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Thursday, July 14, 2011

12 and 7, with 36 Tea-bowls

I love numbers, for their beauty. The Golden Section, π, e, Euler's constant - all are exquisitely tuned to the complexity of this magnificent universe.

In the end it may seem all numbers are just that, numbers, abstractions. While the first copy of any 'number' will never be 'found', the truths in numbers are always being discovered, for their character, and the way they exert enormous power over all creation.

The obvious and apparent meanings of numbers is comprehended by every life form, in the way that DNA counts molecules, or feathers on a bird regenerate, or the nucleus of every cell divides. The chemistry of all life functions according to a mathematics that is more complex than we can possibly realize. Life understands probability, statistics, algebra, and set theory, heuristics, calculus, trigonometry and topology better than the best minds on this planet. For numbers are the language of nature, and we as students of that language, are engaged in a game of catch-up.

Number are tied to recognition, and cognition. Every thought in our brains is determined by the count and pulse of discrete electrons, signals where count and level are of paramount significance.

Numeracy is the parent of literacy. Neither are confined to the specific, but are universal abstractions of language, which at root underpin all existence.

And so, in my project to 'give away' 36 tea-bowls, I've reached the number 12, one of my favorite numbers, and so am moved to digress on the importance of the number 12 in medieval Europe.


Émile Mâle writes in his famous work, "The Gothic Image", that the number 12,  the product of 3 x 4:

"is in the mystic sense, to infuse matter with spirit".

Jesus's 12 Apostles, composed by multiplying 3, the number of the Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, times the 4, the number of ancient elements, Fire, Air, Earth and Water, (also the number of Evangelists, Matthew, John, Mark, and Luke, and the 4 Cardinal Directions, upon which all Christian architecture was rigorously oriented after the 11th Century) yields 12, the pivotal Gothic number.

Mâle continues with the number 7, which is the sum of 3 + 4:

"Seven - composed of four, the number of the body, and of three, the number of the soul - pre-eminently the number of humanity, and expresses the union of man's double nature."

He counts Seven Virtues, the Seven Ages of Life, the Seven Sacraments. the Seven Deadly Sins, the Seven Petitions of the Paternoster, and the seven known Planets, including the Sun.

"Seven thus represents the harmony of man's nature, but it also expresses the harmonious relation of man to the universe."


I dwell on early Christian numerology, in order to make a point about a recent art project - the structured giving away of 36 tea-bowls, in return for sharing a cup of tea.

Artists are the greatest enemies of their own work. The same math that allows for a faultless conversion of the Amazon rain forest into beef grazing land for chain hamburgers, also cheapens the artistic statement of the day. No art is effective which is not in some way revolutionary.

The key moment neglected by almost all artists, is the completion of their work through first use.

A sale is not the same as use. Selling is not the same as using. A careful look at leading markets for art in today's world reveals that much of what's purchased, by museums and collectors, sits in storage.

How much is produced and purchased in this world that is never used? How much is wasted? How much of this earth's slim layer of life are we converting into excess production, including art, and then finding ways to destroy that excess. Garbage dumps, landfills, and museums, unfortunately are filled with trash.

Art prospers because of this excess. Unfortunately the mass of artistic production is exactly that - an expression of wasteful practices by a species that does not yet know itself.

The fundamental artistic problem is how to initiate the process of consumption. Almost without exception, material objects begin their life of abuse via a sale.

A more vile word was never spoken. 'Sale' should mean only what it originally meant, and that is 'salary' or salt. Speaking of salt, let's examine a vessel of another sort. A ship that sailed the salty seas:

Ships are vessels, ships had sails, but ships, being expensive, are not wasted. Ships are not built to be wasted. They cannot be. They are too large, too costly. People don't buy 'extra ships'. Millionaires will have an extra car or two. But even billionaires will have not purchase extra 'ships'. Imelda Marcos who had thousand pairs of shoes, did not own one extra 'ship'.


A ship is completed by its launch, when it is set afloat, before being finished. This occurs after the keel is laid, and the hull erected. Every vessel that is created to this day is launched, after a ritual sacrifice. The breaking of a bottle of spirits, at very least. Even the most humble harbor cruiser, is launched in this manner.

In ancient times only after animals were sacrificed, wine spilled and drunk, was a vessel slid from the beach into the water. This was a birth, itself a crucial moment. The launch foretold its future life.

     Openings to the water I stopped;
     I searched for cracks and the wanting parts I fixed:
     Three sari of bitumen I poured over the outside;
     To the gods I caused oxen to be sacrificed.  (Anonymous Babylonian writer, Wikipedia)

Any vessel, whether a navigable vessel at sea, or a pottery vessel held by the hands, originally was sacred.

Wares we eat from are sacred because they keep us healthy. Pottery was perhaps the first and most important of all technological advances. It elevated man from eating contaminated food, to the place where he could protect himself from infection and disease. It enabled cooking and preservation of what sustains us.

In the beginning, it was costly and difficult to make. It consumed fire. Took time and huge effort.

Every item produced from our planet's skin and bones, from its lifeforms, wood, animal hides, bones, flesh, or minerals, was initiated into use via ritual, all else was waste and without meaning.

The world over, kiln firings were blessed. Modern American modern potters today keep a 'kiln god', that sits above the kiln door.

The Indian rural potter in sings:

"Clay, I am kneading you."

[then as the voice of the clay] 

"Soon I'll be kneading you!"

Handmade cups and bowls frankly are not required by this modern world. These are easily supplied by industry, even to the world's poorest.

Nor are paintings or poems needed.

What is needed is a new standard for understanding and making peace with our fellow human beings, and a mystic's respect for nature. Paintings, poems, or pots, that incorporate such ideals, are needed, because what we've all lost is that respect for the planet that gives us life.

What craftsmen and artists ultimately make, are not tea-bowls or paintings or poems, but honesty.

So I invite you to join me for an hour of honest talk. That will be the ritual for launching each new vessel.

I'll make the bowl and host the tea. You make the effort to attend. Invite yourself by saying 'this is the bowl I'd like to drink from'.

It was the same for Sen no Rikyu in 16th Century Japan, the father of the Japanese tea ceremony, chanoyu.

If use completes a bowl, or a ship, then is the earth we live on is now 'completed' by human use? If so do you approve of how we are finishing that work?

What consequence was earth's evolution, if use proves to its destruction?

When tea or food is shared, and an implement is used, even a simple bowl will change form. It gathers light, through correct use. This is the meaning of ritual. Energy is directed towards appropriate action.

Christmas, the last symbol of Christian gift, long ago deteriorated into an economic sludge-fest, dreaded by nearly all but cash-starved corporations.

The mythos of modern male-dominated mathematics examines matter, materia, 'substance from which something is made,', perhaps from mater 'origin, source, mother,, in economic terms, rather than spiritual.

The pater-mythological use of numbers ascended during the post-medieval Christian era, while the mystic's use of number declined, beginning with Roman repression of pagan centers of knowledge, such as the Pythian Oracle at Delphi, the burning of non-Christian libraries, and the repression of Jewish and Sufi mysticism.

Homo-sapiens stripped number of mystical significance, in favor of a Galilean and Newtonian scientific model, where theories are vindicated by numeric results, void of symbol.

That revolution, while it empowered technology to further dominate nature around us, forever transformed attitudes towards life, and earth, from a relationship of awe and respect, to one of disregard, even disgust.

Numeracy today expresses economic fact, rather than spiritual wealth. This degrades our world, and ourselves. Is it any wonder that the environment has become exactly how we imagine it, something to use up?

Bring on the mathematics of soul and spirit. Abandon the myth of commerce!


Here follows my matrix of 36 tea-bowls. 6 x 6 is 36. A square, a semi-perfect number, a triangular number.

5 of it's 6 rows begin with prime numbers, the other begins with 25, which is also a square.

The second row starts with 7, ends with 12.

  123,  4,  5,  6


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