Tibetan Buddhist ngondro exercises require 100,000 repetitions of such activities as meditative visualization, recitation, prostration, and the creation and erasure of a rice mandala. That’s the sort of discipline you see in Derek Chan’s work. In The Days Are the Same, but Different he produced sumi ink drawings every morning for 66 days, from November 2009 through January 2010. Last spring, for Being/Becoming, he spent ten days giving a public performance in the courtyard of New York’s Whitney Museum, wearing an iridescent silver monastic robe and painting a 100-by-110-inch gouache consisting of countless tiny rectangles, each of which contained an invented ideogram.
The billowing visual texture of Chan’s black-and-white Whitney gouache can also be seen in his color works, whose titles—Daily Practice, Yellow Brotherhood—reflect his interest in cultural identity as well as devotional pursuits. This fall at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chan will present a performance and installation largely comprising drawings and paintings he created in response to his research on indigenous resistance to European acts of betrayal and genocide. At the Golden Age project space, meanwhile, he’ll debut his as yet untitled artist’s book documenting “a fictional monk’s travels to the Black Mesa in honor of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680” and relating that early uprising against Spanish colonialism to the American Indian Movement’s 19-month occupation of Alcatraz Island, 1969-71. The formal and ritual elements in Chan’s work echo the connections he draws between tradition, history, and the crises of modernity.
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