Songyuan Chongyue's - Three Turning Words, Miscellaneous Koans)
In the Zen tradition the red thread stands for this human life, tied to the body and all that represents - birth, blood, the umbilical cord, love, sex, passion, eros, creativity, the spiral of DNA, inheritance, family, death and impermanence.
It stands for the spiritual paradox of human life too - how, it asks us, can we wake up, see clearly the nature of reality, and dwell in our essential nature - pure awareness, whilst still in this very human body, in the midst of this very human life?
I'm exploring this koan through a series of red thread drawings. In the Red Thread Diptychs I create visual and linguistic koans on pages of a 90 year old book - itself a diary of a year in a human life at the beginning of the twentieth century.
The old paper connects both myself as artist and you as viewer by a tactile thread to the tree the paper came from that lived more than a hundred years ago, the person who planted it and the one who cut it down, and those who handled or read the book before it came into my hands. Its pages remind us concretely of the constancy of impermanence and change, a truth that's explored further through the drawings on its pages.
I chose the diptych deliberately, drawing on it as a form used in Western religious painting and combining it with the Eastern spiritual tradition of Zen. In the red thread diptychs, each page is gilded along the edge where it was torn from the book - also echoing the Zen art of Kintsugi, where broken ceramics are mended in gold, celebrating the flaw as a reminder of the impermanent nature of all things.
Each diptych is titled with an extract from a Zen koan and with two words snared in the tangle of red threads. The form, words and drawing combine to provide a meditative or reflective focus, a further visual koan to be contemplated.